The know-how of cultivating mastic, which is produced solely on the northeastern Aegean island of Chios, has been inscribed by UNESCO on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (ICH).
As UNESCO describes, mastic is cultivated on the island of Chios from the aromatic resin mastiha. Mastic has long been renowned for its numerous properties and its culture is a family occupation that requires laborious care throughout the year by men and women of all ages who participate on equal terms in the various stages. Men take care of the natural fertilization and pruning of the shrubs in winter, while from mid-June, women sweep, level and clean the ground around the trunk, so that the mastic can easily be recovered. From July, an incision is made to the tree’s skin and main branches with an iron tool. Once the mastic has solidified, women select the larger “tears” first, wash them and store them in wooden boxes in a cool place.
The community’s older members are responsible for passing the mastiha incision and harvesting techniques to younger generations. The mastic culture represents a comprehensive social event, around which networks of alliances and mutual help have been established. The communal practices are also an occasion for perpetuating collective memory through the narration of old tales and stories.
Chios has nearly 2,000 mastiha growers who live in the 24 Mastihohoria (mastic-growing villages): Agios Gheorghios, Armolia, Vavyloi, Vessa, Vouno, Elata, Exo Didyma, Tholopotami, Thymiana, Kalamoti, Kallimasia, Katarrakti, Koini, Lithi, Mesa Didyma, Mesta, Mirmingi, Nenita, Neohori, Olympoi, Pagida, Patrika, Pyrgi and Flatsia.
The growers are organized in 20 Primary Co-operatives (per village), who elect representatives from the Chios Mastic Growers’ Association, founded in 1938 and having as its main objective “the protection of Chios mastiha through its systematic organization, processing and collective supply.” It organizes the agricultural life of its members, handles legal questions on the protection of mastiha, supports research on the shrub, promotes new products and thus encourages young growers, the number of whom has considerably increased since 2000.
Putting the Chios mastiha culture on UNESCO’s ICH list would contribute to raising the profile of the intangible cultural heritage, as a dynamic heritage that is inseparably related to social life. By recognizing the mastiha culture and production as an element that is representative of the worldwide intangible cultural heritage, confirms that mastiha has left its mark on the local community’s identity. The activities relative to the culture and artisanal production of mastiha demonstrate that safeguarding, developing and promoting aspects of the intangible heritage can serve as examples for strengthening local societies, while offering alternatives for younger generations. Furthermore, the protection and application of traditional know-how bears witness to the fact that the artisanal culture that is experienced, incorporates the principles of sustainable development and ecological doctrines for the economic use of the environment and communities, otherwise known as human and natural resources.
It should be noted that all efforts to produce mastiha in the north of Chios, as well as elsewhere in Greece or abroad, have failed, due to the geological, soil and micro-climatic conditions, as well as due to the local producers’ know-how.