Project Description

Tug-of-War in Asia
Cooperative projects for safeguarding common living heritage

Living Heritage Series

Tugging Rituals and Games: A Common Element, Diverse Approaches

A Common Element, Diverse Approaches


Hongjang Kim
Dangjin City Mayor

Tug-of-war is a universal game that pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Although the sport is practiced in different forms depending on the environment and culture of each country, it has promoted community solidarity and unity around the world. Dangjin has a unique folk tradition called Gijisi tug-of-war. It is believed that the tug-of-war was first held about five hundred years ago to overcome a devastating disaster by encouraging harmony and cooperation among the residents. Later, it reflected the local rope-making methods of fishing villages, and the city has supported large-scale tugging war events for the community. The local tradition has been well preserved and passed on to the present day. In recognition of the community values of tug-of-war, the Dangjin city established a tug-of-war museum and made continuous efforts to promote the local tug-of-war festival. As a result, the Gijisi tug-of-war was registered in 2015 as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage, along with similar practices in Cambodia, Philippines, and Vietnam.

This book introduces the tug-of-war traditions of Korea and the three Southeast Asian countries mentioned as well as the tugging traditions passed down in Japan, Thailand, and Ukraine. The book presents studies showing various conditions and perceptions of tug-of-war in each country. So, it will be valuable research material for those interested in tug-of-war.
I would like to thank the contributors as well as the International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP) for all the effort they put into this publication. I hope this book will inspire further interest and research in the field.


Gi Hyung Keum
Director-General, ICHCAP

There have been various cooperative activities for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) at the domestic, regional, and international level since the Convention for the Safeguarding of the ICH was adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2003. ICHCAP, a UNESCO Category 2 Centre in the ICH field, has been working to share information, build networks, and raise visibility of ICH in the Asia-Pacific region, which shows the cultural identities of relevant communities who can be a driving force of sustainable development of the societies.

Tug-of-war has also been an ICH theme ICHCAP has worked to safeguard and raise awareness. Among a number of diverse ICH elements, tug-of-war is a cultural phenomenon found worldwide. In Asia, especially, tug-of-war has been a custom deeply embedded in rice cultivation and is therefore found largely in agricultural societies. Tug-of-war was generally performed as a prayer for rain or to predict the bounty of the upcoming harvest. It has common features worldwide based on climate and environment. However, differences arise according to the distinct characteristic and the creativity of the region, which makes tug-of-war a worthwhile research subject as an Asian joint heritage.

For the past eight years, ICHCAP has been establishing ICH safeguarding networks with many Asian countries to safeguard tug-of-war and have sought measures to safeguard tug-of-war. In 2013, ICHCAP organized and implemented a field survey project on the status of tug-of-war in Asia and then held several international symposiums and published a children’s book titled Tell me about Tugging Rituals and Games, which was funded by Dangjin City, the Republic of Korea. The field work to collect data on tug-of-war performed in Southeast Asia was successfully completed to create the basis for comparative Preface Gi Hyung Keum Director-General, ICHCAP research about the custom and transmission. The symposiums in 2013 and 2015 resulted in enhancing understanding of and discussing the prospect of safeguarding tug-of-war in Asia. Tugging Rituals and Games: A Common Element, Diverse Approaches is also a result of joint projects between ICHCAP and ICH organizations and expert groups relevant to tug-of-war. This publication project is supported by Dangjin City. This book explores the diverse and similar features in tug-of-war practiced in seven countries—Cambodia, Japan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

This publication was organized and completed by gathering updated articles written by the authors from the represented countries who participated in the symposiums and field work with ICHCAP. In addition, a Ukraine author, who was not a participant, contributed to this publication, showing how areas outside of East and Southeast Asia have similar practices.
In light of this book, cultural diversity in this practice can be seen in terms of its origins, modes of performances, and practitioners in different areas. While the tug-of-war events can be a ritual, a festival, a sport, or an entertainment, there are also religious and mythical stories in tugof-war in some areas. Even though its practice appears a competition as pulling a rope in opposite directions, its intrinsic value, in most cases, is on prosperity, solidarity, and harmony among participants, which can be said to be one of the similar features in tugging rituals and games in different countries.
Through this English-language publication, which contains various research, presentations, and discourse, we hope to help tug-of-war become more widely known and transmitted. It allows readers to experience a unique and vivid culture through detailed descriptions of each different tug-of-war.

