Special Celebration: Tugging Rituals and Games, five years after their inscription on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List

UNESCO wishes to join the people of Cambodia, Philippines, the Republic of Korean and Vietnam in celebrating the 5th anniversary of the inscription of the Tugging Rituals and Games being listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) List on December 2, 2015.

Tugging rituals and games in the rice-farming cultures of East and Southeast Asia have been enacted among communities to ensure abundant harvests and prosperity at the start of a new agricultural cycle. Many tugging rituals and games also have profound religious significance. Most variations include two teams, each of which pulls one end of a rope attempting to tug it from the other.

The intentionally uncompetitive nature of the event removes the emphasis on winning or losing, affirming that these traditions are performed to promote the well-being of the community, and reminding members of the importance of cooperation. Many tugging games bear the traces of agricultural rituals, symbolizing the strength of natural forces, such as the sun and rain while also incorporating mythological elements or purification rites. Tugging rituals and games are often organized in front of a village’s communal house or shrine, preceded by commemorative rites to local protective deities. Village elders play active roles in leading and organizing younger people in playing the game and holding accompanying rituals.

In Cambodia, the Tugging games are practiced at schools and mostly during traditional festive gathering, especially during the Khmer New Year. Unfortunately, since March 2020 due to COVID-19 evolving situation, all kinds of gatherings are prohibited, schools are closed, and the Khmer New Year 2020 was postponed with no gathering, and also adversely affected Tugging Rituals and Games.

One of the tugging game players in the Prek Taling Community in Kampong Por Village in Kandal province, Mr. Peng Puy explained that the tugging is not just a game but a social role to support unity and solidarity among community,  while strengthening sense of belonging and identity among community members. He prayed and hoped that his community members and people in Cambodia would enjoy the tugging games during the next Khmer New Year 2021.

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