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Jacheongbi, pragmatic and strong
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승인 2013.02.25  08:39:40
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Shaman greeting Goddess Jacheongbi. Photo by Anne Hilty
[This is Part 2 of a 2-part article. For Part 1, see here.]

Jacheongbi is one of the most potent goddess images of Jeju. Her story continues:

While in the Garden of Heavens, Jacheongbi comes upon a riot among the gods. Devising a solution, she is able to quell the dispute. In profound gratitude, the Emperor of Heaven tells her that she can return to earth freely, and gives her 5 grains to take with her in order that the people of earth – in this case, those of Jeju – could adequately feed themselves: barley, rice, millet, foxtail millet, and bean (the latter not technically a grain).

In the origin myth of Jeju's three original clans, demigods Ko, Yang, and Bu rise from holes in the island's surface and eventually marry princesses who had drifted ashore in a box from 'across the sea' – bringing with them the 5 grains now indicative of Jeju. As such, the 3 princesses also symbolize the shift from a hunter-gatherer society, represented by the 3 demi-gods, to one of agriculture as depicted by the princesses.

Some say Jacheongbi is another manifestation of Geum Baekjo, goddess of agriculture and mother to all of Jeju's shamanistic gods. In Songdang especially, where Geum Baekjo is the patron goddess, she and Jacheongbi are thought of in a very similar light – so much so that the Songdang se-gut or village New Year rite includes songs to Jacheongbi.

In particular, Geum Baekjo represents the actual changeover from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society, while Jacheongbi governs the processes of agriculture.

Some also say Jacheongbi is the same as Old Woman Segyeong, in the Segyeong Bonpuri [shamanistic tale in song or recitation]. Interestingly, 'segyeong' is also a simplistic farming method once used on Jeju, in which seeds are sown in hoed topsoil and left to their own rather than fertilized; after a few years, the soil is depleted and farming must be moved elsewhere.

Jacheongbi is especially associated with buckwheat, however.

Ever sure of herself in her knowledge and pragmatism, Jacheongbi asks the Emperor of Heaven for a 6th grain, one that would grow in the harshest of conditions and nearly throughout the year. The Emperor of Heaven, in appreciation of her wisdom and compassion for the people among whom she lives, grants her wish and gives her hardy buckwheat in addition to the 5 original grains.

Jacheongbi returns to earth, with the grains and with her husband, and becomes the patron goddess of agriculture. Because she did all for love – love of knowledge, love of her husband, and love of the people of Jeju – she becomes a symbol of love as well.

But there's even more to her tale.

Jacheongbi's husband eventually takes a second wife. Jacheongbi, accepting of this arrangement, devises a plan by which he will spend part of the year with each of his wives.

On Jeju, it was a common practice until well into the 20th century for men to have multiple wives. While there were seemingly compelling reasons to take on the 2nd and sometimes more, the first wife was always the 'Big Mother' to whom other wives ('Little Mothers') and all children had to adhere. One of the reasons for this practice was simple math: this “Island of Women” had a long-standing shortage of men, due in part to the fact that, as many were fishermen by trade, they were vulnerable to the whims of the sea.

Jacheongbi became a model for this system of multiple wives – in which she, as the first, is fully confident of her place without doubt or care as to any perceived threat of another. They ascend to the Garden of Heaven where they remain.

The husband is appointed by his father, Emperor of Heaven, as 'sang-segyeong' – highest of the world, or of the spiritual realm, atmosphere and climate. Jacheongbi is made 'chung-segyeong', given governance over the middle realm – that is, of earth and agriculture. The servant, he who initially tried to rape Jacheongbi out of his greed for her, and whom she killed and later restored to life, becomes her faithful servant and is made 'ha-segyeong' over livestock.

Jacheongbi controls farming, while her husband contributes with good climate and her servant tends the animals. Her dedication, initially to one lover, is now to all people of Jeju, in particular the unfortunate.

The Jeju people are a very pragmatic lot. Grains with which an entire people can be fed indefinitely, and medicines to cure every ill, are by far the priority. Dedication, compassion, and self-determination are above all. However, the gaining of knowledge, and of love, and improving one's lot in life – these are also a part of the Jeju story.

Always – at the hand of a strong goddess.

Kim Soonie, Jeju native, is a mythologist and Jeju representative of the nation's Cultural Heritage Administration. Anne Hilty is a cultural health psychologist from New York who now makes Jeju Island her home. Interpretation / translation was provided by Han Youngsook, Jeju native and instructor at Jeju National University.

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