Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) - II



Prem Khatry


Besides the opening and the closing ceremonies attended by government officials, UNESCO/Nepal Office chief Christian Manhart and other officials, staff and a host of other guests, the workshop had a number of other creative activities smartly tailored by the international experts. These activities kept the participants not only busy and active but also encouraged them to be more committed to following the step-wise actions in the field of documentation/inventorying, preparing safeguarding plans and creating awareness in the communities and cultures.

One important feature of the workshop was the inclusion of Property Rights for the benefit of the creators. The mock exercises prepared to train the participants dealt with this issue so that they could transform this into action when it came to the real life situation.

The 38 participants representing a wide variety of communities, including the marginalised Paharis, Majhi and Sherpa, found the workshop very useful in terms of documentation or inventorying, research, safeguarding and, most important of all, building a strong network among the participants on the one hand and the facilitators, government and UNESCO on the other so that future programmes could be more effective. The most important of all the experiences now and in the past, they said, was a historic visit to and practice work with the local Newars of Tokha, an old settlement in the northern end of Kathmandu.


Welcome at the Tu-khya

The small but compact town of Tokha sprang in that corner of the Kathmandu Valley as the flourishing field of sugarcane (Tu-khya). The term Tu Khya later began to be pronounced as Tokha. The fourth version of sugarcane was prepared as ‘Chaku’ - a highly cherished health-food for the Newar people of Kathmandu. The entire area of Tokha produced molasses (sakkhar), the base material for Chaku. 

In course of time, the sugarcane land was utilised for various other purposes, and farmers quit planting sugarcane. In the current times, only a handful of families are taking up the business of Chaku preparation. At the same time, a few families in Lalitpur and Bhaktapur have also started to produce the item. However, the Tokha producers claim they are the descendants of the true Chaku producers and have both the knack and the responsibility to do the work.

During the session, the participants were divided into three practice Safeguarding teams to make safeguarding plans – a) Chaku team, b) Dapha (ancient drum and associated musical instruments) team and c) the Bisket (New Year) Jatra team. This was a practice designed to build an experts’ team for future safeguarding activities to be conducted in different parts of the country.

But in the case of Tokha, it seemed very much like a real action plan because the old town of Tokha did have these cultural items as the identity of the people, and the place and these items indeed needed preservation. Therefore, the local  people, including the newly formed Tokha municipality, the local culture experts, preservation-related NGO activists and women staged a musically tuned welcome ceremony for the international facilitators and participants of the workshop. The main feature of the welcome was the traditional ‘Lakhe’ (mask) dance in the ‘Lachhi’ (chowk).


Mock plans compiled          

The participants, divided into three groups, found that Tokha indeed was the right selection for the practice plan. For example, there were several families deeply involved in preparing the chaku. The item was produced with special care as it hit the market of not only Kathmandu but also other places outside the valley before the Makara or Magh Sankranti (First Day, Jan 15th). It is a culture that originated among the Newars, who have this sweet item with a variety of other edibles, such as ghee, sesame seed and yam for the Sankranti to make the body system more energetic and fight the extreme cold of Kathmandu.

For the mother who has just delivered, it (chaku) was the most important item to strengthen her body and lactation capacity. But with the passage of time, only a few families produced it, and the big bulk of the base item, the molasses, had to be brought from outside Kathmandu as land is shrinking for its production here.

The second group, the Dapha music players do have at least five ‘khala’ or groups located in five different inns (singing platforms) and are continuing the tradition, but they also find it difficult to preserve the tradition. The new generation does not find it lucrative and important to engage in the music now. A safeguarding plan was thus essential. The practice planners were supplied all necessary information about the ‘khala’ and their struggle to save the ancient Newar musical tradition.

Interestingly enough, a special Dapha festival was organised in Lalitpur where the UNESCO team was invited for a show. Satya Mohan Joshi, the patron organiser of the festival, highlighted the fact that there were indeed 200 Dapha khala taking part in the festival.

The third team, working on the Bisket Jatra group prepared the safeguarding plans in association with the local participants and experts. Tokha has a very special New Year festival, and the display of several chariots belonging to local deities like the  Devi, Ganesha, Bhairava, among others, are the main attraction of the five-day festival. Thousands throng to see the festival and have a dip in a makeshift pond at ‘Sapan tirtha’ at the foot of the Sapan tirtha Binayak shrine, 1.5 km north of Tokha.

Finally, the participants were awarded certificates for the hard work they had done during the workshop. The Jyapu Guthi of Lalitpur and Ya Pyakhan and Flute team of Tokha presented their cultural talent for the special audience through musical tunes and traditional dances like Ya, Charya and a few others.


Lesson learnt

In all, the Fourth national workshop of Safeguarding plan on the theme of Capacity Building was a success as wished by MoCTCA, UENSCO/Nepal and CRIHAP. The lesson learnt was that such workshops must be organised without long gaps so that the participants and the communities feel continuously refreshed and ready to embark on a real plan of action.





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