Lkhon Khol Wat Svay Andet marks_1
  • Manage No, Sortation, Country, Writer ,Date, Copyright
    Manage No EE00000056
    Country Cambodia
    ICH Domain Oral traditions and representations Performing Arts Social practices, rituals, festive events
    Wat Svay Andet is about 10 km east of Phnom Penh on the Mekong river, between Ta Skor village (Sarikakeo commune) and Peam Ta Ek (Peam Oknha Ong commune), Lvea Em district, Kandal province. Although it is not far in distance from the capital city, one must cross the river by ferry to reach the villages, which are rural, farming communities. There are other troupes that practice the general form of Lkhon Khol, male masked theatre, which has aspects derived from/influenced by Wat Svay Andet. In Phnom Penh, there are, for instance, the Artist Association, the Cambodian Youth for Lkhon Khol, the Secondary School of Fine Arts and the Performing Arts Department. Another active troupe of Master Chea Hea for-hire by local communities is in Battambang province. There are also similar expressions in the Kingdom of Thailand.
Description Having originated in bhani, a type of drama, mentioned in at least 10th century inscriptions of Cambodia, Lkhon Khol today is performed by males, wearing masks with the accompaniment of pin peat, a traditional orchestra, and melodious recitation. It performs only episodes from Reamker, a Cambodian version of the Indian Ramayana. Lkhon Khol Wat Svay Andet is distinct from the generic form because its specific aim is to propitiate Neak Ta (guardian spirits of a place and its people; in this case the community of Wat Svay Andet), and in so doing, protect and make prosperous the community, its lands and harvest. When Lkhon Khol is performed especially during a fixed date after the New Year, spirit mediums are presented to facilitate interaction between the Neak Ta, performers and villagers. Spirit mediums, who predict the situation for the upcoming year, attend the performance and become possessed by the Neak Ta and then might get on the stage. When the spirits are satisfied by the performance, villagers are blessed by them, and if not, dancers will stop; the music continues; and the audience will fall silent and carefully listen to the spirits. Then the episode must be performed again. nIn Wat Svay Andet, Lkhon Khol has such spiritual significance in the community that some Reamker characters have become local deities in themselves. For example, on the campus of the monastery, a shrine for Hanuman (Monkey General) locally called Lok Ta Kamheng is built and venerated. The mask for Tos Mok (Ravana, King of the Demons) also lives and is venerated in a spirit house at the home of the family that has danced that role for several generations. In addition to the intrinsic specificity of the Wat Svay Andet form, some external differences are noted, such as the fact that three of the key roles are not masked. In fact their faces are painted white, indicating that they are neither mortals nor gods. The costumes, which are very refined with magnificent embroidery, are also different especially from those of the Battambang Troupe. Melodies for recitations are also different and richer. nLkhon Khol Wat Svay Andet is not performed by professional artists, but by the villagers themselves, and they do not perform for money but for merits and their community’s well-being. Everyone in the community is obliged to contribute, either by direct participation in the performance or by sharing support, e.g. financial or labor. Even villagers, who have migrated for work, tend to come back for the ritual and believe that if they don’t come, they could be struck by illness or bad luck.
Social and cultural significance Lkhon Khol Wat Svay Andet is performed for ritual purposes, mostly linked to the cycle of rice farming and needs of farming communities. For example, annual performance is held to get the Neak Ta’s blessings for happiness and prosperity, and to appeal for sufficient rain and good crops for the coming cultivation season. Lkhon Khol will be performed for three nights at the monastery. The final night is the most important of the three (each night a different episode is performed), because that performance is the ritual to ask for rain. Occasionally on the last night rain will come; this has happened often enough to maintain belief in the efficacy of the ritual. All the community attends. The element is also performed at the Neak Ta rituals. Traditionally, most farming villages conduct rituals annually to propitiate the Neak Ta by offering them food and music, but at Wat Svay Andet, Lkhon Khol is often performed as a special offering because it is believed to please the local deities. Ad hoc ceremonies are also held when the communities (although rare) request the troupe of Wat Svay Andet to perform for certain occasions to ward off diseases or calamities that have struck their communities or individuals. In other areas of Cambodia, Lkhon Khol can be performed at such ceremonies; however the difference is that at Wat Svay Andet it plays an essential spiritual function. For example, in Battambang province, a family might hire a Lkhon Khol for performance at a funeral, but this would be for entertainment and to accompany the ceremony, rather than as an integral part of the ritual.
