Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand to jointly nominate the kebaya for Unesco intangible cultural heritage list

SINGAPORE – Singapore will be nominating the kebaya for Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list, in a multinational effort with Brunei, Malaysia and Thailand.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) on Wednesday said this will be Singapore’s first multinational nomination to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which is slated for submission in March 2023.

According to the NHB’s heritage resource portal,sg, the kebaya, an upper garment for women, is “a central aspect in the representation and display of cultural heritage and identity for Malay, Peranakan, and other communities in Singapore, and is a notable part of our heritage as a multi-cultural port city”.

NHB said the kebaya is not just a garment but an important medium in which Malay and Peranakan cultures may be represented, through various motifs that are embroidered on it.

Malaysia had proposed and coordinated the multinational nomination, said NHB, adding that the idea was discussed as part of a series of working meetings among “a number of countries” in 2022.

NHB stated that Brunei Malaysia Singapore Thailand, Singapore and Singapore all agreed to work together on the nomination. The board stated that the four countries are open to other countries joining the multinational nomination.

The results of the nomination are expected to be announced by end-2024.

NHB stated that kebayas reflect the artistry and skill of their makers, as well as a blend of cultures. Kebayas may have traditional Javanese patterns and batik patterns, such the palm fruit, as well as motifs that are influenced by Indian, Malay, Chinese and European cultures like flowers, animals and mythical creatures.

Kebaya-related crafts and practices were added to NHB’s intangible cultural heritage inventory in October 2022, joining other elements such as orchid cultivation and soya sauce making on the 102-strong local list.

The upcoming nomination follows the successful inscription of hawker culture – Singapore’s first element on the Unesco intangible cultural heritage list – on Dec 16, 2020, after the country officially submitted its bid on March 26, 2019.

As of 2021 there were 61 additional elements. These include art mechanics and craftsmanship in mechanical watchmaking – jointly nominated by France and Switzerland.

Separately, the Singapore Botanic Gardens was inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List in 2015.