On the side of Gonaebong, close to Jeju’s north-west coast, is a large rock, several metres high and home to ivy, moss and grass. The surprise comes if you walk around to the side of the rock away from the path, the side looking out through the trees and over the farmland below. There’s a tree growing close to the rock with cloths tied to its branches. Some are tattered, some more recent.
This is one of Jeju’s shamanic shrines. A description of shrines, their meaning and history, is given on the Culture & Nature pages of the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province website. That page talks about historical attempts to eradicate shamanism; the challenge today is to preserve this part of the island’s heritage in the face of declining interest in shamanism.
These little men are Dol Harubang, a symbol of Jeju island. They’re carved of local volcanic rock and are guardians – as it says in Wikipedia, giving protection from demons travelling between realities. They come in pairs, either side of gateways and doorways or on bridges. They all look a bit grumpy to me, and always have one hand placed a little higher than the other. In a pair, one will have his right hand higher and the other his left hand.
This isn’t just any pair. These sit either side of our front door. We even saw the final touches being made to the ear of one of them in the masons yard. If there any demons around here, they won’t be coming in through the front door.
Jeju’s annual fire festival may have an origin in traditional culture but it’s a thoroughly modern event now. The event is timed to coincide with the first full moon of the lunar calender and traditionally local people would start fires in the fields at this time of year in order to burn off old grass and kill vermin. In the modern version, setting fire to the hillside of Saebyeol Oreum is accompanied by fireworks and a laser show and performances on stage. The event attracts huge crowds and quite rightly so – this is pyrotechnics on a grand scale.
Sunday’s Myth and Culture expo included a display of dance. The only insight I have about the interpretation comes from the expo booklet which says “This chum (dance) is based on the Jeju Shamans’ dancing steps which express the rule of creation and destruction of the universe as well as large or small movements of the universe.”
These are the illuminated displays that greeted visitors to the Myth and Culture expo in Jungman’s ICC (International Convention Centre) today. The placid looking characters in the top photo look as if they represent the dol harubang that are so common on the island, the stone figures that act as guardians, often placed on either side of a gateway or entrance.
The expo booklet describes the idea that Jeju is a kingdom of 18,000 gods, and that Jeju’s myths contain the local living culture, values and language. I guess the images below show the local creation myths. There’s a story of three brothers appearing out of the ground (the site is still there to see in Jeju city), each firing an arrow and going to live where the arrow landed, and of three princesses (isn’t it lucky there were three?) arriving in a boat and marrying the brothers.
I might have fitted the wrong story to these displays; there must be other stories with arrows and boats amongst that many gods and I don’t know where the one-eyed creature with earrings comes in.
I run past an old traditional kiln regularly, some 20 metres long and sloping from one end to the other. There was one working at today’s Onggi festival in Mureung-ri, just a short drive from Global Education City. The festival promotes and celebrates the traditional Jeju way of making pottery and the word ‘onggi’ refers to the cooperative character of the process.
Inside a covered working area, the experts were showing visitors how to work the clay and how to create the pots and dishes, building up a collection ready to be fired. Outside, a three-year old kiln constructed from volcanic stone and earth was being prepared. This doesn’t look high tech but it’s a tradition that really does look worth preserving, part of Jeju’s heritage.
And an example of the finished product – plain, simple and beautiful to look at.
I’ve published photos of dilapidated traditional Jeju houses before but they’re being preserved in the Jeju folk village. It’s well worth a visit; it’s an interesting mixture of museum and living village and it’s not always obvious which are private houses and which are open to the public. Having said that, some of the buildings have rows of benches for visitors and local products for sale, both indications that the village caters for tour buses. And although I’ve posted photos which avoid 21st century details, there are plenty of modern houses and telegraph wires, and the buses need somewhere to park, of course.
It’s back to Olle 18 for this post. I took these photos last weekend and they’re reminders of how Jeju will have been just a few decades ago. These are traditional Jeju houses, stone-built, thatched, built from materials readily available. Some are still maintained and lived-in but many aren’t; the three photos here all include the blue address plaques but I don’t believe the postman calls at the top and bottom ones any more.
I wrote about selfies last December but the world has moved on since then: every self-respecting selfie taker now has a selfie stick. Why hold your mobile phone at arm’s length when you can attach it to the end of a stick and take the picture with a remote control? There are so many options and angles and poses that are now so much more convenient and comfortable, taking the art form to new heights blah blah blah.
You can tell that Chuseok is coming up: there are people going round with strimmers and the grass on the tombs is being cut in preparation.
Chuseok is a major holiday in Korea and takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which is September 8th this year. It’s a celebration of the harvest and a time when Koreans visit their ancestral homes. There are words for the annual visit to family tombs (seongmyo) and for removing the weeds (beolcho).
These activities are also a reminder that we’ve been living on the side of this volcano for a year; the same preparations were under way soon after we arrived last summer.