Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Hawker fare, Malay drums, Baha’i faith make it onto Singapore’s expanded heritage list

A wide diversity of practices by various religious, ethnic and artisanal groups in the island state are now enshrined on the list.

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Hawker noodle-and-offal staple kway chap, the Jewish festival Passover, and Malay dance form zapin are among the nine latest additions to the intangible cultural heritage inventory created by Singapore’s National Heritage Board (NHB).

Started in 2018 to preserve rituals and artefacts for future generations, the list now has 97 items, including Singapore’s hawker heritage which Unesco recently awarded an intangible global heritage nod, the Straits Times reports.

Latest additions include making Chinese signboards, flower garlands, and tempeh and tapai.

A wide diversity of practices by various religious, ethnic and artisanal groups in the island state are now enshrined on the list.

These range from niche practices like the making of joss sticks to the widely enjoyed fish head curry.

Religious festivities such as Christmas and even forms of medicine like Ayurveda, also make the list.

Among the new religious entries, the Baha’i faith, initially developed in Persia where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception, is practised by only 2,000 people in Singapore, and Passover is limited to about 2,500 people, most of them Jewish expatriates.

“The NHB is committed to documenting Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage and safeguard it for future generations,” said Alvin Tan, NHB’s deputy chief of policy and community.

The list includes social practices, rituals and festivals that change over time as people and cultures adapt to new circumstances and environments.

For example, the quiet tossing of Cantonese-style raw fish salad yee sang this year due to Covid-19 regulations presents an important change in the “lo hei” Chinese New Year celebrations.

Being added to the list means each practice is given an entry on NHB’s website, Roots. The entry includes references to aid those interested in further reading on the topics.

It also makes each of them a potential candidate for a future nomination to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Importantly, the heritage inventory reflects the efforts made by the NHB to help some of these practices live on, at a time when many of them are not being taken up by younger people.

Yaziz Hassan, the co-founder of Nadi Singapura, a Malay drum and percussion group, said there are enough players of Malay drums but not enough craftsmen who make them.

He started playing Malay drums at a young age, having had to learn how to make them as he could not afford to buy one.

“The craft is appreciated among practitioners but not by the public because it’s not a normal career,” he said.

Dancer Madam Som Said, 70, one of Singapore’s well-known choreographers, said Singapore’s zapin dance is unique and with more young people taking it up the dance form will naturally evolve.

“Zapin is now so popular that all children, youth and adults are able to dance it in schools, community centres and cultural organisations,” she said.

“While we preserve and promote it, a tradition is not static.”

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