Ria Bos from the Netherlands has managed to have cigar rolling registered as a national intangible cultural heritage. The term “intangible cultural heritage” refers to cultural forms of expression, human knowledge and skills that are representative of a particular community or group, are passed on from generation to generation and are constantly re-imagined and evolving. UNESCO has identified five official categories, one of which is the knowledge and skills to produce traditional craftsmanship. In 1997, UNESCO created the working program Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage, and in 2003, 193 countries agreed on a convention that calls for the protection and preservation of this cultural heritage. The convention has been implemented since 2006. Since then, European countries have signed on at varying paces. Switzerland was a pioneer, while Germany only set the convention into action in 2013. Only those practices which have made it to the national list of intangible cultural heritage have the chance to be recommended on to land on the international “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” But Ria Bos is the real hero of this story. At age 16, Ria began working in the Oud Kampen cigar factory in the Netherlands. Day after day, she sat at the machines alongside many other women, producing shortfillers. After three years, the then-18-year-old had had enough. And those who know Ria today can easily imagine that the cheerful, energetic Dutch woman already knew what she wanted out of life and how to get it. Oud Kampen was sold to Ritmeester and Ria did not stay on. Instead, she began to work for Thomas Klapphage of De Olifant in his Kampen shop. There, a few older rollers sat right in the store, producing cigars by hand. “I was immediately fascinated by the work and wanted to learn it,” remembers Ria, “but the rollers said that it wasn’t women’s work and stopped me.” Thomas Klapphage, however, stepped in on her behalf, and Ria Bos was introduced to the art of rolling cigars. At age 19, Ria traveled through Europe as De Olifant’s roller at exclusive events. However, about 14 years ago, Ria and Thomas went their separate ways – because of the tobacco advertising ban, brand names were no longer permitted to offer rolling demonstrations. Ria became her own boss and has offered workshops and cigar rolling at private events ever since. Her calendar is completely booked.
How did it happen? “About three years ago, I thought, ‘What’s going to happen the day I can’t roll cigars anymore? This knowledge is just going to disappear!’ There are only three or four [Dutch] rollers aside from me, and they are very old. Someday, I am going to be the last person here who can roll cigars,” explains Ria, going very quiet. Ria got the idea to register her craft with the National Inventaris Immaterieel Cultureel Erfgoed, Holland’s register for intangible cultural heritage. In the Netherlands, the Kenniscentrum Immaterieel Erfgoed in Culemborg oversees the list. Not only is the application process lengthy, but Ria dealt with one rejection after another until she was even allowed to submit a written application at all. Why? “We cannot initiate the application process because it deals with smoking,” was the standard answer. “No, it’s not about smoking, it’s about the production of cigars—the traditional art that’s passed on from one person to another,” argued Ria. She ended up submitting the form six times, refusing to give up in the face of bureaucratic stalling tactics. And in 2016 her efforts were rewarded: her request had been granted. The status is good until 2018, at which point Ria’s application will be reviewed to see if she has done her duties as a conveyor of cultural heritage – namely, to see if she is educating and informing others about her craft. Ria has been supported by Steph Kronenburg of Gajane Benelux, who developed a marketing concept for her. Part of that is the MOC Rollerbox (MOC stands for “My Own Cigar”). It contains everything that passionados needs to roll their own cigars: tobacco leaves, cigar glue, a circular blade, molds, a small press and an instruction manual. Cigar lovers can purchase the box from Ria Bos during one of her courses, or order it through Gajane. Ria has lit a spark in the anti-smoking world that’s sure to have a big impact. Imitation encouraged!