International Cooperation on Safeguarding Living Heritage in Sudan

UNESCO Experts Meeting in Cairo, September 2023

 Since 2022, the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) has been conducting research exchanges on the safeguarding of living heritage with the National Ethnographic Museum of the Republic of Sudan, as part of a research project called ”Heritage studies for realization of cultural diversity and peacebuilding in post-conflict countries,” funded by a Grant-in-Aid for Challenging Research (Exploratory), the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Principal Investigator: Dr. ISHIMURA Tomo, Director of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage, TOBUNKEN; Co-Investigator: Dr. SHIMIZU Nobuhiro, Associate Professor, Faculty of Engineering, Hokkai Gakuen University; Collaborate Investigator: Ms. SEKIHIRO Naoyo, Instructor, Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute).
 Sudan has been in political turmoil for many years, due to civil war and dictatorship; however, the dictatorship that had lasted for thirty years recently collapsed, an interim democratic government was established, and the country has since been rebuilding. Under these circumstances, the significance of cultural heritage as an expression of Sudan’s history and cultural diversity, in particular, living heritage, including intangible cultural heritage, is receiving increasing attention.
 In May 2023, we planned to invite Dr. Amani Noureldaim, Director, and Mr. Elnzeer Tirab, Deputy Director of the National Ethnographic Museum to Japan to sign a memorandum of understanding on joint research with TOBUNKEN. However, on April 15, 2023, a clash occurred between the Sudanese National Army and the Rapid Reaction Support Force (RSF), a paramilitary organization, and Sudan was placed in an armed conflict. As a result, the invitation scheduled for May was postponed at the last minute.

 Even under these difficult circumstances, Sudan’s cultural heritage stakeholders are making efforts to continue their activities to safeguard their cultural heritage. Museums in Khartoum, such as the National Ethnographic Museum and the National Museum of Sudan, have been forced to close; however, related personnel, including staff of the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), have been evacuated outside of the country or to safe areas within the country while continuing operations. For example, from June 3 to 5 and July 6 to 10, emergency workshops and forums were held both face-to-face and online, mainly by people who had evacuated to Egypt, under the initiative of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). Project members were also invited to the meeting by Sudanese experts and participated online in some parts of the workshops.

 In response to these circumstances, we have revised the objective of this project to “safeguarding of cultural heritage in times of conflict,” and we have decided to respond to these movements as far as possible. In August, we visited the British Museum in the United Kingdom and exchanged opinions with Dr. Julie Anderson, Mr. Michael Mallinson, and Dr. Helen Mallinson, who have been involved in the protection of cultural heritage in Sudan for many years. We participated in the UNESCO conference “Expert Meeting on Living Heritage and Emergencies: Planning the Response for Safeguarding Living Heritage in Sudan,” held at the Child Museum of Cairo from September 10 to 13, where we held discussions with international experts. At the same time, at the Embassy of Japan in Sudan, which has a temporary office in Cairo, we held a meeting with the Sudanese cultural heritage personnel who had evacuated to Egypt (nine people, including Prof. Ibrahim Musa, Director of NCAM) and staff members of the Embassy and JICA, including Mr. HATTORI Takashi, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Sudan, and Mr. KUBO Eiji, Director of JICA Sudan Office, to exchange information and discuss the possibility of international cooperation with Japan on the protection of cultural heritage in Sudan.

 Currently, the security situation in Sudan is still unstable; however, those involved in cultural heritage protection who remain in Sudan are still engaged in activities to safeguard the cultural heritage in local museums and other locations. We will make every effort to keep in touch with them and continue our research exchanges.
 Additionally, a 90-day campaign titled “#OurHeritageOurSudan” has been underway since November 1, led by Mr. Michael Mallinson and Dr. Helen Mallinson from the UK. The purposes of this event are to learn about Sudan’s living heritage, to share it, and to support Sudan’s recovery and the people working for it. On the website for this campaign, the purpose of which we agree with and are cooperating with, you can view photos and videos of Sudan’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. Please take a look: [External website]

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