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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Island Agenda 2004 +

3 Culture and society

Culture as a lens

Worldwide, there is increasing recognition of the intrinsic importance of culture to all aspects of the development process, reflected for example in the debates of the World Commission on Culture and Development and its report Our Creative Diversity. This report begins with the following statement by Marshall Sahlins, a renowned anthropologist who has spent a lifetime writing about the cultures and histories of the Pacific Islands:

A great deal of confusion arises in both academic and political discourse when culture in the humanistic sense is not distinguished from ‘culture’ in its anthropological senses, notably culture as the total and distinctive way of life of a people or society. From the latter point of view it is meaningless to talk of ‘the relation between culture and the economy’, since the economy is part of a people’s culture... Indeed the ambiguities in this phrase pose the great ideological issue confronted by the Commission: is ‘culture’ an aspect or a means of ‘development’, the latter understood as material progress; or is ‘culture’ the end and aim of ‘development’, the latter understood as the flourishing of human existence in its several forms and as a whole? 

Since its founding over fifty years ago, UNESCO has strived to emphasize the cultural foundations of the human endeavour. This work includes the drafting and implementation of a set of standard-setting instruments in the cultural field, the promotion of cultural pluralism and intercultural dialogue, the protection of the world’s tangible and intangible heritage, and the development of cultural enterprises. 

Central to these various activities is the perception of the overwhelming importance and all-pervasiveness of culture and cultural identity in respect to sustainable living and sustainable development. This is apparent if we understand culture as the lens through which one looks at the world.

‘Culture’ in the SIDS Programme of Action 

Increasing emphasis is being given to cultural dimensions and perspectives in the discussions about sustainable development in small island developing nations. ‘Culture’ did not perhaps receive the attention it deserved in the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action (BPoA). However, ten years on, the picture is different, and in at least some of the regional preparatory meetings organized in August-October 2003 as part of the process to review the implementation of the BPoA, culture emerged as a signi. cant component of island living. 

Promoting cultural diversity, cultural industries and empowering youth’ was one of six discussion panels organized as part of the inter-regional preparatory meeting held in the Bahamas in January 2004. Furthermore the youth of the Bahamas in their declaration to the inter-regional preparatory meeting "Recognized that culture and lifestyle identify us as Bahamians and keep us unified." And in the draft AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) Strategy Paper adopted in Nassau, SIDS explicitly affirmed "the importance of culture in their sustainable development, as it represents the expression and identity of the people and the foundation of the richness of our cultural diversity, traditions and customs.

" Moreover, "Cultural liberty in today’s diverse world" is the theme of UNDP’s Human Development Report 2004.

Several international legal instruments have been adopted by UNESCO for protecting the world’s cultural heritage:

All Different, All Unique One of the graphics from a 2004 booklet on Young People and the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, a joint initiative of UNESCO and Oxfam International. This graphic illustrates the fifth of the Declaration’s twelve articles; "Respect for cultural rights is necessary for cultural diversity to flourish. Enabling people to participate in cultural life of their choice opens the way to cultural diversity."

Promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue 

As long ago as 1945, UNESCO’s Constitution called for the defence of the "fruitful diversity of ... cultures". More recently, the UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by the General Conference in 2001, provides the international community with a wide-ranging standard-setting instrument for reinforcing respect for cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue.

Cultural diversity enriches our lives in countless ways every day. It is also an important source of identity and basic human rights. The cultural diversity around us today is the outcome of thousands of years of human interaction with nature and among people with different customs, beliefs and ways of life. Having inherited this priceless legacy, we need to ensure that it is passed down to future generations. 

UNESCO is working on diverse fronts to implement the principles and action plan of the Declaration, which aims to promote dialogue among cultures and civilizations. A central tenet is that cultural diversity presupposes the existence of a series of exchanges, open to renewal and innovation but also committed to tradition, and does not aim at the preservation of a static set of behaviours, values and expressions. Within such a context, several research programmes have served to shed light on positive and negative forces shaping cultural diversity in the past and present.

Retracing the slave routes

The slave trade, which lasted more than three centuries, is one of the darkest chapters of human history, which forged strong and ambivalent links between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Since 1994, the Slave Route project has been exploring this common past.

Among the information and teaching materials generated by the project are draft trade maps illustrating the main slave routes and the changes in deportation flows from the 15–16th centuries to the 19th century. Other educational materials and approaches have been developed as part of the Associated Schools Project Network (page 36), through the flagship project ‘Breaking the Silence’. 

