Once a year, the border town of Chepstow plays host to one of the more unusual scenes in the Welsh cultural calendar. Congregations of Border Morris dancers are certainly not unfamiliar to these parts of Wales, where the contested nature of regional identity is played out through what appears to be a far more aggressive, almost hostile variety of the folk dance, but the gathering of a herd of Mari Lwyds is perhaps somewhat more unusual. Yet, the so called ‘ancient’ tradition of the Mari Lwyd has found a unique gathering point in the south east, where the revival of this intangible form of heritage is at its most visible.
While the idea of intangible cultural heritage is not formally recognised in the British Isles, there is no shortage of examples to be found in varying states of health. The Mari Lwyd is just one of a variety of such heritage types, defined by the fact that these are living, changing and participatory traditions. In terms of the performing arts, any of those to be displayed on the stage at a local or national Eisteddfod would fall into the criteria of intangible heritage. While the likes of clog dancing, cerdd dant and even the male voice choral tradition might all be considered ageing stereotypes, they nonetheless remain an important element of a particular aesthetic vision of Wales. Sadly though, there are few such heritage types which are not in some form of deterioration. Even male voice choirs, seen as being such a robust, near permanent element of the exported vision of Wales, are in a gradual state of submission, as ageing participants struggle to find the next generation to fill diminishing ranks. It is in this climate of decline that the ongoing resurgence of the Mari Lwyd is so significant.
Please find the complete article at this link, and do take the time to explore the rest of Wales Arts Review, Issue 3.2.