Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 13.COM 10.b.37

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Thailand has nominated Khon, masked dance drama in Thailand (No. 01385) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Khon, the Khon Masked Dance Drama in Thailand, is a performing art that combines musical, vocal, literary, dance, ritual and handicraft elements. Khon performances – which involve graceful dance movements, instrumental and vocal renditions and glittering costumes – depict the glory of Rama, the hero and incarnation of the god Vishnu, who brings order and justice to the world. The many episodes depict Rama’s life, including his journey in the forest, his army of monkeys, and his fights with the army of Thosakan, king of the giants. On one level, Khon represents high art cultivated by the Siamese/Thai courts over centuries, while at another level, as a dramatic performance, it can be interpreted and enjoyed by spectators from different social backgrounds. Khon has a strong didactic function, reinforcing respect for those of a higher age and status, mutual dependence between leaders and followers, the honour of rulers and the triumph of good over evil. Traditionally, Khon was transmitted in the royal or princely courts, and in dance masters’ households. Today, however, transmission occurs mostly in educational institutions, while still adhering largely to traditional methods. Concerted efforts are made to ensure the continuity of the practice, including through the establishment of training and performance clubs that help reach out to young people.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   Khon masked dance drama represents the spiritual and value system of Thailand as well as the hierarchy within the Thai nation, transmitting shared moral principles and reinforcing a sense of continuity with the past. Due to the artistic and technical complexity of the element, its transmission now takes place predominantly in the formal and institutional environment. Nevertheless, the element plays a vital role in society as a means of cultural communication and a mode of ensuring awareness of Thai ethnic and cultural identity.

R.2:   The inscription of Khon would help raise awareness about the syncretism of intangible cultural heritage and the need to safeguard all its components. It would also broaden the knowledge of dramatic expressions and traditional masks in the Southeast Asian region, inspire innovative production, dialogue and exchanges among different schools, styles of interpretation and related professions and generate new creative results. Modern styles of Khon would be appreciated, along with the traditional ones, highlighting the cultural diversity stemming from the creative nature of the element.

R.3:   The safeguarding measures draw on previous activities initiated as early as the 1940s, such as the state-funded education of dancers and other performers. A wide institutional network under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and the academic environment guarantees the transmission of the element as part of the contemporary cultural heritage in Thailand, as well as its documentation and the dissemination of related knowledge to performers and the public. Khon masters and artists were involved in discussions about the most appropriate ways of safeguarding Khon and will participate in community-based transmission, public education and other safeguarding measures.

R.4:   The element was nominated with the broad participation of artists, researchers, state and private institutions and relevant communities, whose activities are related to the practice and cultivation of Khon. The traditional hierarchy of different stages of knowledge and mastery crucial for the proper interpretation of Khon were fully respected and different types of practitioners participated in three forums dedicated to the preparation of the nomination file and obtaining community consent.

R.5:   In 2009, the element was inscribed in the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Thailand, which is managed by the Department of Cultural Promotion at the Ministry of Culture. In 2016, a system of monitoring of the inscribed elements in three-year periods was introduced. The inventorying of Khon was based on thorough documentation work carried out by Khon experts from educational institutes, supplemented with comments from tradition bearers and practitioners.

  1. Inscribes Khon, masked dance drama in Thailand on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the State Party for its first inscription.