This year marks the 15th anniversary of the inscription of the Cambodian puppet shadow theatre (Sbek Thom) being listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) List. Currently there are five ICH elements from Cambodia recognized on the ICH List including Sbek Thom, namely: Royal Ballet (2003), Tugging rituals and games (2015), Chapei Dang Veng (2016) and Lkhon Khol of Wat Svay Andet (2018).
The Sbek Thom is a Khmer shadow theatre that dates back from before the Angkorian period. The puppets are made from a single piece of leather with each character representing gods and deities. Overtime Sbek Thom has evolved beyond a ritualistic activity to become an artistic form, while retaining its ceremonial dimension. The performance of Sbek Thom traditionally takes place at night outdoors beside a rice-field or pagoda and are enjoyed by people across Cambodian society
According to Mr. A Chantorn, one of the artists from Ta Ty Chean Sbek Thom troupe, based in Siem Reap Province, the chances of performance became very few. Under the current COVID 19 situation, his troupe performed only two times in November 2020: the first was on November 21, 2020 and the second will be on November 28, 2020 via Zoom. The latter was requested by community based in Japan. In order to keep enacting Sbek Thom during the Covid-19 situation, they have been training young people while selling crafted puppets made of leather openwork in a small shop near Angkor Wat Temple.
The UNESCO Office in Cambodia has been working closely with Ta Ty Chean Sbek Thom troupe in close cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to safeguard this important cultural heritage and beyond and ensure its transmission to younger generations, in particular the time of COVID-19. This has been done through joint capacity building programs, exhibitions, publications, and education programs, especially with youth.
The publication on Sbek Thom is available here