Traditional Khmer martial art ‘Kun Lbokator’ has been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity after being submitted three times.
According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts on November 29, the traditional martial art has been officially inscribed to UNESCO's World Heritage List.
“On November 29, during the 17th session of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco, the Committee decided to inscribe Kun Lbokator – commonly known as bokator – to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO according to decision 17.COM 7.b.1,” it said.
It added that the inscription of Kun Lbokator on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was done in order to protect and promote the country's cultural heritage, particularly Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is vulnerable to loss.
“Both tangible and intangible cultural heritage have greatly enhanced the Kingdom's visibility and recognition on local, national, and international levels. They also play a significant role in the socioeconomic development of the nation,” it said.
Long Ponnasirivath, spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the proposal has been challenging as the Ministry had to collaborate with stakeholders to thoroughly investigate Kun Lbokator before submitting it. Additionally, it had to meet all UNESCO requirements.
“Before submitting Kun Lbokator, we did some research. We interviewed people in the community and gathered all relevant historical documents. We thoroughly investigated Kun Lbokator to learn more about its origins and to confirm that it is our martial art,” he said.
“We also need to address their inquiries regarding the positive contributions martial arts provide to society,” he added. “It is not easy to make a submission.”
He said that there are additional plans to submit Cambodia's other cultural heritage to UNESCO, however, he would not identify them.
“There are more plans, we think from year-to-year. Since it has not happened, we cannot reveal [it],” he said. “Obviously, like Kun Lbokator, we have been thinking for a long time, but Chapei Dang Veng, tugging rituals and games, and Lkhon Khol have been listed first.”
Sardar Umar Alam, UNESCO Representative to Cambodia, said the inscription of Kun Lbokator is a significant accomplishment for Cambodia in safeguarding traditional art.
“As a traditional sport, its inscription will promote Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage on the international stage for intercultural dialogue, social cohesion, and tolerance, paving the way for generations to come,” he said in a press release.
In 2008, Cambodia first requested that Kun Lbokator be listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity under emergency protection. This request was renewed in 2017 under the new form "List of Representatives of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity".
However, the two efforts to submit Kun Lbokator to UNESCO were unsuccessful as the organization required Cambodia to add some missing documentation. In 2019, Cambodia attempted to compile the third application, with the help of specialists and UNESCO representatives in Phnom Penh. Due to Covid-19, it was completed and submitted in 2021.
Kun Lbokator is the sixth element from Cambodia inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The other five are the Royal Ballet of Cambodia (2008), Sbek Thom, Khmer shadow theatre (2008), tugging rituals and games (2015), Chapei Dang Veng (2016), and Lkhon Khol Wat Svay Andet (2018).