We acknowledge and thank the many people who have contributed to this book. It is the fruition of the authors who researched and wrote about tug-of-war. We also appreciate the support from Dangjin City. It is a great honor and pleasure to gather all these efforts to promote the value of tug-of-war through this book.
The activities for raising ICH visibility such as a book publication, which is an ICH safeguarding measure, can help promote the lives and identity of isolated transmitters or communities. This is in line with the value of cultural diversity championed by UNESCO. We hope that this book helps readers discover knowledge about tug-of-war and the value of traditional practices while also understanding the need for sustainable safeguarding.


Jaesuk Chung
Administrator, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea

First of all, I congratulate publishing Tugging Rituals and Games: A Common Element, Diverse Approaches through the collaborative efforts of Dangjin City and ICHCAP. Intangible Cultural heritage (ICH) is the life of the human community and an important driver and asset for sustainable development. In particular, the tug-of-war as a representative folk game expresses the characteristics and spiritual values of Korean national culture as well as a common Asian heritage wishing for harmony, unity, prosperity, and fertility of the community.

The Korean government has been initiating ICH safeguarding policy efforts since 1962, starting with the enactment of the Cultural Properties Protection Act. In 2005, Korea joined the UNESCO 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, sharing the experience and knowledge of safeguarding Korean ICH and strengthening cooperation for safeguarding intangible heritage in an international context. In 2015, four Asian countries (Cambodia, Philippines, Republic of Korea, and Vietnam) jointly inscribed folk tugging rituals and games on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

However, while listing ICH is important, safeguarding and cooperation after registration are more important as they lead to cultural understanding and dialogue among different communities around the world. From this point of view, publishing a book related to tug-of-war is meaningful in that it is an extension of continuing international cooperation after the multi-nomination. In particular, in addition to the four existing multi-nomination countries, this book also includes information on the status and distribution of tug-of-war among the three other Asian countries— Japan, Thailand, and Ukraine. As for me being in charge of the Korean government’s cultural assets policy, I hope that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will join the multi-nomination of tug-of-war in the future to share Asian values and work together to safeguard ICH.

Finally, I express my sincere gratitude to the contributors of the book from seven countries as well as to both Dangjin City and ICHCAP for the hard work and dedication that went into making this book a reality.
I hope that international cooperation in sharing common Asian values of the tug-of-war will continue to expand and strengthen in the future.


Tugging Rituals and Games in
Asia, beyond Borders

Weonmo Park
Director, Office of Cooperation and Networking, ICHCAP

Tugging rituals and games can be found all around the world, constituting a panhuman cultural phenomenon. Especially in Asia, tugging rituals and games are related to rice farming, with most instances located within the farming cultures of Northeast and Southeast Asia. The practice of tugging rituals and games is universal and widespread, held to pray for rain or a good harvest or to foretell whether the year’s harvest will be good or bad. While many similarities exist among each tugging event based on the climate or environment, there is also a distinctness, individuality, and creativity specific to each region, making tugging rituals and games worth preserving as a common element of the intangible cultural heritage of Asia Due to rapid urbanization and industrialization, however, today the tugging rituals and games of each country are in danger of their transmission being suspended, and there is even a lack of awareness of how important it is to safeguard tugging rituals and games as a part of intangible cultural heritage that is closely linked with agricultural rituals. In addition, while there have been previous case studies on tugging rituals and games of Asia, they are mostly limited to specific regions or rarely provide in-depth research, making it difficult to consider the connections between each region.
In response, from late 2012 to early 2013, the International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Heritage in the Asia‐Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP) in cooperation with Dangjin City conducted an investigation into the current state of traditional tugging rituals and games of Southeast Asia. Dangjin City has safeguarded and transmitted its unique tugging event, Gijisi Tug-of-War, which is recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage No. 75 in the Republic of Korea. ICHCAP also had held an information session beforehand at the first Conference on ICH Cooperation and Network in Southeast Asia held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in October 2012 to investigate whether relevant traditional tugging rituals and games were going on in each country.


At the beginning of investigating the current state of tugging rituals and games of Southeast Asia, ICHCAP worked with the governments of Cambodia, the Philippines, and Vietnam and selected specialized organizations in each country to participate in this project. The selected organizations collected basic materials related to traditional tugging rituals and games and conducted research through field studies. Each organization filled out a questionnaire designed by ICHCAP and submitted it in the form of a report. The participants in the investigation created a field study team that was dispatched for one year to photograph, document, and study the diverse traditions of tugging rituals and games that were taking place.
Foundations were made to safeguard, transmit, and study each case by investigating and filling out a comprehensive questionnaire that included an overview of the particular tugging ritual or game, its current state of transmission, the performance process, related ceremonies and events, as well as various other data. The field study teams recorded information by interviewing performers and transmitters of each tugging ritual or game and secured audiovisual materials, including still and moving images.

