Report on the Regional Seminar for Cultural Personnel in Asia and the Pacific
(Held at the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center for UNESCO, Tokyo, February-March 1998)

Florentino H. Hornedo

College of Arts & Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University

Background of the Tokyo Seminar

A "Questionnaire on the Application of the Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore (UNESCO, 1989) in Countries of Asia and the Pacific Region" was sent to twenty countries in the Asia-Pacific Region in 1997. Of these, seventeen responded: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Lao P.D.R., Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. Questionnaire replies did not arrive from Australia, Myanmar, and New Zealand.

The regional seminar was organized by the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center for UNESCO (ACCU) in cooperation with UNESCO, and was held in Tokyo on 24 Februry-2 March 1998, with delegates of the seventeen responding countries participating. The seminar aimed to analyze and assess how far the provisions of the 1989 Recommendation had been applied in the countries of the Asian region.

Definition of Folklore

The seminar participants were aware of the definition proposed in the 1989 Recommendation, and for the purpose of their discussion, they defined "Folklore (or traditional and popular culture) [as] the totality of tradition-based creations of a cultural community, expressed by a group or individuals and recognized as reflecting the expectations of a community insofar as they reflect its cultural and social identity; its standards and values are transmitted orally, by imitation or by other means. Its forms are, among others, languages, literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, customs, handicrafts, architecture and other arts" (ACCU 1999, p. 21).

The Purposes of the Seminar

In her keynote address, Mrs. Noriko Aikawa, Chief, Intangible Cultural Heritage Section, Division of Cultural Heritage, UNESCO, stated that the purposes of the seminar were:

  1. to undertake a careful assessment to identify the main tendencies, problems, and difficulties that characterize the evolution of the traditional and popular cultures in this region and in each country;
  2. to define strategies in the field of cultural policy to preserve and promote traditional cultures and folklore in line with the provisions of the UNESCO Recommendation; and
  3. to draw up recommendations for future orientations and project proposals to reinforce application of the UNESCO Recommendation with particular reference to regional cooperation (ibid., p. 15)
The Focus of the Seminar

The seminar focused its attention on two aspects of the application of the Recommendation:

  1. application of the Recommendation as a whole, and
  2. application of the principal provisions of the Recommendation.
Application of the Recommendation As a Whole

Three basic questions concerned institutional awareness of the Recommendation, its dissemination in the official languages of the countries, and the submission of reports to UNESCO regarding its application. The mean affirmative response to these points from the seventeen countries is 42.5%. Some 60% had not made the document available in the official country languages and had not sent a report to UNESCO.

From the country responses it appears implicitly that less than half of the participating countries in the Asia-Pacific Region had begun to apply in general the recommendations by 1998.

Application of the Principal Provisions of the Recommendation

This part concerns the (1) identification, (2) conservation, (3) preservation, (4) dissemination, and (5) protection of intangible cultural heritage, and (6) international cooperation. (ibid., p. 24). With regards to the first five items in this list, the statistical indicator for "yes" responses regarding the application of the Recommendation is 42%. Its breakdown is as follows:

1. identification of folklore 46.25%
2. conservation  28%
3. preservation  65%
4. dissemination  28.33%
5. protection 42.5%

Only ten percent thought the Recommendation should be improved eventually. It is noted that in the seventeen countries represented in the Tokyo regional seminar, there has been notable activity and achievement in the preservation and promotion of the intangible cultural heritage of the region, and it is hoped that this will continue at an even more optimal pace. However, both the synthesis of the country answers to the questionnaire (ibid., pp. 21-52) and the "Summary of Participants' Remarks" (pp. 53-57) indicate a pervasive sense of continuing inadequacy in the application of the UNESCO Recommendation of 1989. And the "Remarks" which close the "Summary" quite clearly indicate the participating countries' "common concerns" (p. 57), expressed as "needs," which are:

