The Cultural Heritage Series
is presented in association with
The National Intangible Heritage Center, Republic of Korea.
Thursday, 21 October 2021 | Time : 6.00 p.m. IST
Cultural heritage can be tangible or intangible. Tangible cultural heritage refers to things that we can store or physically touch. Examples of tangible cultural heritage include traditional clothing, tools, buildings, artwork, monuments, and modes of
transportation. Intangible cultural heritage refers to things that are not physical items but exist intellectually. Intangible cultural heritage includes oral traditions songs, rituals, values, superstitions and myths, beliefs, social practices and the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. The Intangible Cultural Properties (무형문화재) are aspects of intangible culture that the government of South Korea has officially designated for preservation under the supervision of South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration. Exceptional individuals are designated as the holders or invaluable repositories of these craft or performance traditions, and are referred to and supported as Living National Treasures.
In Episode 5 of the Cultural Heritage Series, we focus on Namsadang Nori. The namsadang is a Korean itinerant troupe which consists of male performers who present various performing arts such as acrobatics, singing, dancing and circus-like play. Namsadang was supposedly spontaneously formed before 1900 during the Joseon Dynasty and with troupes wandering about marketplaces and villages. The troupe was considered the lowest class in society and very few historical documents remain, barring a record that a puppet show was performed during the Silla period (57 BCE – 935 CE).
During the late Joseon Dynasty, there were several namsadang, but the one from the Cheongryongsa temple (청룡사) in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province was the most famous. They were called namsadang because the troupe comprised only men and "nam" (남) means ‘male’ in Korean. Much later, a few female members were accepted into the group.
The six performances which the troupe performs are collectively called Namsadang nori (남사당놀이), literally meaning nori (놀이) performed by namsadang. Nori refers to play, game or performance in Korean. The namsadang nori includes pungmul nori (풍물, Korean spinning hat dance), beona nori (버나놀이, spinning hoops and dishes), salpan (살판, tumbling), eoreum (어름, tightrope dancing), deotboegi (덧뵈기, mask dance drama), and deolmi (덜미, puppet play). All six nori are associated with each other and integrate various activities such as music, physical feats, acrobatics, play, dance and mask dances. Originally there were ten performances on Namsadang-nori but this is now reduced and standardised to six performances.
The significance of namsadang nori can be found in its common touch. The form came into existence spontaneously and performed for the poor farmers, traders,
and other middle and lower classes of society. And though it is not so refined as other Korean musical styles for example, Dodeuri) and dances (for example, the Kommu, sword dance) presented to the the noble class, it brought both solace and inspiration to the common man.
In 1964, the South Korean government designated deolmi (puppet play) as the third Important Intangible Cultural Property and 1988, all six performances of
Namsadang nori were included in the Important Intangible Cultural Properties list.
The principal Namsadang troupe was re-established in Anseong, which is the
birthplace of the old namsadang, to preserve its cultural heritage. The new troupe has its regular performances every Saturday and also provides overseas performances from time to time.
About the National Intangible Heritage Center, Republic of Korea:
The National Intangible Heritage Center's mission is to retrieve Korea's intangible cultural heritage from the past, to preserve it and to increase its value for future generations.
Set up in 2013, The National Intangible Heritage Center (NIHC) is located in
Jeonju, a city known for its traditional music, architecture and cuisine. NIHC is the first complex administrative institution for safeguarding and transmission of Korean Intangible Cultural Heritage.
NIHC has various facilities such as permanent/special exhibition galleries,
performance halls, archives, international conference rooms, learning spaces.
The primary roles of NIHC are safeguarding, transmitting, and fostering Korea's Intangible Cultural Heritage through research, archiving, exhibitions, performances, educational programs, support for the Masters of Intangible Cultural Heritage practices, and extension of the market for traditional crafts.
Tune in to
https://www.youtube.com/user/InKoCentre on Thursday, 21 October 2021 at 6.00 p.m. IST.