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Tunisia : The Amazigh potters of Sejnane honored

Date : 2018-12-31 08:08:00

During its 13th session held in Port Louis in the island of Mauritius from 26 November to 1 December 2018, the UNESCO Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage decided to register the know-how related to the women pottery of Sejnane in Tunisia, on the list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

The committee notes that Sejnane potters' know-how and pottery making "is a living tradition, deeply rooted in the life of the community and perceived as part of the local identity". According to the committee, this traditional activity "strengthens social relations within families and society and highlights the close link between sustainable development and cultural identity, the socio-economic dimension and the crucial role that traditional skills play in local development".

In order to preserve the authenticity of these pottery and to avoid distorting it, the Committee warned the Tunisian Government against "the high risk of excessive commercialization" of this heritage and urged it to "focus on its social and cultural aspects". It also invited the State to develop and/or update the national heritage inventory, in accordance with the International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Amazigh World Congress (AWC), which has already visited potters in their village of Sejnane in northern Tunisia, naturally welcomes this recognition and warmly congratulates these brave women guardians of ancestral art who understood the value of this unique sociocultural capital and have kept it alive to transmit it to future generations. They prove that the indigenous genius often despised by pseudo-modernity, can cross the times and find its place in the universal.

Moreover, the AWC notes and deplores the fact that the file submitted by the Tunisian government to Unesco is riddled with omissions and approximations which lead voluntarily or ignorantly to obscure the Amazigh indigenous dimension of this heritage. Thus, in the whole file, it is nowhere mentioned that this is a typical Amazigh heritage that is identical in other Amazigh regions, particularly in Kabylia, Aurès, Rif, Adrar Infussen, etc. The Tunisian file maintains the vagueness about the origin of this heritage, sometimes presented as "Berber", sometimes as "Maghrebi" or "local". Yet, Sejnane's potters are living witnesses to their Amazigh identity, as they identify themselves as Amazighs and carry their Amazigh on them with their typical clothes, customs, songs, and way of life.

To the question put by Unesco on the "name of the element presented, in the language and writing of the community concerned", the Tunisian editors respond in Arabic language and writing, which suggests that the women of Sejnane would be Arabs. The AWC also observed that in order to prepare the dossier submitted to Unesco, some 20 associations were consulted, but none of them are Amazigh or specialized in the promotion of Amazigh culture.

Finally, while international law provides that indigenous peoples have the right to "preserve and protect their practices, knowledge and cultural heritage", the Tunisian Government's file mentions that there are no measures aimed at to "limit in any way access to knowledge and know-how related to pottery of Sejnane women". In other words, Sejnane pottery can be copied freely, which is a plunder of the "intellectual property" of the women of this community and an attack on the historical and cultural value of these pottery.

For all these reasons, the AWC plans to challenge both Unesco and the Tunisian Government on the need to take immediate steps to protect the rights and interests of Sejnane potters and to term that amounts to a falsification of Amazigh history and culture.

Tunis, 1/12/2968 – 12/12/2018

The Board of AWC.

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