Islands as cultural crossroads

The popular view of small islands as being remote and culturally isolated has always been in certain ways paradoxical. The histories of the islands of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, testify to the rich and important economic, social and cultural exchanges that small islands have given the world. Indeed, it may be much more appropriate to consider small islands as great crossroads of human cultural interaction. This has been reflected through recent and on-going UNESCO projects such as ‘Vaka Moana – the Ocean Roads’ in the Pacific, the six-volume General History of the Caribbean (which traces the historical experience of the peoples and societies of the Caribbean region from the earliest times to the present) and the ‘Slave Route’ initiative in the Caribbean and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. 

Another initiative – the Slave Trade Archives project – enables participating countries to better preserve original documentation relating to the transatlantic slave trade, to improve public access to these materials and to build up databases.

Many small-island countries are taking an active role in the observance of 2004 as International Year for the Commemoration of the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition, and over the longer term the annual observance of 23 August as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The day (23 August) and year (2004) mark the bicentenary of the uprising of Saint Domingue and the creation of the first Black Republic, Haiti.

Ongoing activities include the setting up in Haiti and other countries of museums on the slave trade and slavery and the display of a travelling exhibition Lest We Forget: The Triumph over Slavery, in cooperation with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. And in a more general context, plans are also taking shape for an International Institute for Intercultural Dialogue and Peace in Mauritius. 

Island societies offer a cultural crossroads. You don’t find the ‘fortress mentality’ that often exists in big metropolises. Islanders are more open to outside influences that are absorbed and regurgitated as something new... Island peoples have an incredible interest in ‘elsewhere’, possibly the result of a need to escape a sense of physical confinement. Consequently they have an extraordinary capacity for change and adaptation. 
Rex Nettleford, University of the West Indies, in an interview in UNESCO Sources (1992)

The Slave Route

The slave trade represents a dramatic encounter of history and geography. This four century long tragedy has been one of the greatest dehumanizing enterprises in human history. It constitutes one of the first forms of globalization. The resultant slavery system, an economic and commercial type of venture organization, linked different regions and continents: Europe, Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean and the Americas. It was based on an ideology: a conceptual structure founded on contempt for the black man and set up in order to justify the sale of human beings (black Africans in this case) as a mobile asset. For this is how they were regarded in the “black codes”, which constituted the legal framework of slavery. 

The history of this dissimulated tragedy, its deeper causes, its modalities and consequences have yet to be written. This is the basic objective that the UNESCO member states set for the “Slave Route” Project. The issues at stake are: historical truth, human rights, and development. The idea of “route” signifies, first and foremost, the identification of “itineraries of humanity”, i.e. circuits followed by triangular trade. In this sense, geography sheds light on history. In fact, the triangular trade map not only lends substance to this early form of globalization, but also, by showing the courses it took, illuminates the motivations and goals of the slave system. 

These slave trade maps are only a “first draft”. Based on currently available historical data about the triangular trade and slavery, they should be completed to the extent that the theme networks of researchers, set up by UNESCO, continue to bring to light the deeper layers of the iceberg by exploiting archives and oral traditions. It will then be possible to understand that the black slave trade forms the invisible stuff of relations between Africa, Europe, the Indian Ocean, the Americas and the Caribbean. 

Doudou Diene
Director of the Division of Intercultural Dialogue


Supply source of the trans-Atlantic slave trade
Bambara Ashanti Arada
Yoruba e Benin f Bobangi
g Loango h Kongo i Ndongo
j Mbundu k Ovimbundi l Lunda
m Makua
Historic personalities who fought against the black slve trade, slaves or descendents of 
slaves (St. Benedict and Pushkin 
1   P. Robeson 2   F Douglass  3   W. E. Du Bois 4   Toussaint Louverture
5   A. Dumas 6   Schoelcher 7   St. Benedict 
     Il Moro
8   A. S. Pushkin


The slave trade and the population of the African continent
Aggregate number of deportees from the 8th to the middle 
of the 19th century for all slave trades: 24 million at least

Total African population in the middle of the 19th century: 
100 million

Estimated total size that the African population would have reached in
the middle of the 19th century in the absence of any slave trade: 
200 million




Island populations and demographies

If enforced migration explicit in the slave trade and slavery has indelibly marked the course of history of Caribbean islands in particular, other types of inward and outward population movement have long been a feature of small islands worldwide. The interaction of island populations and cultural identity has never been static, as underlined in a UNESCO seminar on islands’ culture and development held in Mauritius nearly a decade-and-a-half ago. Topics addressed at that seminar included the relations among insularity, migration, inter-ethnic contacts and plural societies, and the effects of insularity as infl uenced by the relativities of scale and distance.

