‘Ssireum’ listed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage

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“Ssireum,” Korean traditional wrestling, successfully made its way onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, Monday, through the first-ever joint bid by North and South Korea. The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) announced that the two Koreas’ bid to inscribe ssireum on the list was accepted during the 13th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, held in Port Louis, Mauritius. “The fact that both Koreas accepted to join their respective applications is unprecedented,” UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said in a statement. “This would not have been possible without great trust in UNESCO on the part of all Korean authorities. The joint inscription marks a highly symbolic step on the road to inter-Korean reconciliation. It reminds us of the peace-building power of cultural heritage, as a bridge between peoples. This marks a victory for the longstanding and profound ties between both sides of the inter-Korean border.”

The UNESCO committee decided to list it as “Traditional Korean wrestling, Ssirum/Ssireum,” recognizing the different Romanization rules of the two Koreas with the North Korean transcription coming first. Ssireum is folk wrestling in which two competitors wear “satba” (fabric belts) around their waists and thighs and grapple on mounded sand. Its history dates back to the fourth century Goguryeo Kingdom. The traditional sport was originally practiced by the military, but became a popular pastime, especially on holidays. UNESCO recognized the cultural and traditional values of the sport, with its status as a national sport and fundamental connection to the land and agriculture, mostly enjoyed during agricultural events. The North and South have been submitting items to UNESCO independently and similar traditions such as the song “Arirang,” and kimchi-making, have been listed separately. In 2014, the two Koreas discussed submitting a joint bid for ssireum, but this fell through and the North filed an application in 2015, followed by the South in 2016.

However, after the inter-Korean summit in April, discussions for a joint inscription of the sport emerged. President Moon Jae-in raised the issue during his meeting with Azoulay in October and the UNESCO chief visited the North earlier this month to propose the joint project. The separate applications were to come up for consideration Nov. 29, but the two Koreas decided to merge the two bids and it was discussed on the first day of the UNESCO meeting, which runs through Dec. 1 on the African island. Ssireum became South Korea’s 20th intangible cultural heritage recognized by UNESCO, which also includes the Jeju Haenyeo (female divers) in 2016. The sport is the North’s third after the traditional folk song “Arirang” (2014) and kimchi-making (2015.)

(Korea Times)

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