Arirang needs better treatment
Arirang is not a single song. There are many variations for each region. Scholars estimate that there are some 3,600 variations for about 60 versions. Moreover, Arirang constantly changes and evolves. Justice Army Arirang, Sakhalin Arirang, Paris Arirang and LA Arirang are the newest additions, and North Korean artist Choi Seong-hwan’s (1936-1981) Arirang Fantasy and figure skater Kim Yu-na’s “Homage to Korea” are arrangements and interpretation of the traditional folk song. Arirang’s theme is revisited in plays and musicals, and its spirit is found wherever Korean people go.
According to Choi Yun-pil, the art director of the Nationwide Arirang Festival, Jeongseon Arirang is sentimental and profound, Jindo Arirang is joyful and good for chanting in unison, and Miryang Arirang is vivacious and cheerful. The underlying sentiment in all forms of Arirang is fun and sorrow. Sometimes, Arirang contains sexy jokes like, “A woodpecker in Mount Nam can drill into a new hole, but the fool in my house can’t even get into an already open hole.”
Arirang made Unesco’s Intangible Heritage List in December 2012. Ironically, that Arirang did not get any legal and systematic support in Korea, even when it is officially recognized as a cultural asset of humanity. While Jeongseon Arirang is the intangible asset of Gangwon Province, no national-level designation is defined under the current law.
According to the Cultural Properties Protection Law’s Article 24, when designating an important intangible cultural property, the cultural heritage administrator is to recognize the artist or organization who can perform the intangible cultural property. However, Arirang flows in the vein of every citizen, and there is no certain person or organization that can be recognized for carrying the tradition. A bill for preservation and promotion of intangible cultural property has been submitted to the National Assembly to provide a broader definition of the intangible cultural property and to define that no artist or organization should be designated. Prompt handling of the bill is desirable. After the Seoul performance, the Nationwide Arirang Festival hopes to host a joint Arirang performance with North Korea. It would be great if Arirang can help break the deadlock between the two Koreas.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By NOH JAE-HYUN