Issues such as these have been recurrent concerns in many UNESCO fi eld activities at the interface of people, resources and development; for example, in the late 1970s within the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme and its pilot projects in eastern Fiji and the eastern Caribbean, more recently within the programme on the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) and follow-up work on population and migration in the South Pacific. These studies have emphasized that migration is among the single most infl uential processes in the transformation (social, political, economic) of small island developing states. And bring to mind a phrase by economist J.K. Galbraith, who described migration as "the oldest action against poverty."

On Endangered Languages...

Language is one manifestation of cultural diversity. Each language reflects a unique world-view and culture complex, mirroring the manner in which a speech community has resolved its problems in dealing with the world, and has formulated its thinking, its system of philosophy and understanding of the world around it. With each vanishing language, an irreplaceable element of human thought in its multiform variations is lost forever.

There are about 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, most of them in several dialects. About a third of these are located in the Greater Pacific Area, comprising approximately 1,200 Austronesian languages (principally the Malayo-Polynesian group) and about 800 Papuan languages.

UNESCO’s work on endangered languages includes support to initiatives to describe and record these languages, as well as to preserve and maintain them. One specifi c project in this fi eld in the late 1990s was that on Melanesian languages. Among follow-up activities is support to the recording and revitalization of languages in the Melanesian islands of the southwestern Pacific, as described in a special small-islands dossier in the April 2004 issue of UNESCO’s New Courier magazine. Much information on the status of threatened languages is given in the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing (first published in 1996, with a new revised edition released in 2001)

....and Indigenous Peoples 

Growing threats to endangered languages are particularly signifi cant in relation to the world’s indigenous and minority peoples. Along with the rest of the United Nations system, UNESCO contributes to efforts to implement partnerships in action for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1995–2004). 

Among priority concerns, indigenous communities across the world are today demanding educational provision that respects their diverse cultures and languages, while not excluding them from broader participation in national education systems. Current trends towards both decentralization and diversification of education provision are offering new possibilities for indigenous education, with innovative approaches being promoted in such fields as intercultural bilingual education and the setting-up of indigenous peoples’ own educational programmes and institutions. Some of the key issues are addressed in a recent (2004) publication on The Challenge of Indigenous Education: Practice and Perspectives.

Another 2004-release is a CD-ROM on Cultural Diversity and Indigenous Peoples, which includes more than 130 texts, photographs, paintings, film extracts, video sequences and files presented in different languages from locations including New Caledonia, Reunion and the Solomon Islands.

The UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music of the World forms part of the Organization’s programme for the preservation and revitalization of intangible cultural heritage. It contributes to the dissemination of traditional popular and classical music, sacred music, music of rural and urban origin and festive or carnival music that involves singing, the playing of instruments and dancing. Launched in 1961 in collaboration with the International Music Council, the Collection includes several titles on the traditional and folk music of small islands: Bali, Cuba, Fiji, Solomon Islands (Fataleka and Baegu music of Malaita), Trinidad (music from the North India tradition) and Vanuatu (West Futuna).

Linguistic diversity in an island context*

  • Micronesia: 22 Malayo-Polynesian Micronesian languages (three threat-ened, one extinct).

  • New Caledonia and Loyalty Islands: 33 Malayo-Polynesian languages (13 threatened, two recently extinct, one being revived).

  • Papua New Guinea: about 820 local languages, of which 240 Malayo-Polynesian (35 threatened, three extinct) and 580 Papuan (over 40 threatened, 13 extinct).

  • Solomon Islands (including Santa Cruz Archipelago): 44 Malayo-Polynesian languages (12 threatened, two extinct), 10 Papuan (one threatened, three extinct).

  • Vanuatu: 110 Malayo-Polynesian languages (33 threatened, three recently extinct). 

* Extracted from Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing (edited by Stephen Wurm, 2001)

Profiling the oral and intangible heritage

The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in October 2003. Among other purposes, it seeks to ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned, to raise public awareness and mutual appreciation, and to provide international cooperation and assistance. In June 2004, Mauritius was the second Member State to ratify the Convention, and it is expected that other small-island nations will ratify the Convention in the coming months.

Five Island Masterpieces of the Intangible Heritage 

Cuba. La Tumba Francesa, Music of the Oriente Brotherhood, an eighteenth-century fusion of French popular dance traditions with music from the Dahomean region of West Africa, brought to Cuba by Haitian slaves who were resettled in the island’s eastern regions following the Haitian uprisings of 1792.