Transmission method Although Lkhon Khol has passed down orally from generations to generations within the community, the Head Monk and the retired school principal have recently initiated additional weekend classes by securing a small stipend for the teachers ($1 USD per hour, with maximum 2 hours teaching). To date, the Reamker episodes for performance that have been passed down via memory and oral transmission have been poorly documented. Now, the retired school principal has started to write down scripts for selected episodes. The viability of the element is now at risk, and the form is in need of urgent safeguarding. There are several factors that have threatened the viability- Vulnerable situation of the Master Artists : A key factor that contributed to the vulnerable situation of the masters was a 14 year break in transmission, from 1970 until 1984, due to the war and Khmer Rouge regime. Many bearers and practitioners of Lkhon Khol were killed or starved to death during these times. After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, village elders of the community strived to re-establish a Lkhon Khol troupe from eight Khmer Rouge surviving performers and Masters. In 1984 a troupe was established and has performed annually ever since. However, it has been a struggle to regain the lost knowledge and skill of so many community members, and this has slowed transmission. The surviving masters are actively involved in training young people according to their respective knowledge of the roles of Demon, Monkey, and Reciter,stage director. However, the troupe needs immediate training for the roles of Neang and Neang Rong (female and male roles for instance the roles of Neang Sita, Preah Ream and Preah Lak), whose Khmer Rouge surviving master is severely sick and is not able to train others. Although there are artists who have been performing these roles they don’t have enough knowledge to train others. While there are quite a few young volunteers keen to be trained for the monkey and demon roles. In particular, new reciter(s) need to be recruited for people who have innate talent, a beautiful voice and a good sense of humor. The community has not yet been able to identify a young person appropriate for the role. Without a reciter, Lkhon Khol cannot be performed. Lkhon Khol Wat Svay Andet is reliant on villagers for continuity of the form. Therefore the socio-economic situation of the community has a direct affect on people’s ability to dedicate time and resources to continuing the traditions. In general, since after the Khmer Rouge times, it has been more challenging. In 2000, UNESCO through Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts donated a set of costumes, masks and a set of musical instruments to Wat Svay Andet, and UNESCO funded building a rehearsal and performance space for the annual performance event. Since that time, the community has done an excellent job of storing and maintaining the costumes and masks, but they have naturally degraded (especially due to the weather conditions of Cambodia). Today the community is lacking costumes and masks, and they are too expensive for the community to replace them. The performance space that was erected in 2000 with support of UNESCO is now unusable, as the riverbank of the Mekong river has been eroded and collapsed. This has meant that the village has become smaller, and land that was previously the campus of the monastery has been taken over with villagers’ homes, as they have moved further inland. The past performance space is in this area, and is now unusable as it closely surrounded by homes. The element's greatest significance is its strong spiritual purpose, and important social function in the farming community. However, this also puts it under threat because it cannot be commercialized and it is the only remaining troupe for spiritual purpose in Cambodia. It is dependent on fundraising from the villagers for the annual performance, and for community ceremonies for interim performances. Due to migration and economic circumstances, the number of interim performance rituals has been falling, which leads to lesser engagement of the practitioners and impacts the continuity.
Community Lkhon Khol Wat Svay Andet belongs to one community, surrounding a Buddhist monastery, Wat Svay Andet. The two villages adjacent to the monastery are most active and engaged with the form, although the community in further villages contributes, supports to the form and occasionally attends ritual performances. The two active villages are Ta Skor and Peam Ta Ek, home for approximately 425 to 705 families respectively. Some of the key bearers are:- Performers: all male and of all ages. They train during their free time, after their daily work is completed. - Master teachers: all male villagers. Today there are five surviving master teachers, who are mostly in their 70s and 80s. They all lived through the Khmer Rouge era, and are generally poor and in poor health due to illness and aging. - Primary school community: The former school principal is a key person in taking care of masks and costumes as well as reaching out for young schoolboys to take part in weekly Lkhon Khol trainings. - Monks: the monks, especially the Head Monk, work with the village elders for selection of performance episodes and provide necessary support such as training space, stipends for teachers and snacks for trainees. The Head Monk and the retired school principal are key figures working to ensure continuity of the form. - Village elders: each year a committee of village elders collects funds for the fixed annual performance. Moreover, elderly people lead young people in preparation for ritual offerings, food, ritual arena and performance stage. - Spirit mediums: The mediums are of varying ages, and are both women and men (although typically more women). Besides helping with ritual preparation, they are possessed by Neak Ta during the performance.
Type of UNESCO List List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
Incribed year in UNESCO List 2018

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