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Members of the Sophiline Arts Ensemble perform the Lakorn Khol in 2014.
Members of the Sophiline Arts Ensemble perform the Lakorn Khol in 2014. Eli Meixler

Thai claim to dance draws ire

A push by Thailand to preserve traditional masked dance on the UNESCO cultural heritage listing has drawn an angry online backlash from many Cambodians who claim the dance belongs to Khmer culture.

According to the Bangkok Post, Thailand has proposed including the dance on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, which aims to preserve practices, instruments and skills of cultures and traditions.

Cambodia’s Lakorn Khol is a dance-drama based on the Reamker – the Cambodian poem in turn based on Sanskrit’s Ramayana epic – and the Thai Royal Khon is believed to have stemmed from the Cambodian version.

The Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts moved to quell the arguments raging on Facebook, pointing to its own efforts to put forward the dance for the list.

Culture Ministry spokesman Thai Norak Satya, said to outright reject Thailand’s suggestion – as some Facebook users were urging – could damage relations between the two countries.

“There is a strong public reaction, but our role as a ministry is preservation of culture,” he said.

He said the ministry last year started preparing its own list of cultural icons – including the Lakorn Khol, the musical form Pleng Arak and a form of Khmer boxing – for consideration by UNESCO, who could then examine the dance dispute.

According to Acting: An International Encyclopeadia by Beth Osnes, performers of the Cambodian Lakorn Khol “were stolen during the Thai invasion and brought to Thailand to entertain the court”.

“The Thai Khon form probably developed from this,” she wrote.

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