Safeguarding the World’s Intangible Cultures at Risk.

“When a child is born, the father goes into the desert in search of the largest scorpion he can find.  The eldest woman slowly cooks the animal in a pan over an open fire until it melts like butter.  This salve is massaged into the skin of the baby.  The baby gets sick as a consequence of the scorpion venom but not enough to do it harm.  I was bitten by a scorpion a few years ago and nothing happened.  This is one of the traditional medicines of our people that is being lost.”  Attayak

The Bedu of Wadi Rum have preserved specific knowledge related to the flora and fauna of the area, traditional medicine, camel husbandry, tent-making craftsmanship, tracking and climbing skills.   The Bedu have an extensive knowledge of their environment and a complex moral and social code, all of which is expressed and transmitted orally.  Their rich mythology is manifested in various forms of oral expression, comprising poetry, folktales and songs that are closely linked to particular places and the history of these communities.

The uniqueness of the Wadi Rum Bedu was recognised by the UNESCO Proclamation of 2005: “The Cultural Space of the Bedu in Petra and Wadi Rum” and their inclusion as one of the only arab cultures named to the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.  Beginning in July, the Bedouin Heritage Project; a team of 20 photographers, videographers, ethnographers and student interns from all over the world; will work together with the Bedouins to capture and safeguard the oral traditions, lifestyle and culture of the people living in the Wadi Rum reserve.

The principal goal of the project is to safeguard the main features of the lifestyle and oral history of the Bedu that have developed in Wadi Rum region over the course of millennia and that are being lost due to inevitable societal changes.  While the initial project is local in nature, the best practices established should serve as a model for future projects throughout Jordan and the middle east. In order to achieve the project’s goals and deliver a living memory to the Bedu themselves, new methodologies for authenticate representation of intangible heritage and oral traditions will be required and, ideally, will be transfered to similar projects around the world.

The Wadi Rum project in Jordan is promoted by the Bedouin Heritage Project.  The Non profit Association will foster projects to help safeguard the intangible cultural heritage of Bedouin communities throughout the Middle East following the basic principles:

  • The collection and intergenerational transmission of oral heritage; and
  • The transmission and adaptation of knowledge and know-how.

The BHP’s Wadi Rum project goal is to participate, record, represent and ultimately safeguard the many facets of the Bedouin lifestyle, social system, traditions, medicine and oral history.  This two year project will incorporate the best practices of cultural and media anthropology including video, photography, audio, figurative art, journalism, academic research, sensory memory and genealogy.

BHP is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium with operating offces in Florence, Italy and Berlin, Germany.  The project’s founders; Ingrid Bouilliart, Mark Abouzeid and Nora Mertens; have arranged for sponsorship and logistical support from Royal Jordanian Airlines, Canon Italia S.p.a., AssistAmerica and PhotoAid.

According to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) – or living heritage – is the mainspring of our cultural diversity and its maintenance a guarantee for continuing creativity.  The ICH is traditional and living at the same time. It is constantly recreated and mainly transmitted orally.  The depository of this heritage is the human mind, the human body being the main instrument for its enactment, or – literally – embodiment. The knowledge and skills are often shared within a community, and manifestations of ICH often are performed collectively.

Many elements of the ICH are endangered, due to effects of globalization, uniformization policies, and lack of means, appreciation and understanding which – taken together – may lead to the erosion of functions and values of such elements and to lack of interest among the younger generations. A lengthy quest for the function and values of cultural expressions and practices, and of monuments and sites, led by UNESCO, has paved the way for new approaches to understanding, protecting and respecting our cultural heritage. These approaches, which involve the recognition of communities and groups as those who identify, enact, recreate and transmit the intangible or living heritage, found their culminating point in the adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which entered into force on 20 April 2006.

Mark Abouzeid
Bedouin Heritage Project
+39 339/7483966