Khon of Thailand, Khol of Cambodia Recognized by UNESCO

Photo: Serthayos Sansuwansri / Pixabay
Photo: Serthayos Sansuwansri / Pixabay

BANGKOK — Who owns Khon? The United Nations on Thursday settled a long-disputed question by recognizing both forms of a traditional dance in Thailand and Cambodia as world heritage.

The UNESCO announced Khon, the Thai masked dance drama, and Lkhon Khol of Cambodia are intangible cultural heritage of humanity. The version in Cambodia, where much of the tradition was obliterated by the genocidal Khmer Rouge, was designated in need of urgent safeguarding. The results were announced at a world heritage conference in Port Louis, Mauritius, which ends tomorrow.

The Thai version is recognized on the list for being a distinct, important cultural practice. The Cambodian Khol is under a category of cultural elements considered endangered and in need of urgent conservation.

Both nations have claimed to own the masked dance, and attempts by each to win international recognition prompted a bitter feud between the two neighboring countries.

The Thai government on Friday welcomed the decision and promised more campaigns to promote and conserve the traditional performing arts.

Pichet Klunchun, a contemporary choreographer and practitioner, commended the UNESCO decision online today, saying it could prevent another spat between the two countries by simultaneously recognizing both versions of the dance.

As a master who’s rebelled against Thai Khon conservatives, he said the move means Khon now belongs to the world.

“We can no longer use our own rules or cultural principles to judge what can and cannot be done to Khon. We need to listen to the opinions of the whole world, because Khon is now humanity’s cultural heritage.”

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