Dominican Republic. The Cultural Space of the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit of the Congos of Villa Mella, performed principally at religious festivals and funeral ceremonies, with the Brotherhood musicians playing hand-drums called ‘congos’.

Jamaica. The Maroon Heritage of Moore Town, home to one of the island’s few surviving communities of former runaway slaves known as Maroons, whose ancestors escaped in the early 1600s and established their own communities in the Blue and Johncrow Mountains of eastern Jamaica.

Tonga. Lakalaka Dances and Sung Speeches, widely considered as the national dance of Tonga, performed by entire communities to celebrate the coronation of the monarch, inauguration ceremonies and other signifi cant events. 

Vanuatu. Sand Drawings, not just a time-honoured artistic expression, but a veritable means of communication among the members of some 80 different language groups inhabiting the central and northern islands of this archipelagic country.

Of special interest to many island cultures is the oral and intangible heritage – which can be defined as the ensemble of cultural and social expressions that characterizes communities and are mainly based on oral transmission. These intangible forms of heritage, passed from generation to generation, are modified through time by a process of collective recreation. They are ephemeral and therefore in many cases particularly vulnerable. In order to safeguard, transmit and revitalize this precious asset of the human cultural treasury, in 1998 UNESCO created a new programme entitled ‘Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. 

The Proclamation programme recognizes cultural spaces and traditional forms of cultural expression that are of outstanding value. A cultural space is defined as a place that brings together a concentration of popular and traditional cultural activities and also as a time for a regularly occurring event. A traditional/popular form of cultural expression can mean oral expressions such as epics, music, dance, games, mythology, religious ceremonies and other rituals, costumes, craftwork, as well as traditional forms of communication. 

The first two proclamations were made in May 2001 and November 2003, and included five masterpieces from small-island developing nations. Perhaps significantly, four of these five masterpieces have a major musical component, thus highlighting the central role that music plays in island communities, both in the past and in contemporary life. As an ensemble, they also underline the cultural fusion and the regional and interregional linkages that characterize many island situations. 

These small-island masterpieces draw attention to some of the very real problems and challenges associated with maintaining the viability and vitality of the world’s oral and intangible heritage. Problems and difficulties encountered by individual masterpieces include ethnic discrimination, lack of effective government support, deleterious effects of several decades of missionary work by competing evangelical churches, dwindling interest among younger generations, competition from contemporary types of entertainment, reduction of the tradition’s deeper symbolic significance and original social function.

On the other hand, these small-island examples also illustrate some of the steps that local and national communities are taking to boost the profile, status and viability of particular traditions: promoting the inclusion of local languages in primary schools, creating inventories of those cultural practices that are still alive and part of everyday culture of communities and individuals, setting-up community centres with craft museums and workshops, compiling written and audio-visual documentation, enhancing legal protection, encouraging educational and awareness-raising initiatives at school and in the media, and organizing various kinds of festivals and workshops.

The Cultural Space of the Brotherhood 
of the Holy Spirit of the Congos of Villa 
Mella (Dominican Re-public), one of the 
first batch of Masterpieces of the Oral 
and Intangible Heritage of Humanity 
proclaimed by UNESCO in 2001.

Protecting the tangible cultural heritage

In the field of tangible cultural heritage, UNESCO’s actions focus on the identification, protection and preservation of the cultural and natural heritage considered to be of outstanding and universal value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage

Adopted by UNESCO in 1972, the Convention now has 167 States Parties. The World Heritage List, which was created under this convention, today (in late 2004) includes 788 sites – 611 cultural, 154 natural and 23 mixed – in 134 countries, including 21 sites in ten small-island nations: Cuba, Cyprus, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Malta, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, Seychelles and Solomon Islands. Cultural properties on the list include: Old Havana and its Fortifications in Cuba; Paphos and Painted Churches in the Troodos region in Cyprus; the Colonial City of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic; the Natural History Park and Citadel, Sans Souci and Ramiers in Haiti; the City of Valletta and the Megalithic Temples of Malta; and Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park in St Kitts & Nevis.

In terms of both cultural as well as natural sites, the World Heritage List contains relatively few sites in small island developing nations, and several measures are being taken to redress this imbalance. In February 2004, a conference was held in St Lucia on the development of a Caribbean Action Plan in World Heritage. This conference was both the culmination of a series of World Heritage expert meetings and training activities undertaken in the region from 1995 onwards, and the transition to a more comprehensive Caribbean Action Plan for the next ten years. Nearing completion is a Pacific region version of the World Heritage in Young Hands Educational Resource Kit for Teachers, which seeks to introduce World Heritage education into classroom teaching. Since 1998, the number of Pacific small-island States Parties to the Convention has risen from three to thirteen, with several countries actively preparing nominations for the inscription of sites as well as ‘World Heritage Tentative Lists’. Among other pipeline activities in small-island nations is the preparation of a serial nomination of sites important in the Slave Route. 

