Thailand, Singapore, two other nations to nominate kebaya for Unesco listing
Singapore will be nominating the kebaya for Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list in a multinational effort with Thailand, Brunei and Malaysia.
The National Heritage Board (NHB) on Wednesday said this would be Singapore’s first multinational nomination to the Unesco Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and it is slated for submission in March 2023.
The kebaya is a traditional woman’s upper garment that is popular in the region, said the NHB, and it “represents and celebrates the region’s shared history, promotes cross-cultural understanding and continues to be present and actively produced and worn by many communities across Southeast Asia”.
“The kebaya has been, and continues to be, a central aspect in the representation and display of cultural heritage and identity for Malay, Peranakan and other communities in Singapore, and is an integral part of our heritage as a multicultural port city, with links across South-east Asia and the world,” NHB chief executive Chang Hwee Nee said.
She added that the joint nomination “underscores this multiculturalism and our common roots with the region”.
The NHB said Malaysia had proposed and coordinated the multinational nomination and the idea was discussed as part of a series of working meetings among a number of countries in 2022.
Thailand, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia agreed to work on the nomination together, said the board, adding that the four countries welcome other countries to join the nomination.
Between August and October, the NHB held six focus group discussions with 48 participants to seek views on the nomination. These included cultural practitioners, cultural association representatives and researchers involved in kebaya production and wearing.
From November 1 to 3, representatives from the NHB and the community attended a workshop organised by Malaysia in Port Dickson, where they discussed the nomination, including what to include in the submission.
Unesco will assess the nomination based on its definition of intangible cultural heritage, and how well each of the four countries will ensure the promotion and transmission of kebaya-related practices, the NHB added.
The result of the nomination is expected to be announced at end-2024.
Kebaya-related crafts and practices were added to the NHB’s intangible cultural heritage inventory in October 2022, joining other elements such as orchid cultivation and soya sauce making on the 102-strong local list.
Kebaya craftsman Ratianah Tahir, who owns Kebaya by Ratianah in Kampong Glam, said the garment has been a staple in her wardrobe since she was young, and she recalls wearing it, especially during festivals and weddings.
The 52-year-old, who has been selling and making kebayas for 18 years, said she hopes the nomination will help raise awareness and increase appreciation for the kebaya and kebaya-wearing among the next generation.
As of 2021, 61 multinational elements have been added to the Unesco list. They include craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics – a joint nomination by Switzerland and France, as well as Arabic coffee, practised in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.
Separately, the Singapore Botanic Gardens was inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List in 2015.
The Straits Times
Asia News Network