Heritage is often a subject to dispute in ASEAN as many countries in the region share common history and culture with nationalistic agenda in the background. UNESCO just put a term to a feud over Khon traditional dance performed in both Cambodia and Thailand by recognizing the art of Khol/Khon as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity for both kingdoms.
The UNESCO announced Khon, the Thai masked dance drama, and Lakhon Khol of Cambodia were now listed as intangible cultural heritage of humanity. While a lot of Thai older customs are often derivated from the old Khmer empire, both forms of dances have evoluted in the last century. Both kingdoms fighted bitterly the legitimacy of being the only guardian of the masked dance tradition.
Cambodia however almost lost the traditional dance following the terrible Khmer Rouge years which almost succeed to destroy all traditional art forms of the Kingdom. UNESCO listing of Khol is also a way to help Cambodia safeguarding its heritage. The Cambodian Khol is under a category of cultural elements considered endangered and in need of urgent conservation. The Thai version is recognized on the list for being a distinct, important cultural practice.
The Thai government welcomed the decision and promised to step up the protection and further enhancement of Khon dance. Talking to some media, Thai contemporary Khon choreographer and dancer Pichet Klunchun commended the UNESCO decision on facebook by being the right move as it will put an end to the feud between Cambodia and Thailand.
“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,” he declared in a statement on his facebook account, reported local newspapers.