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Grandfathers of JejuA dozen cultural ‘roots’
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승인 2011.02.06  11:00:38
페이스북 트위터

▲ Scenes from the lives and livelihoods of Jeju grandfathers. Photos courtesy Lee Jeong Heon

Traditional artisans of Jeju have contributed greatly to Jeju culture.
Lee Jeong Heon, chief producer at MBC-Jeju, has authored a book on Jeju artisans which is to be published next month. Its title translates into English along the lines of, “Jeju Masters, Spirited Stump: Signs of disappearance, and longing.”

The book’s cover depicts a drawing which represents the philosophical premise of Lee’s book. It is of a tree cut short, signifying the disappearance of Jeju’s traditional culture.

Beneath this stump, however, is a vast network of roots, representing the ancestors of Jeju; above the ground, a few tiny green shoots have emerged, indicating a renewal of the culture in a new form – fed by its roots.

In the book, Lee focuses on 12 artisan trades of Jeju’s past which he feels are of great significance. He also identifies a ‘master’ – either male or female – of a majority of these trades, and focuses on their work and contribution to their field.

“These are the grandmothers and grandfathers of Jeju culture,” Lee says. “They are Jeju’s spirit.”

Lee conducted field work over six years, from 2003 to 2008, during which time he interviewed 600 people. Nearly all were recorded on video, and numerous photos were taken. All were over 70 years of age; approximately one-third are now deceased.

The result: a 420-page book in 12 sections including 583 photos and a corresponding DVD of 120 minutes in length.

When asked about his favorite story, Lee told how he spent two months alongside a famed horse herder, or ‘taewuri’ in Jeju dialect, named Ko Tae Oh. This man, now 85, has been herding horses since he was 7-years-old. Lee described how it was quite hard work, but a most enriching experience, to keep up with Ko.

Another interesting excerpt from his book is that of anchovy harvesting and its accompanying song. There were two phases of harvest, the first herding anchovies close to shore by casting nets from sailboats, the second trapping them with other nets within a system of stone walls built in the sea near the shoreline.

Pulling the nets was difficult work requiring communal effort, and in order to time the process and encourage the workers, an up-tempo song was employed.

Other crafts highlighted in Lee’s book are fire- or forge-work, indigenous songs, horsehair hat-making, stone sculpture or masonry, pottery-making, a shamanic exorcism rite for healing (yeonggamnori), jeongdong (a type of creeper) hat-weaving, millstone grinding, dive-fishing, and omegi wine-making.
He cites the shamanic exorcism ritual as another impressive experience, calling it “amazing.”

Master artisans featured in addition to horse-herder Ko Tae Oh include Song Young Hwa of the ‘bulmi’ or fire-work, traditional singers Lee Myung Sook and Kim Seong Kyeong, potter Sin Chang Hyun, stonemason Jang Gongik, horse-hair hat-maker Jang Soon Ja, shaman (‘simbang’) Lee Jung Chun, and winemaker Kim Eul Jeong.

▲ Lee Jeong Heon. Photo courtesy Lee Jeong Heon

Lee was inspired to write the book in order to do his part to help preserve the memory of Jeju’s traditional culture. As a chief producer at a broadcasting company focused on culture, this has been the primary emphasis of his work.

In his story on dive-fishing, he uses the original term “jamsu” for those now popularly referred to as “haenyeo” and focuses on the creation myth of the goddess Seol-mundae Halmang as a source of Jeju women’s strength.
“The woman-power of Jeju is very unique,” Lee emphasizes. He further stresses the strength of family love as an underlying principle of Jeju culture.

In addition to this book, Lee has produced a two-hour DVD highlighting these traditional artisans. Next year, he would like to produce 10 CD/DVD sets, utilizing more of the material from his field research.

Within 3 to 5 years, he hopes to have his book translated into approximately seven languages so that people around the globe can learn of Jeju’s traditional culture.

“In this age of globalization,” Lee states, “Jeju’s spirit – ‘all for one’ [community] – can benefit the whole world.”
The initial publication of “Jeju Masters, Spirited Stump” will be in Korean language. Each chapter of this photo-rich book will include a 2-3 page English abstract.

(Interpretation by Hyun Ah Hyeon)

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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