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Hawker culture: closer to being inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List

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Singapore hawker culture is one step closer to being inscribed on UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity after the Evaluation Body announced its recommendation on 16 November.

The Evaluation Body noted that hawker centres, which evolved from street food culture, have become markers of Singapore as a multicultural city-state. They serve as ‘community dining rooms’ where people from diverse backgrounds dine and mingle over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here, hawkers take inspiration from the confluence of different cultures and adapt dishes to local tastes and contexts.

In making its recommendation, the 12-member Evaluation Body said that the Singapore nomination satisfies all the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Among other things, it noted that hawker culture is an integral way of life in Singapore. It provides a sense of identity and continuity for people across the generations.

The recommendation of the Evaluation Body will guide the discussion of Singapore’s bid at the 15th session of the IGC (Intergovernmental Committee). The session will be held online from 14 Dec to 19 Dec 2020.

After the 15th Session, Singapore will know whether we are successful in our bid for inscription.

A commitment to safeguard Hawker Culture for generations to come

Ms Chang Hwee Nee, Chief Executive Officer of the National Heritage Board (NHB), said, “The Evaluation Body’s recommendation is an affirmation by international experts of Singapore’s bid.”

Support from Singaporeans for the nomination has been overwhelming.

“We hope the successful inscription of Hawker Culture would further raise awareness and appreciation among Singaporeans of the importance of intangible cultural heritage in our daily lives, and continue to promote dialogues among our communities,” she said, adding that they hope to hear good news during the IGC meeting in December.

Mr Tan Meng Dui, CEO of National Environment Agency described Hawker Culture was synonymous to Singapore. It is a unifying culture that binds our people and society, he said. The effort to get Singapore Hawker Culture inscribed on UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity shows a commitment to safeguard Hawker Culture for generations to come.

“A successful inscription in December will be the finest form of recognition to all our hawkers, past and present,” said Mr Tan.

President of The Federation of Merchants’ Associations, (FMAS) Mr Mr Yeo Hiang Meng said that FMAS has been actively engaging hawkers throughout the nomination journey.

“Our hawker members are very proud of our nomination, and have stepped forward to show their support in various ways. We hope that the IGC’s decision in December will be a favourable one,
which will bring about more awareness of our Hawker Culture internationally, and acknowledgement for our hawker members’ dedication towards their craft,” he said.

The journey for inscription

Singapore first announced its intention to nominate Hawker Culture in Singapore for the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in August 2018.

In March 2019, Singapore submitted the nomination documents to UNESCO for evaluation and decision on the inscription.

Following the submission, the documents were assessed by a 12-member Evaluation Body, a panel of experts appointed by the IGC. The Evaluation Body has recommended Hawker Culture in Singapore for inscription.

The recommendation of the Evaluation Body will guide the IGC in its discussion on the nomination when they meet at the 15th Session from 14 Dec to 19 December 2020.

Till then, all the best, Singapore!

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