Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed pride and gratitude to all stakeholders for striving to get Cambodia’s Kun Lbokator officially on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Now that Kun Lbokator has been officially recognised, Hun Sen announced that Cambodia will re-establish the celebration of Angkor Sangkran in Siem Reap province in 2023, with the martial art featured as a key symbol.

“The presence of Kun Lbokator at Angkor Sangkran every year has really helped us to accelerate the pace of this martial art being recognised by UNESCO, and I would like to confirm compatriots all over the country that for the upcoming Khmer New Year in April 2023, we will celebrate Angkor Sangkran again. At that time, hopefully Kun Lbokator will become an important symbol of the Angkor Sangkran gathering,” he said.

Hun Sen was speaking at the closing ceremony of the 3rd National Games and 1st Para Games at Moradok Techo National Stadium on the night of November 30, with tens of thousands in attendance to see a large Kun Lbokator parade held to celebrate it making the UNESCO list.

The premier highlighted three key points that helped Kun Lbokator to survive for centuries and make it onto UNESCO’s list.

“I would like to mention three important points related to our pride, first of all: ‘Drink water to remember the source of water’. We should be deeply grateful to our ancestors of all generations who have worked hard to leave a legacy for us and the next generation. If our ancestors did not leave us anything, we would not have anything to inscribe on the World Heritage List, whether tangible or intangible,” he said.

For the second point, Hun Sen added that we should thank all the athletes who have worked hard to keep Kun Lbokator alive since the 1979 liberation of the country from the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. They had to stand on their own and raise capital themselves because everything was destroyed during the Pol Pot era and there was no other way to raise capital to support cultural programmes in areas such as the arts and sports.

“Some people have survived to this day and some have died. I would like to take this opportunity to pay respects to the souls of the dead and to pay tribute to the athletes and coaches who have worked hard to maintain our national identity by gradually pushing until we began to use this martial art in the training for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces [RCAF],” he said.

Thirdly, the prime minister thanked the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts as well as the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) for their efforts to promote this work.

“Before the ASEAN summit, I had already received a report on the approval by UNESCO in Paris, but we could not violate their procedures, so we had to wait for about three weeks to announce it, and it’s just 20 hours ago that the committee rang the bell to accept our Kun Lbokator as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” he said.

In addition to the success of the inclusion of Kun Lbokator on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Hun Sen vowed that Cambodia will try to promote more ancestral assets to make the list in the future.

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and all stakeholders who have worked hard for the good of our country and hopefully [UNESCO] will continue to list the wealth of our ancestors,” said Hun Sen.

Many Cambodians have celebrated Kun Lbokator making the UNESCO list, though some younger Cambodians are asking that the Cambodian government set up a programme to promote Kun Lbokator with a clear strategy.

Hong Sereyfong, a student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said he wanted to see more attention paid to promoting Kun Lbokator in the Kingdom so that Cambodian people will know more about it.

“I want to see the teaching of Kun Lbokator in Cambodia and abroad so that Cambodian children and foreigners who love Kun Lbokator will know about it more widely,” he said.

Heam Daro, a martial arts fighter, expressed his happiness after learning that another martial art Kun Lbokator was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

“As a lover of sports, I am very happy about Kun Lbokator being recognized by UNESCO. It is a big point of pride for us as Cambodian people,” he said.

He said he expected that Kun Lbokator will gain fame across the world and receive more attention of from the people and the government which will expand the scope of Kun Lbokator globally.

Heng Sehak, a student of Royal University of Agriculture Chamkar Dong, was happy to see Kun Lbokator make UNESCO’s list, but he had some scepticism about how much impact it would have on the sport itself.

“The inclusion of Kun Lbokator on UNESCO’s List is great. But if we and the government fail to take action to support it, then it will be of no use. I see schools in Vietnam and Thailand teaching their martial arts, what about Cambodian schools?

“Let me say that the government must encourage this sport in order for it to grow. Let’s take a look at the chapei dong veng, which was inscribed on UNESCO’s list as well. How much has it grown? Is it growing? Where are the schools for the chapei? Since it has become famous, I have seen it stagnate,” he said.

Pich Choranai, a Kun Lbokator fighter, took to Facebook to express her elation after eight years of effort on her part undergoing training in the martial art.

She thanked the leadership and all relevant parties for their contributions and efforts to achieve UNESCO list status and she especially thanked her instructors and coaches for spending years teaching her.

The culture ministry also celebrated the success of the Cambodian government’s efforts to preserve Kun Lbokator. The ministry called on all people to participate in the preservation of this rich part of Cambodian cultural heritage.

The ministry said that this achievement came about through the efforts of not only the government, but also the community of Kun Lbokator fighters, who were adamant about preserving the ancient battlefield martial art in the Kingdom and eager to take it onto the international stage.

Professor of history Sambo Manara said on December 1 that when it comes to Cambodia’s cultural heritage inscribed on UNESCO’s list, Cambodians should be happy and proud of the entrants on it from the Khmer civilization left to them by their ancestors.

“But together we have to help protect it. We have to try to take care of our Khmer martial arts. Thus, a prosperous culture can only be achieved through knowledge of the past.

“When it comes to our heritage, we do not want to compete – we want to win! We always talk about Siam [Thailand] or Laos. But what is the use of these quarrels if we do not take care of our cultural heritage ourselves? Then it will be lost,” Manara said.

The embassy of Japan in Cambodia on December 1 also congratulated Cambodia on Kun Lbokator making the UNESCO list.

“The embassy of Japan would like to join the Cambodian people in celebrating the inclusion of Kun Lbokator on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. We commend the efforts of the Royal Government of Cambodia and the all Kun Lbokator students, instructors and community in conserving, promoting and spreading awareness of Kun Lbokator to achieve this listing,” the embassy wrote on its Facebook page.

Cambodia now has several entries on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List: the Royal Ballet, Sbek Thom theatre, Reamker by Takrut, tug of war or teanh prot games played at Khmer New Year, the chapei dong veng stringed musical instrument and Lakhon Khol.