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Hawker Culture In Singapore Submitted For Inscription On UNESCO’s Representative List Of The Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity

28 Mar 2019


Singapore, 28 March 2019 ­– On 27 March, Singapore officially submitted its nomination to inscribe Hawker Culture in Singapore on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The nomination documents were jointly submitted by the three organisations co-driving the UNESCO nomination bid, namely the National Heritage Board (NHB), the National Environment Agency (NEA), and The Federation of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore (FMAS). The Nomination Committee that has been formed comprises representatives and stakeholders from various sectors, including hawker representatives, academics, community partners, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other government agencies. The Committee has given valuable advice and inputs to the nomination documents. (Please refer to Annex A for the characteristics of Hawker Culture in Singapore.)

2          According to a joint statement from NHB, NEA and FMAS, “The overwhelming support from Singaporeans since we first announced Singapore’s intention to inscribe Hawker Culture in Singapore on UNESCO’s Representative List shows how much Hawker Culture, as it has come to be manifested in Singapore, means to us. The submission of the nomination documents is a milestone in Singapore’s UNESCO inscription journey to better recognise and protect our intangible cultural heritage. A successful nomination will demonstrate to the world how proud we are of Hawker Culture in Singapore, encourage greater appreciation for our hawkers, and show our commitment as a nation to safeguard Hawker Culture for generations to come.”

3          Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, President of FMAS, said, “Since the announcement of the nomination, FMAS has been working closely with NEA and NHB in this journey. We worked together to conduct focus group discussions involving hawkers, publicise the nomination efforts and contribute our ideas to the nomination. Our hawkers have been very supportive. Many displayed Our SG Hawker Culture decals on their stalls and encouraged their customers to pledge their support for the nomination. Many members of the hawker community have expressed that this nomination is a recognition of the years of effort and service they have put into perfecting their craft, and that a successful inscription will be the best form of acknowledgement to their tireless dedication to providing good and affordable food for Singaporeans.”

Singapore’s Nomination Documents

4          The nomination documents submitted to UNESCO will be available for viewing on UNESCO’s website and the websites of the three organisations by July 2019. They comprise:

  • the official nomination form,
  • letters and videos showing community support,
  • a set of photographs that include contributions by Singaporeans through social media and entries to the #OurHawkerCulture photography contest held by National Geographic and the Ministry of Communications and Information, and
  • a 10-minute video produced to give the Evaluation Body and the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which will be assessing our submission, a better understanding of Hawker Culture in Singapore. (Please refer to Annex B for the photographs and links to the videos.)

UNESCO Evaluation Criteria for Hawker Culture in Singapore

5          Following the submission of Singapore’s nomination, a 24-member Intergovernmental Committee, who are elected by the State Parties of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, will decide on the suitability of Hawker Culture in Singapore for inscription on the UNESCO Representative List. The Intergovernmental Committee’s decision will be guided by the assessment and recommendation of the 12-member Evaluation Body appointed by the Intergovernmental Committee consisting of: six experts qualified in various fields of the intangible cultural heritage from States Parties to the Convention that are not members of the Committee, and six representatives of accredited NGOs. The decision on the nomination will be reached in end 2020. (Please refer to Annex C for the timeline of Singapore’s UNESCO inscription journey for Hawker Culture.)

6          UNESCO’s evaluation of the nomination of Hawker Culture in Singapore will be based on five criteria:

A) How it meets UNESCO’s definition of intangible cultural heritage;
B) How the potential inscription of Hawker Culture in Singapore increases visibility, awareness and dialogue of intangible cultural heritage;
C) How existing and future safeguarding measures ensure the promotion and continued practice and transmission of the element;
D) How the nomination effort has involved the widespread participation of the community; and
E) The inclusion of this element in our intangible cultural heritage inventory.

7          Singapore’s nomination form sets out the points to demonstrate how Hawker Culture in Singapore fulfils the abovementioned five criteria:

A) How Hawker Culture in Singapore Meets UNESCO’s Definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage

8          Hawker Culture is an important element of Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage (also known as “living heritage”), as defined in the 2003 UNESCO Convention. The Convention defines intangible cultural heritage as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage.” Hawker Culture, as it has evolved in Singapore, is a reflection of our living heritage and has been transmitted from generation to generation. It has evolved in tandem with and adapted to the socio-economic development of Singapore over the decades, from street hawkers of the past, to hawkers based in hawker centres, which have become important community spaces.

