Nepal And UNESCO Hand In Hand For Heritage Preservation (I)



Prem Khatry



It is quite natural to find the beginning for every cause, every movement and every effort man makes in his move forward. It is also said if the beginning is good, the end will be even better. Halesi, the famous pilgrimage of the East is an example of such an evolutionary history in terms of its sanctity, the growth of tourism and the recent efforts in preserving the original culture of the Kirati Rai people of the region.                          

Man is a hard working being always looking forward and making moves according to the emerging need. Man also finds all solutions to his problems in his own larger plan of activities, faiths and knowledge. The ever-prevailing storehouse of such knowledge is 'culture'.  Culture is a large plan of human activities governed by tradition, ecology and upward looking concern as well as actions made by man. There can be several hundred definitions of culture and one can use one that fits the need as well as the relevance at hand.

         This short article seeks to mention major highlights of the week-long programme for the local youths and elite to prepare them for a very important task of inventorying of intangible cultural heritage of the Kirat-Rai people of the east. For the first programme, four districts – Solukhmbu, Okhaldhunga, Khotang and Udayapur were selected for the orientation of at least 12   candidates willing and skilled to  do the inventorying of their culture. 



The 2003 Convention on Intangible culture motivated the member states to work for their heritage. Nepal signed the Convention in 2010 and became a state party. It thus has responsibilities, duties and concerns as the state party.  Nepal has been discharging these responsibilities in the past six years. For this to happen, UNESCO has provisions to work collaboratively with member nations or state parties.

UNESCO/Nepal has been working with the government of Nepal for a long time. The latest activities related to ICH are very result-oriented, community-based and professional. One major outcome of the activities is capacity building of the concerned department of the ministry, scores of young elites from different communities and cultures and local practitioners. In terms of   ethnicity, Newar,  Jirel, Pahari, Tharu, Dhimal, dalit, Sherpa, Kirat and few others have been represented in the packages in the past. International experts directly appointed by UNESCO headquarters were engaged in facilitating several works related to inventorying,   safeguarding and nomination of intangible heritages of Nepal.


The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation – MoCTCA – and  UNESCO jointly organised a week-long workshop at Halesi, Khotang, early this week. The main objective of the workshop was to prepare Kirati youths and seniors to work together to prepare a nationally required inventory of intangible heritage of the Kirati-Rai people of east Nepal. Of the twelve plus districts ranging from Ramechhap to Ilam in the hills and Sindhuli-Siraha to  Jhapa in the Terai only four – Solu, Okhaldhunga, Khotang and Udaypur - were selected for the  pre-monsoon season. As planned at UNESCO and approved by MoCTCA, there will be one more workshop inviting youths from Bhojpur, Sankhuwasabha and  Dhankuta   somewhere in the east.

According to the plan hitherto accepted, the rest of the districts will be informed about the outcome of the workshops in due course of time so that they have some glimpse of what is happening in their original homelands. This is a plan to be implemented considering the fact that   many Kirati-Rai have migrated to the adjacent Terai region from their original homes of the districts mentioned above. They also need to know about the type of efforts made to document the intangible cultural heritage of their ancestral lands.

The Halesi workshop started on May 22 and concluded on May 26, 2017. This was the first such workshop where foreign experts were not engaged to function as the facilitators. Instead, the Ministry and UNESCO had managed to employ national experts and Kirat-Rai scholars for the purpose. Scholars like Dr Bhakta Rai, Dr Taramani Rai and Jaya Kumar Rai with linguistic and other academic backgrounds were at hand to facilitate the workshop. 

The MoCTCA and UNESCO had done enough exercise to select the would-be enumerators and facilitators to participate in the workshop. Two facilitators were also engaged in the inventorying process in the districts mentioned above. This scribe, along with Mr Bhim Nepal as another UNESCO  consultant ran the sessions along with the facilitators.   Since this was   going to be a programme without international experts, every care was taken to maintain the international standard for the inventorying of local culture.


The inaugural and other sessions were organised at the VDC hall in front of the Halesi Mahadev cave shrine. Several Kirati elites including the local party leaders addressed the inaugural session with
Gajur Man Rai as the chairman and Bharat Mani Subedi, the Chief of the Culture Division of MoCTCA as the chief guest. The Head of UNESCO/Nepal, Christian Manhart could not attend due to his busy schedule and Nipuna Shrestha, the administrator and Head of the Culture section represented the UNESCO office.

The chairman of the inaugural session Gajur Man Rai, Head of the Temple Management Committee expressed the hope that the workshop was going to be a memorable event in documenting the Kirati culture of East Nepal. He briefly mentioned the evolution of the Halesi management system over the three decades after the visit of King Birendra in the year 2044.

Finally, the first workshop of its kind with the MoCTCA, UNESCO and the local people walking hand in hand was seen by the Kirati people as a landmark in the history of Halesi. Interestingly, Halesi is now a municipality under the name – Halesi Tuwachung. It is located along the Mid Hill Highway and has bright future from tourism perspective. However, the challenge of managing the shrine and its sanctity is crucial. Local elites and leaders like Gopal Dahal, Mamindra Chamling Rai, Tulasi Khambu  and Nipuna Shrestha highlighted on the need to focus on the  preservation of intangible culture of the people and the shrine itself. (to be continued..)                                                                                                                                                             

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