[My article, reprinted from Jeju Weekly]
The 4th Jeju Haenyeo Festival
A celebration of the island’s diving women, October 15 to 16
Photo by Anne Hilty.
The 4th Jeju Haenyeo Festival took place on Oct. 15 and 16 at the Haenyeo Museum in Hado-ri and nearby Sehwa Port.
A much larger event than in previous years, the express purpose of the festival, according to Dr. Choa Hye-Gyoung of its organizing committee, was to contribute to the preservation of the diving women’s culture through increased awareness and, ultimately, renewed inter-generational transmission.
“Haenyeo culture globalization” and the potential for UNESCO designation of the diving women’s profession is currently in an exploratory phase. Toward that end, Governor Woo Keun Min awarded certificates to members of an “international promotion team” consisting of 14 foreigners representing 10 countries.
Opening and closing ceremonies of the festival were provided by the Chilmeoridang Yeongdeung-gut Preservation Society. The UNESCO-recognized shamanic Yeongdeung ritual is closely associated with the haenyeo culture.
Celebrated vocalist Han Seo-Kyung and the cast of Nanta PMC Jeju gave dynamic contemporary performances, prompting spontaneous audience participation.
Traditional cultural performances were also provided, in forms of song, dance, and a dramatic play. Notably, the “Song of the Haenyeo,” designated by Jeju’s provincial government as Intangible Cultural Asset No. 1, was performed by its official Skill Holders, Kim Young-ja and Kang Deung-ja.
Japan’s Toba City Ama Performance Team depicted in song and dance the tradition of southern Japan’s “ama,” counterpart to Jeju’s haenyeo. Sara Arts Group performed the sorrowful and nostalgic “Chulga Haenyeo Song” concerning those divers compelled by economic circumstance to regions outside of Jeju.
Other cultural performers included an 11-member troupe of haenyeo from the Daepyung-ri Diving Association, Jeju Farming Song Preservation Society (Intangible Cultural Asset No. 16), Ieodo Drama Company, Folklore Preservation Association of Gujwa-eup, and Lee Dance Company.
Competitions were a highlight of the festival, among them diving and shellfish harvesting, topshell de-shelling, taewak swimming, seafood cooking, and singing. For children, there were photo and drawing competitions, and the making of fish farms.
As promoted, the festival was highly experiential. Options included diving with the haenyeo, shallows harvesting of turban shell and conch, and taewak net-making. Informational displays for many local fish and shellfish were provided and the products available for purchase, courtesy of Suhyup.
The Jeju Haenyeo Festival Committee accomplished a well-organized and attended festival celebrating Jeju’s diving women.
Disclosure: the author is one of the designated “international ambassadors” for Jeju haenyeo culture.