Underpinning these ‘in progress’ initiatives are capacity building and training activities of various kinds, such as regional training programmes for the Caribbean, Pacific and western Indian Ocean. Intercultural exchanges are also being promoted using the logistic and cooperative frameworks provided by the World Heritage Convention. An example is a study tour by traditional leaders from Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia to Tongariro National Park in New Zealand, the first property to be inscribed in 1993 on the World Heritage List under the cultural landscapes criteria.

Restoration and consolidation are impor-tant dimensions of the work 
programme at many World Heritage sites. An example is at the Natural 
History Park in Haiti, created by presidential decree in 1978 and containing
three monuments which date from the beginning of the 19th century when 
Haiti proclaimed its independence: the Citadel, the palace of Sans Souci 
and the buildings at Ramiers.© UNESCO/Michel Claude

Promoting cultural enterprises

Recent years have seen increasing interest in the use of cultural assets for raising living standards at the same time as preserving cultural heritage and cultural diversity and promoting creativity and entrepreneurship. Among the fields offering opportunities for the development of cultural enterprises as agents of economic growth and national development are handicrafts, design, music, print and multimedia publishing, film and television production and heritage tourism.

UNESCO work in this field was boosted by the launching in January 2002 of the Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity. The Alliance brings together some 170 partners from public, private and non-governmental sectors and serves as a catalyst to reinforce local cultural industries and the protection of intellectual property rights. Among several pilot projects are two on music in the Caribbean. 

Another promising domain for promoting cultural enterprises in small-island regions is through providing encouragement and support for networking among groups of ‘black-collar’ workers – designers, artists, photographers and other creators who typically dress in black, are self-employed and use the Internet as their infra-structure. The aim here is to link together creators in chains of production and marketing, in such fields as film animation that require small pieces of input from many people.

And at the international level, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and UNESCO are jointly developing an integrated policy framework for the creative industry sector, aimed at poverty reduction, improvement of copyright regimes, employment creation and trade expansion. The specific role of the three organizations is set out in a Declaration on the Promotion of ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States) Cultures and Cultural Industries, adopted by the first Conference of ACP Ministers of Culture held in June 2003.

Creative industries are among the fastest growing in the world economy today. They include the recording industry, music and theatre production, the motion picture industry, music, book and newspaper publishing, photography, the visual arts, radio, television and the broadcasting industry. These industries add value to contents and generate values for individuals and societies. They are knowledge and labour-intensive, create employment and wealth, nurture creativity – the ‘raw’ material they are made from – and foster innovation in production and commer-cialization processes.

During the 1990s, creative industries have grown exponentially both in terms of employment creation and contribution to gross national products. Globally, creative industries are estimated to account for more than 7% of the world’s gross domestic product, and are forecast to grow on average by 10% yearly.

However, there is a pronounced gap between North and South, which prevents most developing countries from reaping the benefi ts of this growth. How small island developing countries might respond to this challenge is perhaps one of the issues that warrants creative and concerted attention during the Barbados+10 review process and its follow-up. 

Creating opportunities for Cuban musicians’ was launched in early 2004 in cooperation with the Instituto Superior de las Artes (ISA), an experienced group of Cuban musicians and other national associations. The aim is to train musicians in the fundamental principles of copyright and neighbouring rights, as well as in contractual practices applied both nationally and internationally in the fi eld of music. An introductory seminar in February 2004 was designed to equip ISA students with practical tools and knowledge of their rights, and so assist them in the development of their careers. 

Throughout the years, even though Cuban musicians have gained the reputation of being extremely gifted and well-trained professionals, they often lack the knowledge and tools to operate in a commercial environment and may take up engagements that run counter to their professional development. The aim of integrating, within the curricula of the ISA, a training module on the basics of copyright and contractual practices is to inform fledgling musicians about the realities of their future professional environment. This project, developed largely by the UNESCO Offi ce in Havana, aims to systemize such knowledge for transmission to authors, composers and interpreters in other music schools in the Caribbean and Latin American region.

Also in the Caribbean, the Global Alliance is currently supporting the development of a national strategy for the music industry in Jamaica. The aim here is to build a more professional industry whose needs are better understood by the government, benefiting not only the creative actors engaged in it, but the Jamaican economy as a whole.

© 2004 Andreas Lukin





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