  1. need for central coordinating agency in many [Asia-Pacific] countries for the preservation and promotion of traditional arts;
  2. need to identify and collect/record traditional arts;
  3. need for training of professionals to undertake the task of recording, documenting, archiving, and promoting traditional arts;
  4. need to protect the rights of traditional artists since they are not covered by the copyright laws;
  5. need for more funding to support preservation and promotion as well as training personnel and experts in preservation and promotion;
  6. need to make the communities concerned take on the task of preserving their own cultural heritage;
  7. need to restore the interest of younger people in the preservation of their community's artistic traditions, and to control the negative effects of foreign culture on the preservation and transmission of [traditional] culture;
  8. need for recruitment and training of successors to the aging carriers of traditional culture;
  9. need for control of excessive commercialization and negative effects of some forms of tourism

A tenth recurrent theme in the seminar was a felt need for a continuing assistance of UNESCO at various levels and facets of the application of the 1989 Recommendation.

I wish to advert at his point to some significant work which has been and is being done by the ACCU in the field of training cultural personnel in various countries such as Pakistan (1994), Thailand (1994), Vietnam (1996), and Lao P.D.R. (1997). A seminar on the making of a databank for intangible cultural heritage was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in February-March 1999. The Asian/Pacific Music Materials Co-production Program (MCP) has been contributing to preservation and dissemination of the traditional music of the region. The Publicity Program for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Asia has also made significant contributions to preservation, dissemination, and consciousness-raising regarding traditional cultures. ACCU has been publishing a Directory on Cultural Activities, and has been sponsoring an annual photo contest aimed at highlighting specified aspects of regional culture.

It is to be noted, too, that the country reports (ibid., pp. 63-110) indicate genuine efforts toward the preservation and promotion of intangible cultural heritage despite setbacks, some of which come from the inexorable march of time and change and the negative effects of globalization on individual cultures, especially those handicapped severely by the need to prioritize survival concerns above the arts. The presence in many Asian and Pacific countries of cultural institutions and structures at the highest levels indicates genuine national concern for the preservation and promotion of traditional arts despite limited material and professional resources.

Recommendations of the Asia-Pacific Seminar

As a fitting conclusion to the seminar, the participants formulated declarations and recommendations. In general terms, there has been a consensus: 1) that flexibility is needed, for instance, when policy and/or projects are suggested or determined on whatever levels such as national, regional (as relevant to several adjacent countries), or international (defined here as relevant to the matters of all the Member States of UNESCO; in other words, more or less “global”); 2) that the terms used by the previous, present, and future seminars may be defined and interpreted differently depending on individuals, groups of people, communities, nations, and regions and, therefore, must be carefully dealt with, although much attention has been paid to their appropriate use as judged from the present conditions and connotations, whether overtly or covertly associated with them; 3) that priority should be given to applicability over abstract orientations in formulating general or specific principles and methods of safeguarding the traditional and popular culture of our region; and 4) that our present recommendations are to be read, understood, adopted, criticized, and eventually revised by anybody concerned with the same or related fields of human culture, on the ground that any later evaluations or reconsideration of the present recommendations are to be made known to the UNESCO (Paris) as well as to the ACCU (Tokyo), so the participants of the Regional Seminar can have access to the follow-up actions to these recommendations formulated hereunder.

The declarations and recommendations were addressed (1) to national governments, (2) to UNESCO, and (3) to ACCU, which cosponsored and hosted the seminar.


