It has been four years since the Lakhon Khol or Khmer Masked Theatre was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Culture World Heritage List, an event that stirred controversy between the Cambodian and Thai peoples at that time.
This year a performance was held on the afternoon of November 25 with a troupe of Lakhon Khol and the New Generation of Lakhon Khol Youth Traditional Dance Group led by teacher Hang Phumara.
The performance was open to members of the public and free of charge. It gave the audience the opportunity to get to know more about the artistry of Lakhon Khol such as the traditional clothes and musical instruments. In addition to the performances, an exhibition was held at the headquarters of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.
Two youths who watched the dress rehearsal on November 24 and the performances on November 25 were excited about new aspects of the art form that they had never seen before.
“[Lakhon Khol] is different from other theatrical forms. I used to watch Lakhon Bassac and other theatre styles at pagodas, but this theatre in particular was taken from the Ramayana, also known as the Reamker, so it is new to my eyes,” said Mann Huyleang.
“The previous controversy occurred because we don’t know our own cultural history very well, but after Lakhon Khol was placed on the World Heritage List, we should give thought to supporting it. The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts already carries out the task of protecting our Khmer heritage and what remains is that we all seek to understand it together,” she added.
Nuon Sothea said that what she saw on the evening of November 24 was just a rehearsal, though the execution was really smooth, but he was greatly impressed by the following day’s performance
“This evening I saw something really good on stage. It gave me and my friends goose bumps,” he said, calling on all members of the public to watch the performances, especially since they are often free of charge.
Back in 2016, some Cambodian and Thai social media users engaged in a war of words with posts filled with barbed comments as they argued over the origins or similarities between Cambodia’s Lakhon Khol and Thailand’s Khon masked theatre tradition after Thailand’s culture ministry announced that it would apply to have Khon placed on the UNESCO list as well.
Cambodia’s sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List are Angkor Wat and its surrounding area, Preah Vihear Temple, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Sambor Prei Kuk.
On the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List, Cambodia has the Royal Ballet, Sbek Thom theatre, Reamker by Takrut, tug of war or teanh prot games played at Khmer New Year, the chapei dong veng stringed musical instrument and Lakhon Khol.