Vietnamese Study

The Vietnamese site survey team was composed of members of the Vietnamese Institute of Culture and Art Studies. The team investigated tug-of-war festivals in Huu Chap Village in Bac Ninh Province, the Tich Son Festival in Vinh Phuc Province, and the Long Tong Festival in Laco Cai Province. In addition, Houng Canh Village was visited twice for investigation.
The Houng Canh tug‐of‐war festival in 2013 was held for three days, 12 to 14 February, during which time the team visited, observed, interviewed, photographed and filmed, and collected related literature. The second site survey at Houng Canh Village was in March to receive the community’s authentication and to supplement necessary information. Second survey consisted primarily of in‐depth interviews with tug‐of‐war participants, village officials, and village elders to collect information that could not be obtained by mere participation and observation of the event.

Philippine Study

The Philippines’ site survey team included members of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the University of the Philippines. Traditional tug‐of‐war in the Philippines is performed as part of the Huowah Harvest Ritual in the second half of the year, which made site visits difficult during the duration of the project. Therefore, the investigation centered on the punnuk ritual performed during the Huowah Harvest Ritual. The primary site visit was conducted in March 2013 to interview punnuk participants and collect related materials.
Punnuk is the sole tugging ritual performed in the Philippines as an agricultural ritual. Prior to the investigation, no in‐depth investigation was performed on punnuk apart from some photos and newspaper articles. As a result, the punnuk-related material collected by the site survey team was limited.
The primary site visit of Ifugao Province was conducted on 16 and 17 March 2013. Specifically the team visited those regions that still perform punnuk and the Huowah Harvest Ritual—Barangay Hapao Proper, Barangay Ba‐ang, and Barangay Nungulunan. They interviewed punnuk participants. Additional data was collected through a second site visit to participate in the punnuk ritual while photographing and filming the ritual.

Cambodian Study

ICHCAP entered an agreement with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art of Cambodia to conduct the study. The site survey team included staff from the Royal University of Fine Art and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art and headed by the President of Royal University of Fine Art, Bong Sovath.
Traditional tugging rituals and games in Cambodia are performed during the Chlong Chet Festival (Cambodian New Year’s Festival) in mid‐April. Chong Chet takes place at the beginning of rice cultivation for the year, and the team participated in the traditional tugging rituals and games performed during the festival period. However because most regions performed tug‐of‐war on the last day of the New Year period, 15 April, research on other regions apart from Siem Reap Province was conducted through written and phone interviews and investigation into existing literature.


The findings collected and studied during the investigation projects in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Vietnam were presented by the members of the site survey teams at the International Symposium on Traditional Rituals and Games in East Asia held from 11 to 14 April 2013 in Dangjin City, the Republic of Korea. This symposium was a part of the 2013 Gijisi Tugging Rituals and Games Folk Festival. ICHCAP and Dangjin Weonmo Park 3 City co-hosted the symposium to have in-depth discussions on the ways to cooperate to share, disseminate, and transmit Southeast Asian tugging rituals and games.
At the symposium, the current status of traditional tugging rituals and games in the Republic of Korea and Japan were covered through presentation sessions. The tugging rituals and games practices in the two countries had already been managed in the countries’ ICH safeguarding systems. It was noted that in the Republic of Korea, two kinds of tugging rituals and games were recognized as national intangible heritage items and four kinds were inscribed as local intangible heritage elements. In addition, many traditional tugging rituals and games are in different areas throughout the Republic of Korea.
Researchers of the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties also stated during their presentations that twenty kinds of traditional tugging rituals and games are recognized as intangible folk cultural properties nationally and locally in Japan. Some of these rituals and games are performed as a single event while others are part of a larger form of event or ceremony.
Through the symposium, participants were able to see both the diversity and commonality among various tugging rituals and games in East Asia. The tugging events in this region are mostly linked with agricultural rituals, even if some are partly related to fishery and commerce. Moreover, community spirit arising from the hope of its unity and bounty can be seen from most of the tugging practices whereas their forms and modes of practice differ because of their different environments and histories.
The 2013 symposium became a lever to share the significance of safeguarding traditional tug-of-war practiced in Asia among the four countries such as Cambodia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Vietnam, leading to discussions about the possibility of a joint inscription to the UNESCO ICH lists for traditional tugging rituals and games.