We, the participants to the 1998 Regional Seminar for Asia and the Pacific held in Tokyo,

  1. Endorsing in general the provisions of the Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore;
  2. Recognizing the need to further strengthen the implementation of the Recommendation with the Member States of UNESCO in the context of cultural globalization;
  3. Convinced of the need to maintain the cultural identity of the world by preserving, as much as possible, local traditional and popular cultures;
  4. Recognizing the essential role of the possessors of the skills of the intangible heritage and the community they belong to while carrying out various activities to preserve them;
  5. Bearing in mind the need to pay equal attention both to traditional popular cultures and traditional classical cultures;
  6. Recognizing that tradition is constantly evolving;
  7. Noting with concern that traditional cultural expressions are often distorted when they are presented in “festivals” and/or in tourist attractions;
  8. Calling attention to the importance of raising an awareness of the value of traditional knowledge and skills;
  9. Having considered the following situations:
  10. Having examined the provisions of the Recommendation (1989) as well as reports of the regional seminars for Central and Eastern Europe (1995) and for Latin America and the Caribbean (1997),

The members of the present regional seminar (of Asia and the Pacific in 1998) have formulated our own recommendations as follows:Recommend to our governments to:

  1. guarantee the right of access of various cultural communities to their own folklore;
  2. introduce into both formal and non-formal curricula the teaching and study of folklore. For this audiovisual materials should be supplied by the government concerned;
  3. provide moral and economic supports and social incentives for individuals and institutions cultivating or holding items of folklore. Social incentives and economic support may be in the form of national awards, in cash and kind, and pension to individuals at old age. A portion of tourism earnings should go to the concerned community;
  4. identify and recognize living treasures;
  5. provide scientific preservation facilities and archives systems;
  6. include new innovations and ideas when defining traditional culture;
  7. provide provision to set up a national supervisory body to monitor the implementation of the policy. Similarly, bodies may also be formed at local levels to sit periodically to review the progress and make suggestions
  8. provide copyright benefit to the communities of the originator or possessors;
  9. provide financial support to different communities to perform festivals regularly;
  10. utilize both electronic and mass media for broader coverage in popularizing traditional culture and folklore;
  11. create an identification and recording system following the UNESCO manual;
  12. prepare generally accepted guidelines for tourism where necessary. Activities relating to tourism and festivals should be flexible and decided by the communities;
  13. adopt a code of ethics ensuring a proper approach to and respect for traditional culture. The proposed government policy should, however, be flexible, leaving room for communities to meet their own needs and demands;
  14. follow the recommendation and guidelines of UNESCO;
  15. invest enough funds for the safeguarding and preservation of traditional culture and preservation of traditional and popular cultures;
  16. take necessary steps to limit the range of cultural tourists under the national law or local knowledge in order to preserve and protect folklore;
  17. emphasize the importance of legislation in achieving effective protection of traditional culture and folklore, where necessary

Recommend to UNESCO to:

  1. strengthen regional cooperation in the preservation and protection of popular traditional culture by:
  2. extend support for the identification, inventory-making, indexing, cataloguing, and recording of traditional heritage and folklore;
  3. organize workshops, provide educational facilities including training for the concerned personnel;
  4. support programs to identify and recognize international living treasures;
  5. call a meeting of experts in legal aspects of the intangible cultural heritage with an aim of giving legal support to the protection of this heritage;
  6. assist the Member States to establish their national register

Recommend to ACCU to:

  1. establish a databank center in Asia/Pacific of folk artists, typology, cultural maps and other folklore materials and encourage all countries to participate;
  2. invite experts and organize training courses to train collectors, archivists, documentalists, and other specialists in various levels in the conservation of folklore;
  3. continue all the publications of Asian/Pacific folklore -- videotapes, CDs, and other programs;
  4. hold workshops on different topics to promote regional cooperation

Recommendation No. 1 to ACCU has already been started. A seminar-workshop was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in February 1999 to inaugurate this project, which is now in progress.


ACCU (Asia/Pacific Cultural Center for UNESCO). 1999. Preservation and Promotion of the Intangible Cultural Heritage: 1998 Regional Seminar for Cultural Personnel in Asia and the Pacific. Tokyo: Taito Printing Co.

_____ and the Thai National Commission for UNESCO. 1999. Preservation and Promotion of Traditional/Folk Performing Arts: 1999 Regional Seminar for Cultural Personnel in Asia and the Pacific (Proceedings of the Seminar held in Bangkok, Thailand 23-26 February 1999).