U.N. to Hear Demand of ‘Special Status’ and Global Respect for Thai Massage

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A selection of delegates from the COP25 climate conference in Spain have now flown to Bogota, Columbia, to join a separate U.N. meeting. They will spend seven days helping to decide if Thai massage should be added to UNESCO’s heritage list of Intangible Cultural Heritage as the committee seeks to enshrine “cultural diversity” as a global necessity.

If successful in its push at the conference, Thai massage will join Albanian folk dancing, Turkish flatbread making, Bangladeshi weaving, Lebanese poetry recitation, and German organ making among 508 elements from 122 countries universally protected by U.N. decree.

The decision will rest on the special considerations of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The committee, composed of representatives of 24 countries meets once a year in a different location. It monitors the implementation of this international legal instrument, which has been ratified by 178 nation states.

Six other elements proposed for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

  • Spring rite of Juraŭski Karahod – Belarus
  • Seperu folkdance and associated practices – Botswana
  • Basket weaving in Upper Egypt – Egypt
  • Rituals and practices associated with Kit Mikayi rocks – Kenya
  • Sega tambour Chagos – Mauritius
  • Buklog, thanksgiving ritual system of the Subanen – Philippines

AFP reports Thais are excited at the possiblity of their traditional massage being granted special recognition but the training is “demanding”, says Chilean Sari, a professional masseuse who travelled to Bangkok to learn the discipline.

“The technique is very precise, there are so many things to be aware of,” the 34-year-old told AFP, as she made rotations with her palm on a fellow student’s skull.

The teachings focus on directing blood circulation around problem areas to solve muscle aches and stiffness — sometimes drawing winces from clients unaccustomed to the force applied.

Studies have shown Thai massage can help relieve back pain, headaches, insomnia and even anxiety.

Originating in India, doctors and monks were said to have brought these methods 2,500 years ago to Thailand, passing its secrets from master to disciple in temples and later within families.

Under Thailand’s King Rama III in the 19th century, scholars engraved their knowledge of the field onto the stones of Wat Pho.

But the practice really took off in 1962 thanks to the formation of the school, which has since trained more than 200,000 massage therapists who practice in 145 countries.

Tens of thousands of people travel to Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, every year to experience first hand a local massage which can cost as little as $5 and last less than 30 minutes.

At the other end of the scale, a therapist at a top-end spa can charge around $100 an hour inside Thailand, two or three times more in London, New York or Hong Kong where the Thai massage brand is booming.

AFP contributed to this report

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