UNESCO adds straw weaving in Belarus, art, craft and skills to its intangible cultural heritage list

Straw weaving is the fifth Belarusian cultural tradition included in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. Previously, this list included the ritual of the Kalyady Tsars (Christmas Tsars) in the village of Semezhava, the Budslau Fest, the spring rite of Jurauski Karahod in the village of Pahost and tree beekeeping. 

The decision was taken on 1 December 2022 at the 17th session of the Intergovernmental Committee, which was announced on the official UNESCO Twitter account. 

In the past, straw was used everywhere across Belarus: it was used to thatch roofs, as bedding material for farm animals, and in lean years straw flour used to be added to make bread. People began to use straw as weaving material at the turn of the II-I millennia BC - straw weaving was part of fertility rites. And in the XVIII-XIX centuries in Belarusian Palessie, an art school was formed to create iconostases from straw for Orthodox churches. 

The main types of weaving techniques are flat, three-dimensional, spiral and straight. The technique of flat and straight weaving was used to make jewel boxes, baskets, parts for straw hats. Palessie iconostases were made in the technique of three-dimensional weaving, which made them looked just as good as gilded ones. The most common type of weaving technique, spiral weaving, was used in making storage boxes, barrels, toys and even beehives and furniture! 

These days about 200 masters continue the tradition of straw weaving in Belarus. The most common type of straw used for weaving is rye straw: of all cereals the stalk of rye is the longest and most durable. To get the straw in different shades, it is harvested (cut by hand) at different times. Later it is dried, boiled and woven to make items which are rightfully regarded as the hallmark of Belarus. 

An increasing interest in the Belarusian culture and raising environmental awareness have recently spurred a revival of forgotten craft skills, including straw weaving.