Culture is mix and match and ever-evolving.
If we are obsessed over “who owns what,” we then fall into the trap of nationalism, ethnocentrism, and racism—the devolution, not the evolution, of humanity.
Nonetheless, we should recognize history.
Regarding the inadvertent war our 13 September article “What cultural ownership does Thailand have?” ignited between Thai and Cambodian posters, the book “Theater in Southeast Asia” by James R. Brandon may best explain:
[“The year 1431 marks a violent end to the arts which were so lavishly patronized by Khmer kings, for in that year Angkor was sacked by the Thai and the court was carried off in captivity to Thailand.”]
Thus we have the historical context.
[“We hear nothing more of the performing arts in Cambodia until vassal kings of Thailand reintroduced Thai dance much later.”]
The keyword here is “reintroduced,” not “introduced” by Thailand’s “vassal kings.”
This means the culture existed before by someone and was later “reintroduced” by someone else.
[“Between the thirteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the Thai developed Khmer dance and music in distinctive new directions.”]
[“Present-day Cambodian dance drama is virtually a copy of this Thai creation from earlier Khmer forms.”]
Here’s the ever-evolving human culture.
If there weren’t Angkor Wat, there wouldn’t be anything for the Thai to “develop” from and modern Cambodia to “copy” from.
In the bigger picture, if it weren’t for Indian civilizations, the culture of Angkor Wat wouldn’t have been what it was, and the culture of Cambodia and Thailand wouldn’t be what it is.
As well, Thai and Cambodian culture today is a mix and match of many other cultures, not just from around the region, but around the world.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the circle of life in all its wonders and tragedies.
But if we don’t break the cycle of:
“No! It’s mine!”
“No! It’s mine!”
Then we are but two kids fighting over a piece of candy.
Instead, let’s recognize the good, the bad, and the ugly of history, and then let’s evolve humanity and the human culture together.
[cue the dramatic music]