Gov’t Aims to Have Bokator Added to UN Cultural Heritage List

The government is aiming to have the ancient martial art of bokator added to Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, a goal that was the focus of a two-day seminar on preserving and developing the sport that concluded on Tuesday.

Delegates gathered at the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia headquarters in Phnom Penh to discuss the importance of gaining the Unesco listing for the martial art, as well as plans for it to be added to the national physical education curriculum and to soldiers’ basic training.

Young practitioners of the Cambodian martial art bokator pose during a seminar at the offices of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Young practitioners of the Cambodian martial art bokator pose during a seminar at the offices of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“We are afraid it will be lost, so we have to encourage and spread its practice,” Culture Minister Phoeung Sakona said on Tuesday.

Unesco, the U.N.’s cultural agency, currently recognizes three Cambodian traditions on its list of important “intangible heritage,” which it defines as “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants.” The Royal Ballet and Sbek Thom—shadow puppetry—were added to the list in 2008, and “tugging rituals and games” were added in 2015.

Anne Lemaistre, Unesco’s country director, said that the Ministry of Culture’s submission of bokator —which is officially named Kun Lbokator—was being finalized.

“We are working on the nomination, but it is not yet finished,” she said, adding that the deadline for initial 2016 submissions was March 31. It can take two years between the submission of an application and a final decision from Unesco.

According to Vath Chamroeun, the secretary-general of the Olympic committee, the process of having bokator recognized has already been lengthy.

“We tried to be added to the list in 2012, but we lacked a number of large pieces of information, so they required us to make corrections,” he explained.

“We have seen bokator become more popular and people talking about it more than other martial arts,” he said.

In addition to the Unesco listing, he said, there were plans to add a simplified version of bokator to the list of sports offered during physical education classes in schools.

(Additional reporting by Peter Ford)

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