Singapore wants its hawker culture to be on Unesco cultural heritage list

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 19 Aug 2018

Singapore will be nominating its hawker culture for inscription into Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, said its prime minister Lee Hsien Loong. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

PETALING JAYA: Singapore will be nominating its rich hawker culture for Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, says its prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In his speech during the republic's National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug19), Lee said Singapore's hawker centres were its "community dining rooms" and are a unique part of the country's heritage and identity.

The Straits Times reported if the bid is successful, Singapore's hawker culture will join the likes of Malaysia's Mak Yong theatre from Kelantan, Indonesia's batik and India's yoga on the world stage.

Started in 2008, the list, which has about 400 elements to date, sets out to demonstrate the diversity of world heritage and ensure their protection.

Lee described the Singapore Botanic Gardens' inscription as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2015 as a proud moment for the country, adding that putting Singapore's hawker culture on the list of intangible cultural heritage will "help to safeguard and promote this unique culture for future generations".

"It will also let the rest of the world know about our local food and multicultural heritage," Lee was reported saying.

The Straits Times reported that the organisations fronting the bid – National Heritage Board (NHB), the National Environment Agency and the Federation of Merchants' Associations Singapore – said hawker culture was selected because it has shaped the Singaporean identity in many ways.

Singapore's hawkers started out as migrants who peddled their food on streets and sidewalks. They were moved into more sanitary purpose-built facilities by the government from the 1970s. Hawker centres are still being built today and by 2027, a total of 127 hawker centres will dot the landscape.

In an NHB poll earlier this year, 27% of 3,000 respondents said food was more important to them than social practices and festivals, and traditional performing arts, which each got 18%.

The Straits Times reported that by September, a committee featuring members from the public and private sectors will be formed, and will submit the hawker culture nomination dossier to Unesco by March 2019.

The dossier will include a 10-minute video documentary, evidence of community support as well as details on safeguarding measures to ensure the promotion and transmission of the practice.

A panel of experts appointed by Unesco will review the dossier. It will later be assessed by the Unesco Intergovernmental Committee which comprises representatives from different countries. The result of the bid will be announced by the end of 2020.

The Straits Times also reported that hawkers the newspaper spoke were excited about the nomination, which can help change perceptions that hawker work is a job for the less educated, and give due recognition to the labour-intensive trade.

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