▲ A shaman performs a sacred ritual during the Ipchun Gut Festival. Photo courtesy Jeju Minyeachong
Ipchun is a traditional agrarian holiday which heralds the coming of spring.
Despite ongoing winter weather, the earliest signs of spring are already upon us. One can see buds waiting to burst open on the trees; removing rotting leaves reveals the first shoots of new plants; birds can be heard singing as they prepare for nesting season.
Determined by the lunar calendar, Ipchun occurred this year on Feb. 4. The festival which bears its name, however, is being held one week later so as not to conflict with Seollal observances.
The Tamnaguk Ipchun Gutnori is an annual festival organized by the Korean People Artists Federation in Jeju Island in conjunction with local shamans from the Preservation Association for the Chilmeori Shrine [Youngdeunggut]. This year marks the 13th festival, which started in 1999 and begins this year on Friday, Feb. 11, at 5 p.m., continuing through 4 p.m. the following day.
There are four main events in the festival: the Nangsha-kosa and Nangsha-mori — which will both occur on Friday evening — and the Ipchun Gut and Ipchun Talgutnori — which take place on Saturday afternoon.
“Nangsha” translates to “wooden cow” in the local dialect. A wooden sculpture in the shape of a cow is created by local artists in advance of the festival; the “kosa,” or ritual, is meant to invoke the gods in order to ensure a bountiful growing season for farmers. The ritual will take place in front of Jeju City Hall.
Following the ritual, which includes dancing, percussion, and food and drink, the “mori” occurs. It is a procession of all people (with the wooden cow) from the ritual site at City Hall to the festival site at Gwandeokjeong.
There reside cow sculptures from the past three festivals; the oldest will be discarded, the newest one taking its place.
The Ipchun Gut, a shamanic ritual, will occur from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday for the purpose of ensuring the gods’ blessing over the growing season and protection of the people’s welfare. The associated Talgutnori, or mask dance and drama, is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. and is performed in six acts.
Many other events in the vein of a county fair or bazaar will be held throughout the day. These include opportunities to experience various traditional crafts, to observe a “gime” exhibition of shamanic ritual paper decoration, a calligraphy performance, a traditional tea ceremony, and more.
Eating Ipchun noodles is said to ensure one’s good fortune for the upcoming season, and they will be available in abundance.
In addition to festival and ritual activities which ensure a productive growing season and families’ welfare, another Ipchun tradition includes poetry. Historically, on Ipchun each household composed a poem about spring and posted it on the front gate or on a pillar near the door.
Hong Sunyoung, a 3-time organizer of the festival, deems cultural preservation to be vital to Jeju.
“A culture thrives on its shared meaning,” she said, “and the youth must be educated about the culture’s traditions so that they can know and carry forth their heritage – so that it isn’t lost entirely. A festival provides this in an enjoyable manner for the whole family.”
She further encourages Jeju’s foreign residents to attend.
“The festival is for everyone. It’s important for foreigners, too, to have an understanding of Jeju culture,” she expressed.
The festival Web site www.jejuculture.co.kr is in Korean only, but Hong advised that a mirror site in English would soon be included. In the meantime, the glossy festival brochure is available in both Korean and English and can be found at tourist information centers as well as other public locations throughout Jeju City.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.net)
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