Nongak makes Unesco’s intangible heritage list

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Nongak makes Unesco’s intangible heritage list

Contemporary South Koreans rarely hear nongak, a type of folk music, dance and ritual usually performed by farming or fishing communities to boost morale ahead of group labor. But preservation efforts will likely be boosted after it was recognized as a world cultural treasure.

Nongak, also known as pungmul, was added to Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Seoul’s Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and foreign ministry announced on Thursday.

The decision was made at the 9th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which began a five-day run on Nov. 24 in Paris.

CHA officials said Unesco valued the philosophies inherent in nongak, like freedom, openness and creativity.

“One of the primary attributes of nongak is its openness,” CHA said in its report to Unesco. “Anyone is readily accepted to join in and everyone is given a role … It stimulates dialogue and communication to enhance mutual respect among community members.”

South Korea now has 17 items on Unesco’s list of intangible cultural heritage.

They include a royal ritual in the Jongmyo Shrine and its music (added in 2001); the pansori, a traditional chant (2003); the traditional dance ganggangsullae (2009); jultagi, tightrope walking (2011); the lyrical folk song “Arirang” (2012); and kimchi, the spicy, fermented vegetable dish, and kimjang, the culture of making and sharing the dish (2013).

South Korea has the third-highest number on the list after China and Japan.

Since 1964, CHA has been running its Important Intangible Cultural Heritage program, in which it identifies intangible items of cultural heritage it believes needs preservation; finds people who have skills and are able to teach others; and provides financial assistance.

Yim Don-hee, the head of CHA’s intangible cultural heritage division, told the JoongAng Ilbo from Paris that they emphasized how nongak is transmitted by various types of community groups scattered throughout Korea.

“[Unesco puts emphasis on] how intangible heritage item evolved over generations and what such changes mean to the country,” he said. The fact that members of the band form a bond and all have fun in the process was another important factor, he said.

To celebrate nongak’s addition to the Unesco list, the Cultural Heritage Administration is holding a massive nongak performance at Gyeongbok Palace at 1 p.m. on Saturday. A total of 11 groups aimed at preserving the traditional music will be taking part.

In addition, a group of North Korean versions of the traditional Korean folk song “Arirang” were added to Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list at the session. They are the first North Korean items on the list.

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