Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand will be jointly nominating the kebaya for inscription onto the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Humanity.
The idea of the multinational nomination of kebaya was proposed and coordinated by Malaysia. This was then discussed as part of a series of working meetings amongst a number of countries in 2022.
The four countries agreed to work together on the multinational nomination as the kebaya represents the region’s rich shared history, promotes cross-cultural understanding. The traditional women’s dress of Southeast Asia continues to be actively produced and worn by many communities in the region.
This will be Singapore’s first multinational nomination, and the first multinational nomination involving the four countries. The four countries also welcome other countries to join the multinational nomination.
The four countries aim to submit the nomination file to UNESCO in March 2023, and the result is expected to be announced in end 2024.
Cultural Heritage and Identity
Mr Heath Yeo, local craftsperson of kebaya and sulam, said, “Kebaya means a lot to me as a maker and embroiderer, and making a kebaya requires a lot of hard work – from preparation to design, sewing to embroidery, all the way up to completion. Every kebaya is created layer by layer from start to completion, a labour of love involving meticulous and hard work. To me, kebaya can be likened to a lady of grace with her unique identity, uniting cultures and races. She embodies strength and yet is delicate at the same time. Born out of a beautiful blend of East and West, she attracts attention whenever she is seen, and I hope that a successful inscription will present an international stage for her and allow her to shine for the world to see and admire.”
Ms Chang Hwee Nee, Chief Executive Officer of the National Heritage Board (NHB), Singapore, said, “Kebaya has been, and continues to be, a central aspect in the representation and display of cultural heritage and identity for Malay, Peranakan and other communities in Singapore, and is an integral part of our heritage as a multicultural port city, with links across Southeast Asia and the world. The multinational nomination underscores this multiculturalism and our common roots with the region, and acknowledges the knowledge, artisanal skills and socio-cultural values associated with kebaya. We hope that the nomination will also generate greater interest and pride in the making and wearing of kebaya across different communities and generations in Singapore.”
The National Heritage Board will also be organising public outreach initiatives featuring kebaya in January to March 2023, leading up to the submission of the nomination file in end March 2023. More details on the public outreach initiatives will be shared on Board’s website.