Unesco Recognizes Saman Dance as Intangible World Heritage

30 November, 2011 | Source: The Jakarta Globe

Denpasar. The Saman dance from Aceh has joined batik and wayang as Indonesian contributions to Unesco’s list of items of intangible world heritage, officials announced at a meeting in Bali on Thursday.

“The Saman dance from Gayo Lues and surrounding areas in Aceh has officially been included in the list of Intangible World Heritage that needs urgent protection from Unesco,” I Gusti Ngurah Putra, a spokesman for the Tourism Ministry, said following the decision by participants at the Sixth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Agung Laksono, the coordinating minister for people’s welfare, said the effort to conserve the dance would not end with its inclusion in the list, stressing that this was just the first step toward nurturing and promoting the dance.

Earlier this week, the government pledged $10 million to promote the traditional dance should it be included on the list.

According to a government spokesman for cultural affairs, Suyud Winarno, one reason the dance is in need of protection is that it is increasingly rarely performed by men, despite being traditionally a performance exclusively by males.

Mari Elka Pangestu, the tourism minister, said on Tuesday that world recognition of the dance would have far-reaching economic benefits for the country, mainly through increased tourism.

In addition to its value to the tourism industry, formal recognition of the dance could also foster a thriving traditional art industry in Indonesia, she said.

The Saman dance dates back to the 13th century, when it was conceived by Syeh Saman, a Gayo elder, to convey religious messages.

The dance features an odd number of performers, usually young men, sitting or kneeling in a row. They wear traditional costumes with Gayo embroidery depicting natural and moral symbols. A trainer stands in the middle singing songs with messages of development, religion, advice, culture, satire, humor and romance, while the dancers engage in a complex percussion rhythm by clapping various parts of their bodies.

The dance is usually performed to welcome a guest or as a celebration of national or religious holidays.

 

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