The Drama, Diversity and Development project is supporting four advocacy projects about minorities and their rights in the MENA region. One of these advocacy projects is the project implemented by Art Solution, which started in February 2016 and will be completed in July 2016. This project was designed to raise awareness of local authorities, cultural operators and young artists about the state of crisis of Stambeli tradition today. In addition, this campaign ambitiously aims to increase respect for Stambeli tradition and Stambelitradition’s heirs. The Campaign for Stambeli Tradition compiled a report as both an attempt to throw light on actual serious conditions of the Stambeli tradition in Tunisia, and as a call for the undertaking of immediate actions aimed at the preservation of a tradition that, if not safeguarded, is in danger of being lost.
As the report has stated, Stambeli is a Tunisian tradition of SubSaharan descent which includes specific music and dance practices designed to heal a person inhabited by a spirit, as well as, a set of customs, and practices, which originated from an intertwining of SubSaharan, Saharan, and NorthSaharan cultural and musical traditions. In general, Stambeli has been associated with the history of black slaves in Tunisia, even though it may go back to more ancient trends of cultural interchange between SubSaharan and Saharan populations.
Stambeli representatives all refer to the late Ottoman period as the moment of flourish for their tradition when Stambeli ceremonies were held in the Ottoman court. Nevertheless, the Stambeli communities and tradition have always held a controversial and marginalized place in Tunisian society. While Stambeli ceremonies were allowed during the colonial times, the customs were devalued, despised, and discouraged by the political elite after the Independence. The preservation of the Stambeli tradition today is increasingly endangered. A rising unawareness of the Stambeli tradition, a great reduction of work opportunities for members of the community, the dissolution of the communal housing system, the fragmentation of the community, the lack of generational renewal and communal belonging are aggravating the situation; so much so that today, using the term ‘community’ for Stambeli representatives almost sounds anachronistic. Further elements which prevent people from performing and recruiting cited by those interviewed by Art Solution are raciallybiased prejudices the members regularly faced with, racial discrimination, and the fear of harassments by radical Islamists.
In Tunis, today, the preservation of Stambeli tradition and heritage relies on a young and middleaged generation made up of about 30 individuals. Needless to say, an immense part of the rich heritage has already been lost with the diminishment of older generations. In consideration of all the data presented in the report, Stambeli tradition is found to be in serious danger of being lost. The report, therefore, recommends that the Stambeli cultural heritage and tradition be included in programs for the preservation of National heritage, respect. Art. 12 of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), as well as, in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
The report also recommended the establishment of an annual event dedicated to Stambeli music and dance heritage, the present social security scheme to be updated by the local authorities in order to meet fair conditions for Stambeli representatives, and the creation of special education and professional training schemes for Stambeli performers.