Harry Waluyo
Secretary, Resources Development Body, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia

Indonesia, made up of tens of thousands of island and several hundred distinct ethnic groups, is home to various forms of intangible cultural heritage (ICH). Nonetheless, in this age of rapid political, social, and economic change, cultural heritage is at risk of being lost forever. Considering this, there have been several projects geared toward safeguarding Indonesian ICH. In 1976, there was an ambitious project undertaken to compile a complete inventory of ICH throughout the many islands. However, this project and its many successors experienced several problems, making it impossible to conduct a comprehensive ICH inventory. The two main reasons for why these projects did not come to fruition were, firstly, the distinct lack of community and individual involvement and, secondly, the ambitious scope of the project exceeding the technological capacity of the times.

Learning from the shortcomings of previous inventorying attempts, the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism teamed up with the UNESCO Office in Jakarta in 2009 to undergo a new inventorying project. In stark contrast to its predecessors, this new endeavor has been a striking success. Between the project’s 2009 commencement and July 2011, more than 1,700 elements have been inventoried with the help of academics, local governments, businesses, communities, and individuals. One of the secrets of this success is the Practical Handbook for Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Indonesia, a guide that sets the standards and methods for inventorying heritage elements, so that a wide-scale inventory can be drawn up with the participation of various parties. Compiled by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the UNESCO Office in Jakarta, the Handbook is set up in distinct parts, each serving its own special purpose.


The initial segment of the Handbook is an overview covering background information about inventorying ICH. In addition to highlighting the different ICH inventorying projects of the past, there is also a section indicating the legal basis for the project as well as information that clearly states the scope of the project, the objectives, and the target groups for the Handbook. By specifically naming the different groups who are encouraged to participate and stating the beneficiaries of the project, the Handbook creates something more concrete, with participants knowing not only who else is collaborating but also who is benefiting and how. It is in this sense that a feeling for community and pride in national heritage can intensify and compel individuals and groups to participate even more.

Comparison of Inventorying ICH in China, Japan, and Korea

The next part of the Handbook opens with a review of the August 2009 Symposium and Workshop on Inventorying for Safeguarding ICH that was held in Jakarta. Experts from China, Japan, and Korea presented papers regarding their experience with ICH inventorying in their respective countries. While the processes involved with inventorying differed somewhat from country to country, there were several significant commonalities among them, and some of these common characteristics are that the nations:

  • have, or are preparing, standard ICH inventory formats,
  • have ICH inventorying at the national level,
  • involve communities and NGOs in ICH inventory work,
  • use classifications or domains in inventorying ICH, and
  • have experience with funding limitations in inventorying activities and with overcoming these limitations different ways.

Inventorying ICH of Indonesia

The third segment is the longest and most comprehensive in the Handbook The first part reviews how to conduct the inventory, giving participants different options and instructions to complete an inventory form electronically or manually. There is also information about how to update inventoried ICH elements. In addition, the way the collected data will be used is explained. For example, there are four categories of database users (UNESCO, government, researcher, and public), and each user has certain usage rights. UNESCO uses the data as documentation of inventoried ICH; the government, for guidance in policy making; researchers, as a source of knowledge; and the public, as a storehouse of ICH. Knowing how the data will be used, helps ease any apprehension that may hinder voluntary involvement in inventorying.

The following part is a multi-page example of the ICH inventory form, and it sheds light into why the most current inventorying project has made such great strides in such a short amount of time. There are seventeen individual data fields to be filled out, and they cover the essential aspects associated with an ICH element. Although it is a rather lengthy form, it is also clear and easy to understand. Most of all, the data fields standardize the manner, type, and amount of data collected, which helps facilitate widespread inventorying, as all those who are inventorying are collecting the same data attributes. Furthermore, with technological advancements in database and web software, the information of the key attributes can be easily inputted into a relational database onsite or off.

Bibliography and Annex

Including bibliographic references allows participants and readers to look up additional information about ICH safeguarding as well as ICH inventorying.

In the annex there are two flow charts indicating the workflow of the entire inventorying process. The first chart outlines the procedures involved with manual ICH inventorying of elements, and the second, with online ICH inventorying. These charts are particularly helpful because they allow participants to see the entire multifaceted procedure, and they will be able to spearhead any problems in the process before issues arise.

The Practical Handbook for Inventory of ICH of Indonesia is a bilingual publication that has played a prominent role in allowing the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to embark on a widespread inventorying project that is thus far not only meeting, but exceeding expectations.