In many ways, a civilizations intangible cultural heritage is linked to its traditional forms of craftsmanship. They tell stories of lives lived, of past, of a way of being. Crafts signify the evolution of existence, they point us towards the role of rituals and traditions.
Crafts envelop tools, clothing and jewellery, costumes and props for festivals and performing arts, storage containers, objects used for storage, transport and shelter, decorative art and ritual objects, musical instruments and household utensils, and toys, both for amusement and education. Many of these objects are only intended to be used for a short time, such as those created for festival rites, while others may become heirloom that are passed from generation to generation.
The skills involved in creating craft objects are as varied as the items and materials themselves, like other forms of intangible cultural heritage, globalization poses significant challenges to the survival of traditional forms of craftsmanship. Mass production, whether on the level of large multinational corporations or local cottage industries, can often supply goods needed for daily life at a lower cost, both in terms of currency and time, than hand production.
Many craftspeople struggle to adapt to this competition. Environmental and climatic pressures impact on traditional craftsmanship too, with deforestation and land clearing reducing the availability of key natural resources. Even in cases where traditional artisanship develops into a cottage industry, the increased scale of production may result in damage to the environment.
Many craft traditions involve ‘trade secrets’ that are not taught to outsiders but if family members or community members are not interested in learning it, the knowledge may disappear because sharing it with strangers violates tradition.
The way forward could lie in contemporizing the traditional while at the same time, finding new markets and empowering the crafts person.