So you have your typical—or well, your atypical—World Heritage Sites: your Taj Mahals, your Great Pyramids, your Stonehenges. There are more than 1,000 of those in the world, designated as such by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. They are sites in the traditional sense of the term: physical places that you can visit and touch.
In 2003, however, UNESCO identified a more theoretical interpretation of "site"—as an activity, a ceremony, a situation. And also, you might say, a state of mind. Here is a list—an extremely truncated list—of some of the things that UNESCO has thus far enshrined under the broad rubric of humanity's "intangible heritage":
- The Mediterranean diet
- The Argentine tango
- The Marimba
- The Flamenco
- The Royal Ballet of Cambodia
- The Beijing Opera
- Vedic chanting
- Viennese coffee house culture
- Turkish coffee culture
- Engraved block printing
- Mexican food
There has been a glaring omission from that list, however—a list that also, I didn't mention above, includes the practice of shrimp-fishing-on-horseback in Belgium—and Switzerland is now hoping to correct it. The Swiss government, according to Agence France-Presse, will soon be asking UNESCO to include more of its own cultural traditions as a matter of humanity's "intangible heritage." One of them—putting the yay in yodelay—is yodeling.
Yodeling is not, of course, a uniquely Swiss thing. The practice—it is any singing, technically, that involves "repeated changes of pitch during a single note"—also graces music from Africa and North America (and from, obviously, Austria). But it is most commonly associated with Switzerland, and the country is now trying to claim it as its own. It's got other requests for inclusion, too, among them mechanical watchmaking, graphic design and typography, Alpine livestock season, Holy Week processions in Mendrisio, the Winemakers' Festival held every 20 years in Vevey, the Basel carnival, and processes to manage the risk of avalanches.
Since countries are allowed to submit only one "intangible heritage" a year, it will take a while before each submission makes it onto the UNESCO list ... but here's hoping the first one will involve singing. Yodelaywoohoo.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.