Jultagi performances incorporate acrobatics, music and storytelling (Photo courtesy of the Cultural Heritage Administration).

The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) announced on November 11 that the martial arts style taekkyeon and traditional Korean tightrope walking style known as jultagi will likely become the latest of Korea’s cultural properties to be added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Among the six nominations submitted by Korea this year, taekkyeon and tightrope walking were selected for preliminary recommendation by the subsidiary body to the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. As recommendations by the subsidiary body customarily predict the committee’s decisions, the likelihood of official UNESCO designations for the two items is very high.

Taekkyeon is a traditional Korean martial art characterized by smoothly flowing movements of the hands and feet that highlight the elasticity of the human body. Following a unique, almost musical rhythm, fighters use leg locks, kicks, and throws to subdue opponents. Taekkyeon combat scenes painted on the walls of Goguryeo tombs trace the origins of this sport to the Three Kingdoms period. During the Goryeo Dynasty, martial artists refined the techniques, and it was not until the Joseon Dynasty that the general public embraced taekkyeon for their own practice.

Although no definite records remain as to the origins of jultagi, it is widely known that the Joseon Dynasty saw a flourishing of this performance art. While jultagi acts perfomed for the noble class emphasizing skill and technique, performances for commoners weaved acrobatics together with stories, music, and a unique social and participatory element that is only found in Korean tightrope walking. Tightrope walkers typically engaged their crowds with witty and often satirical narratives told to the beat of drums and pipes. The depictions of jultagi that appeared in the popular 2005 film, “The King and the Clown,” brought renewed interest and appreciation for the skill, both domestically and overseas.

The natural movements of Taekkyeon unfold like a dance (Photo courtesy of the Cultural Heritage Administration).

The likelihood of the remaining four of Korea’s submissions receiving the UNESCO designation remains unclear. With regards to Joseon dynasty royal cuisine, Seokjeondaeje (Confucian ceremonial rites), Najeonjang (mother-of-pearl inlay laquer ware), and Hansanmosijjaji (Hansan ramie cloth weaving) the subsidiary body stated that supplementary information would be required to determine their eligibility for inscription. The subsidiary body called specifically for more information on the growing visibility and public awareness level of the properties.

According to CHA, this pronouncement was especially surprising in its inclusion of Joseon Dynasty royal cuisine, around which particularly active promotion efforts have been centered. Joseon Dynasty royal cuisine was officially recognized as intangible cultural property by the Korean government in 1970. The national task of preservation and transmission has since been undertaken at the collective level by organizations such as the Institute of Royal Cuisine and at the individual level by two “holders” or practitioners.

The UNESCO definition of intangible cultural heritage encompasses oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festivities, and various kinds of knowledge and skills. The sixth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage will take place on November 22-29 in Bali, Indonesia and be attended by a total 137 state delegations, including those from the 24 Committee member states. Of the 49 items that were submitted by participating countries for consideration at this session, 17 were recommended for listing by the subsidiary body. Five were turned down, one remained unresolved, and 26 submissions were ruled as requiring supplementary information.

Kwon Jungyun
Korea.net Staff Writer


[Source: Korea.net]