Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Celebrating the recognition of Intangible Cultural Heritage with Yaaminey Mubayi

We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Yaaminey Mubayi, a Founding Member of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network, during her visit from New Delhi to Boston University’s WGS on March 16th. She spoke of her excitement that her nomination dossier concerning a community of metal workers was approved by UNESCO-Paris. The following observations are drawn from a personal interaction between Yaaminey, Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney and Nicole Rizzo, as interpreted by the latter.

L to R: Nicole Rizzo, Kaatyaayani & Yaaminey Mubayi, Jaho King, Vrinda Varma
Yaaminey shared the following ideas:

The hand-based work of copper and bronze utensil making of the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, a small urban settlement on the outskirts of Amritsar, India near the India-Pakistan border has gained national and international recognition through its inscription on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2014. For the first time, a traditional craft community’s metal work has received recognition from UNESCO as distinct from the performing arts in India. Yaaminey believes this is a first step, but a strong first step toward taking on the process of reviving a dying process of craft and intangible cultural heritage and achieving sustainability, through this recognition as the common heritage of humanity.

Contrary to the assumption that the significance of the Jandiala Thatheras lies in their overall uniqueness, perhaps their real value lies in the traditional knowledge systems, skills, craftsmanship, and overall manufacturing processes that have been passed down hereditarily for generations, she emphasized. Yaaminey went on to exclaim that the UNESCO listing beautifully encapsulates the craft and work ethic of Punjab as part of the intangible heritage complex of social, symbolic, and ritual practices (apart from the skills of making utensils). Yaaminey hopes this exciting victory will impact other crafts in India since there is a continual loss of skill and workmanship, where both Indian and global society are losing the whole complex of values, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding the manufacturing of craft and the sector of hand piece work.

Flourishing during the reign of the former monarch of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Thatheras’s vessels and utensils used to be widely utilized by the general public. Now they are increasingly marginalized due to the major manufacturing industries such as stainless steel and aluminum. Traditional craft was and is dying due to competition with a variety of industries and cultural resistance to hand piece craft. 

Yet, there is hope that the UNESCO recognition will increase the heritage value of craft. There has been a boost in tourism interest and of the local press within Punjab and India. The Punjab government has taken major steps so that hopefully more mechanisms will be put in place for organizations for crafts people that will help empower them. For Yaaminey, “the glass ceiling needs to be broken” so that the heritage value of craft can be recognized. 

Compiled by Nicole Rizzo from the 16 March interview with Yaaminey Mubayi and Yaaminey’s publications; photos courtesy Yaaminey

See also:

While in the Greater Boston area, Yaaminey also gave a seminar March 29th at Harvard University's South Asia Institute-Cambridge, MA on Water and Sacred Spaces: A Case Study of the Ellora-Khuldabad-Daulatabad Region.