JEJU WEEKLY

  • Updated 2023.3.27 17:56
  • All Articles
  • member icon
  • facebook cursor
  • twitter cursor
NewsRenewable Energy
Gotjawal: mystery and magic of Jeju
폰트키우기 폰트줄이기 프린트하기 메일보내기 신고하기
승인 2013.02.20  06:36:17
페이스북 트위터

▲ Moss thrive on the moist gotjawal floor. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province

Gotjawal is one of the keys to understanding Jeju culture – and one of its mysteries.

Deep, dark, uninhabitable, at times seemingly impenetrable, these swaths of forest over rocky soil have long held fascination for Jeju’s people.

Alternately referred to as sacred, precious, vital, practical, or wasteland, they are at once unknown and deeply familiar, providing many of the people’s needs while refusing to be tamed.

Gotjawal is one of the world’s “wild places.”

“Got” is Jeju dialect for a wooded area, while “jawal” (with a stressed second syllable - “jaWAHL”) refers to rubble or rocky soil. The name, recently popularized, has nevertheless been documented for a few hundred years, along with regional variations such as got, goji, golbat, sudeok, jawal, jaweol, sumbeol, and seombeol.

Located in “jungsangan,” or mid-mountain regions of 200-600 meters above sea level, its trees seem to grow from rock and in the poorest of soil, gnarled and twisted into creative and sinister shapes as only nature can. The floor bed is covered with moss, ferns, evergreen needles or the most unusual fungi, giving the impression of a fairyland.

It is the “lungs” of Jeju, providing clean air in exchange for carbon dioxide. Fed by mountain streams on their way to the sea, it is also the roof over pristine aquifers, the porous rocks and soil above purifying, recharging and controlling excess rainwater, before sending it deep below.

It is liminal space, between Jeju’s ‘creator’ volcano and its nurturing sea.

Liminality, between the worlds and outside of space and time, is held sacred in shamanistic tradition, such as that of Jeju. This is also reflected in traditional Jeju homes with their hallowed thresholds, in the graves with their spirit-gates, and in the places of worship, or “dang,” with their inner and outer stone walls and central trees by which the spirits traveled between earth and heavens.

The mid-mountain regions of gotjawal also represent the “ninety-nine valleys,” created when streams receded deep in the earth following Jeju’s creator goddess Seolmundae’s retreat into the island’s core. It is said that these valleys protected the people from large beasts and other dangers.

The climate of gotjawal regions is indeed a protected one: warm-temperate and humid, filled with sunken volcanic hollows, it is warmer in winter and cooler in summer than the rest of the island. Gotjawal is a micro-climate regulated by structures locally termed “poong-hyeol,” or “sum-gol,” openings into the earth that act as “breathing holes” or valves, and also send water to the aquifers below. Rare springs, “bonggeun-mul” or “found water,” as well as water pools in rock depressions known as “jangtong-mul,” or “water in a barrel,” provide drinking water above ground.

Green year-round, its enormous biodiversity, which includes plant species of both northern and southern hemispheres, only adds to the sense of magic.

These wild places, where the island’s people cannot reside, nevertheless have been the source of life in numerous ways: providing traditional medicines; edible greens, such as “gosari,” (Jeju bracken) and a variety of fruits; hunting ground for pheasant, deer, boar, roe deer and badger; safe and rich grazing land for cattle and horses; firewood, and lumber for the construction of houses, as well as farming and fishing tools; dried grasses for thatching roofs; stone for mills and “ondol” (under-floor) heating; kilns for pottery, as well as for charcoal; shrines to mountain gods; and refuge during the chaotic and violent period (1948-53), known locally as Sa-sam.

Large flat rockbeds resulting from early lava flow can also be seen in gotjawal. Called “bille” in the local dialect, they were traditionally used as places of passage as well as resting for people and their carts, and for group hunting by the use of traps, “ko”, spears, dogs and other methods, especially for wild boar.

Low stone fences, “jatseong,” are found throughout gotjawal regions, marking the borders of grazing pastures for horses or cattle. Small hills or “teuri-dongsan,” on which the “teuri,” or herder, could rest while overseeing the livestock, are scattered about.

Remains of kilns (“sutgup-gwe”) for charcoal (“sutgut”), a primary heating source until the 1970s, can be found everywhere, such as those in Daejeong Gotjawal and at the base of the Gwaneumsa trail to Mt. Halla.

While the land in these forests resists cultivation, “chinbat,” or small slash-and-burn farm fields, were not uncommon. The trees in gotjawal regions, as a result of this practice as well as the gathering of building material and making charcoal, are therefore not old-growth but secondary.

These wooded areas are intricately connected to many “oreum,” the secondary volcanic cones which dot the island and are also deeply significant to Jeju culture. There are four remaining regions of gotjawal, which can easily be experienced via Jeju Olle courses 11 and 14.1, the Geomun Oreum trails, Jeju Stone Culture Park, and more.

An area in the Jocheon Gotjawal, known as Dongbaek Dongsan, was given Ramsar designation in 2012 as a globally significant wetland, the fourth such on Jeju. Prehistoric remains in the form of rock shelters, pottery, and charcoal kilns have been found in Mureung Gotjawal, including Sinpyeong, Boseong, Gueok and Mureung villages.

Development since the 1970s has destroyed large sections of gotjawal and, despite recent preservation efforts, seems to continue largely unchecked. Delegates of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at their 2012 World Conservation Congress (WCC) held on Jeju, approved a motion by Jeju government for gotjawal preservation, and the provincial government has launched initial efforts to engage the IUCN membership in this process.

Citizens’ groups for preservation include The Gotjawal Trust of Jeju (http://www.jejutrust.net/), Gotjawal People (http://gotjawal.com/), Love Gotjawal (part of The National Trust), and a new research institute, Green Dream. Gotjawal Provincial Park, a major preservation and educational initiative, is currently in development.

As with many other societies around the world, the value of Jeju’s traditions and unique natural resources is being recognized only after profound loss. Gotjawal is one of the most vital assets of Jeju from both ecological and cultural perspectives. It can only be hoped that the damage can be halted before it disappears entirely.

Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychologist from New York who now makes Jeju Island her home.

[Related Stories]

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.net)
All materials on this site are protected under the Korean Copyright Law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published without the prior consent of Jeju Weekly.
폰트키우기 폰트줄이기 프린트하기 메일보내기 신고하기
페이스북 트위터
60 Second Travel
Jeju-Asia's No.1 for Cruise

Jeju Weekly

Title:The jeju Weekly(제주위클리)  |  Mail to editor@jejuweekly.net  |  Phone: +82-64-724-7776 Fax: +82-64-724-7796
#503, 36-1, Seogwang-ro, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, Korea, 63148
Registration Number: Jeju, Ah01158(제주,아01158)  |  Date of Registration: November 20, 2008  |  Publisher: Hee Tak Ko  | Youth policy: Hee Tak Ko
Copyright 2009 All materials on this site are protected under the Korean Copyright Law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published
without the prior consent of jeju weekly.com.

ND소프트