By: Vigneswaran Duraragh (Malaysia)
“A Taste of Asia,” was the theme of the first IOV Asia youth congress, which took place in Sarawak, Malaysia this past February. The idea to organize youth at a regional level was conceived in the 3rd IOV Youth World Congress Sweden in 2012. Delegates in the congress saw a need for more youth to take part in the discussion of Intangible Cultural Heritage and folk-art in general, especially when promoting cultural understanding and peace that transcends borders and nationality.
During the congress, the Asian Youth working team was formed, spearheaded by IOV Youth Interim Head, Joseph Reyland Viray, from the Philippines. He then hosted a regional meeting six months later in Manila. The team consisted of Oyuna Baldakova (Russia), Tayebeh Kharestani (Iran), Kriztine Rosales (Philippines), Pairoh Kokyai (Thailand), Andris (Indonesia), Farah Norzam (Malaysia), Vigneswaran (Malaysia),Louise Far (Philippines) and Divya Nawale (India), who drew a conceptual proposal for the First IOV Youth Asia Congress.
The First IOV Youth Asia Congress was organized by Vigneswaran Duraragh representing IOV and Haslina Malek from Curtin University, Sarawak, Malaysia. The Department of Leadership and Entrepreneurship, which is managed by Haslina Malek, gave immense support, especially financial, to the event.
80 delegates from 16 countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan attended the congress where they participated in dynamic discussions on how food impacts cultures and societies. The congress particularly focused on intangible cultural heritage of food (traditional cultures, religions, medicines and others); UNESCO mandate on the intangible cultural heritage and why we should safeguard it; and, shaping a new narrative for globalisation, consumption and mass production in the global economy.
The event started with a performance by students from a local high school playing the traditional instrument “gamelan.” It is a traditional music performance that is unique to state of Sarawak. To start off the formalities, Datuk Dr Lee Kim Shin, Assistant Minister of Communications & Assistant Minister of Sports spoke about Malaysia’s diverse culture and how acceptance of the plethora of cultures and traditions is the way forward for world peace. Professor Yudi Samyudia, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor of Curtin Sarawak and Carmen D. Padilla, President of the International Organization of Folk Art (IOV) were also present in the opening ceremony.
After the opening ceremony, there were presentations by each country, representative of their nation’s culture and people. Four working groups were established (practitioners, media, projects and academic) allowing delegates to work in any one of them, with the aim of establishing a tangible result at the end of the congress. Delegates were then brought to a local market where they explored the local Sarawakian farm produce and also a little bit of the local life.
A welcoming dinner followed where delegates donned their traditional costumes while being treated to the best of Sarawak and Borneo’s local cuisine at the Mariott Resort and Spa Hotel. There were performances by a local tribal dance group, Indonesia, poetry recitation by Iranians, traditional Sarawakian games and in the spirit of the upcoming Chinese New Year, the university’s Lion Dance Troupe graced the event. Delegates were also given the chance to try the “Sago Worm,” which is an Iban delicacy that can be eaten alive or cooked.
The discussions started on the second day and covered the various aspect of traditional food and culture ranging from the economic, symbolic and health. The congress also featured discussions on future projects, with focus on collaborations among youth of Asia in which organizing and establishing a regional youth committee was paramount to the delegates. There was also a keynote by Linina Phuttitarn, who is from UNESCO Bangkok on Intangible Cultural Heritage and by IOV President Carmen D. Padilla on IOV and its work. The contents of the keynotes were used as a basis for many of the discussions.
One of the highlights of the congress was a visit to a traditional Iban Longhouse, located two hours away from the university. It is a single wooden structure that houses 77 different families and stretches almost 300 meters long. With the permission of the tribal chief, delegates were assigned to host families where they spent a night. Despite the language barriers, where people had to communicate in charades or smiling at every conversation, the tribe demonstrated and then taught their “Hornbill Dance” and how to drink home-made rice wine. From open air bathrooms, a river 10 meters away from the longhouse, to an environment surrounded by jungle to the traditional delicacies and dance, it was a full tribal experience for everyone.
Tahir Amiraslanov who is IOV Azerbaijan Chair and President of Azerbaijan National Culinary Association, brought his team of master chefs and assistants to host an Azerbaijan themed night where 12 traditional Azerbaijani dishes were served. While delegates were being treated by the fantastic products of the master chefs, Mr Tahir explained the cultural and historical significance of the dishes being served as well a “what not to do in a kitchen” talk. Ms. Minara Guliyeva gave a presentation on “The reflection of Azerbaijan Mugham art in the dresses of seven beauties,” and ‘”Azerbaijan Chefs Garments in the Middle Ages.” The night was graced by His Excellency Professor Dr. Qaley Allahverdiyex, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Malaysia, who flew in from Kuala Lumpur specifically for this night.
On the final day, delegates were given a platform where they could showcase their culinary traditions of their respective countries to the rest of the group. Using mostly local fresh products, more than 30 unique dishes from 16 different countries were made. Some examples includes the Russian borsch, Sarawak Laksa, Bangladeshi Beef Bulha, Filipino desserts and many more. A common sentiment shared among delegates after the workshops was food is not something that one just eats to survive, but also to appreciate and respect the history, love, and care that chefs have put into their cooking. This is one way barriers between cultures can be broken down, using food as a tool for peace.
The congress ended with a sunset beach party while traditional sape tunes were played. Friendship, ideas , the appreciation of different cultures and the desire for peace are inherent, natural human attributes. This congress allowed them to flow naturally.