placeholder
7 December 2017

Great News: the miller's profession is recognised as UNESCO Immaterial Heritage!

The miller’s trade will be preserved for the future by its official recognition as UNESCO Immaterial Cultural Heritage! The United Nations are including a thoroughly Dutch professional tradition with deep historical roots in the world history of human culture.

 

Great News: the miller's profession is recognised as UNESCO Immaterial Heritage!

The craft of the miller: to many of us, it is a romantic image filled with nostalgia and heroic tales. We envision hardy fellows wearing wooden shoes, arms bulging with muscles. To be a miller is to be prepared at all times and in any weather, ready to operate a creaking wooden machine in order to save the village from the grasp of the rising waters. Or rising before dawn to haul heavy bags of wheat, while the millstones grind the flour that keeps the city fed. To be a miller is to face the elements and keep the sails in motion, driven by passion and knowledge passed on down the generations.

A tradition under threat

In spite of our romantic ideas, the miller’s profession has been under threat for years. As often happens to time-honoured traditions, the numbers of new aspiring millers keep dwindling, with ever fewer apprentice millers applying to learn the tricks of the trade. In addition, the physical burdening of their heavy task load means that older millers have to let go of their calling sooner or later, even if they would prefer to carry on for years if they could. Despite this trend, the Netherlands still features plenty of windmills that need their sails to keep turning. The mills of Kinderdijk, for example, have to go through a set number of rotations every year to stay in shape. Another important fact is that if anything were to go wrong with our low country’s modern water management, the polder mills of Schermer, Nederwaard, and other critical areas will have to help out to keep us all dry.

 

The millers of the future have the wind at their backs!

How it started

How it started

More info

It became official by the onset of 2015: the profession of wind and water miller was nominated for inclusion on the Representative List of the UNESCO treaty for the protection of immaterial cultural heritage.

Preservation for the future

It’s good to know, then, that the authorities have called for international protection of this crucial example of craftsmanship. It became official by the onset of 2015: the profession of wind and water miller was nominated for inclusion on the Representative List of the UNESCO treaty for the protection of immaterial cultural heritage. That’s quite a mouthful, but it boils down to the United nations preserving the miller’s craft for the future, to allow new generations of professionals to be trained for the continuation of this cultural tradition.

 

Cultural treasures

‘Immaterial heritage’ denotes a collection of global traditions, as well as a range of important rituals, crafts, and customs. Even if such cultural treasures are intangible, they are simply too valuable to allow them to disappear. Mrs. Jet Bussemaker, the former Dutch minister of culture who submitted the nomination, used these words to drive the message home:

“Mills and the Netherlands have been connected for centuries. Millers are necessary to keep the mills turning. In the future, we still have to able to enjoy the workings of these dynamic monuments. By nominating the miller’s trade at UNESCO, we ensure that the craftsmanship of working with mills is preserved for future generations, which will allow the Netherlands to remain the mill country par excellence.” Thank you very much – we couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

 

The value of a lifestyle

The nomination was a complicated affair. It required submission of a comprehensive plan designed to protect the profession, backed by education plans for secondary and vocational schools. A mini-documentary was recorded to support the application, and the Netherlands promised to be an international advocate of safeguarding and promoting miller’s knowledge and skills worldwide. By their recognition of the miller’s craft as Immaterial Heritage, UNESCO acknowledges the cultural, economical, and social value of the miller’s life – because it is more than just a job: it’s a genuine lifestyle.

 

Immaterial yet concrete

The concept of ‘immaterial heritage’ means a lot in the world of mills. With this, UNESCO recognition confirms the important cultural value of the miller’s trade, as something worth preserving for future generations. That may not sound very surprising to us, because we know the simple truth: no mill can survive without a miller. In order to do so, you need someone who operates the mechanisms with love and attention, keeping everything in check while knowing exactly what a miller should do to prevent damage and wear. When you think of it, you’ll agree that this immaterial heritage of ours is pretty concrete after all!

A gift for the Netherlands - and beyond

The acknowledgement is a real gift for the Netherlands, because we still have about 1,200 operational mills in the country today: that’s quite a machinery to keep going! The impact of immaterial world heritage reaches far beyond our borders, though, because mills – and therefore, millers – are found all over the world. It’s no surprise, then, that our current minister of culture, Mrs. Ingrid van Engelshoven, is proud of this mill milestone. She described it as follows: “Immaterial heritage can only persist if its development keeps up with the times. That is precisely what Dutch millers are doing. They have great plans for the future”. On behalf of the global miller community, and from Kinderdijk World Heritage in particular, we would like to thank the minister and everyone involved in promoting this decision for this precious piece of security for the future!

 

The wind at our backs

Through the nomination and the recognition, we achieve more than safeguarding the future of mills and millers. The Netherlands also places itself firmly on the international map of cultural achievements. We feel that this move makes perfect sense: after all, it is a great tradition that we can all be proud of. Of course, it is crucial for Kinderdijk to keep welcoming new millers to the job, simply to keep the wheels in motion, but it is equally essential for the country as a whole. In addition, this is a wonderful gift for the Kinderdijk World Heritage Foundation; especially since we’re already celebrating our 20th anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 2018 National Windmill Day will be all about our immaterial heritage as well, so we are challenging you: would you like to become a real next generation miller? If so, you should come over and spend a day taking an up-close look at the impressive machines that have kept this tradition alive! We are full of confidence as we head for the future, and if you can just see yourself standing high up on one of our mighty wooden giants, as the sails make their stately rounds in the background, then you are more than welcome to enrol for training in this fantastic craft!

 

The author

Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage on National Geographic

Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage on National Geographic

Read more
Added capacity for the Elshout sluice

Added capacity for the Elshout sluice

Read more
Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage is switching to winter mode

Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage is switching to winter mode

Vrijdag 1 november schakelen we in UNESCO Werelderfgoed Kinderdijk over op de wintermodus. Read more
Up before dawn looking for that picture-perfect Kinderdijk shot

Up before dawn looking for that picture-perfect Kinderdijk shot

Read more
Exterior stairs of Blokweer Museum Mill replaced

Exterior stairs of Blokweer Museum Mill replaced

Read more
For the first time all locations open throughout the winter season

For the first time all locations open throughout the winter season

Read more
Visitors Centre Opening: The Recap

Visitors Centre Opening: The Recap

Read more
Visitors Centre opened by Princess Beatrix

Visitors Centre opened by Princess Beatrix

Read more
‘It’s wonderful to put Piet’s money to good use here’

‘It’s wonderful to put Piet’s money to good use here’

Read more
End Of An Era: Molenhoek Is Demolished

End Of An Era: Molenhoek Is Demolished

Read more