After the symposium, the Cultural Heritage Administration of the Republic of Korea tugging rituals and games representatives of Cambodia, the Philippines, and Vietnam held two intergovernmental conferences in October and December 2013. Experts, practitioners, and public officers in the field of intangible heritage joined in these conferences and devoted their energy mostly to completing the application form for the joint inscription. Since it was the first time for the four countries to prepare a joint inscription application, various discussions, examinations, and reviews on it were undertaken. The application by the four countries with relevant videos, photos, and materials was submitted in March 2014 by the Government of the Republic of Korea as the representative participant to the UNESCO Secretariat for the International Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage under the 2003 Convention.
A follow-up symposium on tugging rituals and games in Asia was held in 2015. At the symposium, Thai tugging traditions was added as a theme for the event’s presentations. Researchers of Chulalongkorn University presented their study on chak-ka-yer, a tugging tradition of Thailand. They introduced Thai tugging events in two categories. One is the chak-ka-yer performed as pulling a rope between two sides of people, and the other is the chak-ka-yer practiced with a vehicle or a domestic animal in the middle of two opposing teams tugging a rope. They also explained a tug-of-war related festival called Chak Phra held in southern Thailand.
Tugging rituals and games, as proposed by Cambodia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Vietnam, was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity at the tenth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Namibia from 30 November to 4 December 2015. The joint inscription of the Tugging Rituals and Games of Cambodia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Vietnam on the UNESCO ICH lists not only raised awareness of the need to safeguard these elements but also served as an important opportunity to experience need for international solidarity for safeguarding humanity’s intangible heritage.

Tugging Rituals and Games: A Common Element, Diverse Approaches is the second installment to the Living Heritage Series, following the first publication, Traditional Medicine: Sharing Experiences from the Field. It is the result of the previous site survey work and the international symposiums held in cooperation with Dangjin City since 2012. The publication project was organized and completed by gathering updated articles written by authors from six countries who participated in the symposiums and the field work. In addition, a Ukrainian author also contributed to this publication. Even though Ukraine is a part of East Europe, this supplement can offer a glimpse into understanding other regional tugging rituals and games, apart from Asia.
This publication was completed with the help of many people and organizations that contributed in various ways. In this regard, I would like to express my gratitude to the following people:
Siyonn Sophearith (Director of Statistics and Planning of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Cambodia, and Lecturer, Cambodia’s Royal University of Fine Arts), Rotha Chy (Chief of Academic Affairs, Cambodia’s Royal University of Fine Arts), Cecilia Picache (Planning Officer, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Philippines), Norma A. Respicio (Professor Emeritus of the Department Art Studies, University of the Philippines), Le Thi Minh Ly (Director, Center for Research and Promotion of Cultural Heritage in Vietnam), Nguyen Kim Dung (Chief, ICH Management Division, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Vietnam), Thuy Do (Head of Policy Studies and Cultural Management Division, VICAS), Thi Thu Ha Nguyen (PhD, VICAS), Hoshino Hiroshi (Emeritus Researcher, National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, Japan), Migiwa Imaish (Researcher, National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, Japan) Chuchchai Gomaratut (Associate Professor, Chulalongkorn University) and his colleagues, Dawnhee Yim (Chair Professor, Dongguk University), Sangmee Park (Professor, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies), Hanhee Hahm (Honorary Professor, Chonbuk National University), Yongho Heo (Research Professor, Korea University), Hyungho Jung (Professor, Chung-ang University), Yang-Myeong Han (Professor, Andong National University), Yon-hak Jung (Senior Curator, the National Folk Museum of Korea).
Last but not least, I also express my appreciation to Daeyoung Go (Curator, Dangjin City), Gaura Mancacaritadipura (Chairman, National Wayang Secretariat, Indonesia), and ICHCAP staff, Jinhee Oh and Michael Peterson as well as former staff members, Heejin Park and Hajin Ryu.

Living Heritage Series

Tugging Rituals and Games

A Common Element, Diverse Approaches

Copyright © 2019 ICHCAP and Dangjin City. All rights reserved.
Printed in the Republic of Korea

Published by
ICHCAP, 95 Seohak-Ro, Wansan-Gu, Jeonju, Republic of Korea 55101