Intangible Cultural Heritage in Colombia


By Jaime Cuellar

The cultural heritage of South American nations, which is a legacy of pre-Colombian civilizations, is characterised by invaluable archaeological, artistic, and documentary riches. Situated at the crossing point of South and Central American, Caribbean, and Pacific civilizations, Colombia possesses an exceptional cultural heritage that reflects this diversity of influences. The Cultural Ministry of Colombia is the national entity in charge of protecting tangible and intangible Cultural Heritage. The main objectives of its national policy are the safeguarding, protection, recovery, conservation, and dissemination of cultural heritage to serve as a testimony of the national cultural identity, both in the present and in the future.

Colombia defines Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) as the customs, representations, knowledge, and techniques of a human group, along with the elaboration of cultural objects and spaces that are held in a collective memory expressed in past, present, and future. ICH in Colombia encompasses a vast field of social life and is complemented by a set of social and cultural assets that give a human group sense, identity, and belonging. The general objective of this line of work is to promote, support, and guide collective construction of memory that allow individuals, groups, and communities to generate self-representation focused on safeguarding and managing their ICH.

Colombia has a regulatory framework that manages cultural matters and outlines definitions of cultural heritage. The 1991 Political Constitution not only indicated that culture is the foundation of nationality but also requires the State to protect cultural heritage. For this purpose, it included culture as part of socio-economic development for planning purposes; established the involvement of citizen participation and generated a whole framework for regulations for the cultural heritage sector.

In addition, the General Law of Culture (Law 397 of 1997) stipulated the consolidation of tools of communication for the management and protection of cultural heritage that were modified by Law 1185 of 2008, which reflects the evolution of the vision of cultural heritage in Colombia. Colombia’s new vision understands that respect for cultural diversity remains the most effective way of ensuring both biological diversity and food safety, and vice versa. Also, it recognises that every community has landscapes and cultures in which cultural diversity and systems of belief maintain an essential relationship with biological diversity and represent a source of exchange, creativity and innovation that are important to stability and survival of cultural heritage.

Moreover, within Colombia’s cultural heritage regulatory framework, it is essential to consider a series of international instruments that the Colombian State has signed, considering the formulation of a legislative framework and a policy in favor of cultural heritage. These instruments and laws by which they have been ratified are listed below:

  • Law 45 of 1983, through which Colombia adheres to the Convention World, Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO, 1972).
  • Law 340 of 1996, by which Colombia adheres to the Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict (UNESCO, 1954).
  • Law 899 of 2004, by which the 2nd Protocol of the Convention is approved of the Hague of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in Case of Armed conflict.
  • Law 1037 of 2006, through which Colombia adheres to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage (UNESCO, 2003).

By the same token, within the Ministry of Culture, there is a sub-section called Intangible Cultural Heritage Group. Their main objective lies in strengthening the capacity of communities to manage their own heritage, through sustainable development approaches, by protecting their natural resources and maintaining their collective identity. The Intangible Cultural Heritage Group’s responsibilities include designing and coordinating various plans, programs, and projects. The Group also encourages the interests of territorial entities, institutions, and local communities to achieve their participation in the processes of identifying, safeguarding, and promoting Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Intangible Cultural Heritage Group is responsible for the design of strategies to facilitate the Colombian population’s access to knowledge related to Intangible Culture Heritage for its assessment and safeguarding.

Colombia’s Law 1185 updated the definition of the nation’s cultural heritage to define a special regime for Indigenous heritage and the safeguarding, protection, sustainability, and disclosure of Intangible Culture. In this sense, a Special Safeguard Plan is a social and administrative agreement between a specific Indigenous group and the Colombian state, and an instrument of management that serves to guide the safeguarding of a cultural manifestation and expression. This agreement translates into a series of short, medium, and long measurement steps that can take the form of initiatives, projects, and programs. In that order, the Special Safeguard Plan seeks to protect Intangible Cultural Heritage because it considers that knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation as a legacy, cultural tradition, collective memory and that they express the symbolic value that generates identity amongst communities.

An example of this can be found in UNESCO web page Intangible Cultural Heritage from Colombia.

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