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(LEAD) Two Koreas jointly list traditional wrestling as UNESCO heritage

All Headlines 16:58 November 26, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS more info, photo)

SEOUL, Nov. 26 (Yonhap) -- "Ssireum," traditional Korean wrestling dating to the Three Kingdoms period (A.D. 220–280), was inscribed Monday as an intangible cultural asset by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) said.

The decision was made during the 13th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, currently taking place in Port Louis, Mauritius.

This is the first joint inscription by South and North Korea of an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO. The sport's English spelling is ssireum in the South and "ssirum" in the North.

The two had submitted their own applications, but the committee decided to merge the two bids.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Seoul suggested the joint application after a historic inter-Korean summit in April, to which Pyongyang positively responded.

The file photo shows the traditional Korean sport of "ssireum." (Yonhap)

Last month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay agreed to push ahead with the joint designation of the traditional sport while meeting in Paris, as part of ongoing efforts to mend ties between the two countries. Azoulay visited the North earlier this month to make further consultations with the officials there on the cause.

The decision has been expected since Oct. 29 when an assessment panel under the committee recommended 29 items, including ssireum for listing.

Ssireum is a folk tradition played in a sand pit, where two players wearing long fabric belts around their waist and thigh grip each other's belts and fight to knock the adversary down on the ground. It was widely played on various holidays and festivals, but it has slowly lost its popularity and given in to modern sports and plays.

It is South Korea's 20th intangible cultural heritage recognized by UNESCO. The most recent cultural heritage item inscribed as such was the Culture of Jeju Haenyeo (women divers) in 2016. The sport is the North's third after the Korean traditional folk song "Arirang" (2014) and the tradition of kimchi-making (2015.)

"Ssireum is a traditional play through which the people express the collective energies amassed during national holidays," Chung Jae-suk, the CHA's administrator, said. "We take this opportunity of the joint inscription to continue our efforts to cement the sport's value as a global intangible cultural asset."

The sport, which holds important cultural value, is a play deeply rooted in every aspect of Korea and closely related to the Korean cultural identity and helps enhance social harmony and cohesion, UNESCO said.

Two people wrestle in a ssireum match on sand in this file photo. (Yonhap)


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