B) How the Nomination or Potential Inscription of Hawker Culture Increases Visibility, Awareness and Dialogue of Intangible Cultural Heritage

9          Food is a theme that is easily relatable and well-loved by Singaporeans. The announcement of Singapore’s intention to inscribe Hawker Culture in Singapore on UNESCO’s Representative List has generated considerable discussion and awareness of the importance of Hawker Culture among Singaporeans. The successful inscription of Hawker Culture in Singapore would further contribute to raising awareness and appreciation among Singaporeans of the presence, pertinence and role of intangible cultural heritage in our daily lives.

10        At the international level, the successful inscription of Hawker Culture, as it has come to manifest itself in Singapore, would be a meaningful acknowledgement, and reinforce the visibility and prevalence of intangible cultural heritage in urban contexts. In a world of ever-expanding globalisation and urbanisation, Hawker Culture in Singapore is a concrete and living illustration of how an intangible cultural heritage has evolved and can continue to thrive in a culturally diverse, rapidly developing and highly urbanised environment.

C) How the Existing and Future Safeguarding Measures Ensure the Promotion and Transmission of the Practice

11        The future viability of Hawker Culture in Singapore is ensured by a diverse group of stakeholders including hawkers, training institutions, schools, community organisations, academia, government, NGOs and individuals, amongst others, through the transmission of culinary practices, as well as research, documentation and promotion of various aspects of Hawker Culture. Some examples of safeguarding measures that have been elaborated in the nomination documents are:

  • Hawkers who pass on culinary practices through on-the-job training to younger family members or apprentices who learn to prepare food and manage the stalls. Some hawkers have led apprenticeship programmes, where experienced hawkers are paired with aspiring hawkers to transmit recipes, culinary practices and offer mentorship on the management of a hawker stall.
  • Culinary and training institutions which organise field trips at hawker centres for students, allowing them to learn about the dynamics of operating a hawker stall and fostering their interest to join the practice; as well as schools and educational institutions which help promote awareness and understanding of Hawker Culture in Singapore to students through projects and outreach initiatives.
  • Local food advocates, community organisations and academia who contribute to documenting Hawker Culture in Singapore, including producing publications and video documentaries detailing culinary practices of Hawker Culture.
  • FMAS, hawkers’ associations and representatives who safeguard interests of the hawkers and monitor issues at the hawker centres. For instance, FMAS organises meetings and networking sessions with hawkers to support the planning of safeguarding measures. It has also partnered NEA and NHB to conduct focus group discussions involving hawkers, experts and stakeholders, to share information about the nomination and gather feedback on safeguarding measures.

D) How the Nomination Effort Has Involved the Widespread Participation of the Community

12        For the nomination of Hawker Culture in Singapore to be successful, strong support from the community is crucial. To date, more than 850,000 pledges of support and over 31,000 messages have been registered across various platforms including a website (, a travelling exhibition and mobile pledging stations – all in support of Hawker Culture in Singapore to be inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List. A social media movement, #OurHawkerCulture, invited Singaporeans to express support for the nomination by submitting personal stories and photographs of their experiences of Hawker Culture in Singapore through Facebook and Instagram (@SGHawkerCulture), generating over 810,000 “likes” and “comments”.

13        Over 200 letters of support for the nomination have also been received from hawkers’ associations, schools, community groups, NGOs and private organisations across different sectors ranging from food and hospitality, to education.

14        Corporations, organisations, community groups and individuals have stepped forward to work on projects on Hawker Culture to raise greater awareness of its importance in Singapore, and contribute towards its safeguarding. Examples include Eat Shop Play, a digital platform to share information and stories of hawker stalls and centres island-wide. The group will also be declaring the last Friday of March “Hawkers’ Day” to recognise the contributions of hawkers to society.

15        Youths have also enthusiastically rallied to demonstrate their love for Hawker Culture through artistic expressions – writing poems and letters, drawing commonly observed scenes at hawker centres, and even filming a short video which shares the importance of Hawker Culture to Singapore. (Please refer to Annex D for examples of the community’s contributions and comments.)

E) Inclusion of Hawker Culture, as Practised in Singapore, in an Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory

16        NHB launched an intangible cultural heritage inventory in 2018 comprising elements of our intangible cultural heritage currently practised in multicultural Singapore. These include Hawker Culture, as well as various forms of performing arts, traditional crafts, social practices and festivals, as practices in Singapore. More information and elements will be added to the inventory progressively.

Singaporeans’ Continuous Support for Hawker Culture Is Important

17        Following the official submission of the nomination, Singaporeans are encouraged to continue to show their support for Hawker Culture as the results will only be announced in end 2020. They can do so by pledging their support online and at mobile pledging stations in public spaces, as well as through various ground-up projects covering different aspects of Hawker Culture in Singapore.

18        For more information, please refer to:

Information on public contributions and community support


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