Jeju Women Diver (=Haenyeo)

Who were the first professional women in Korea ? The Jeju Haenyeo (=Women Diver) have adapted to the ocean eco-system, building their diving technique and marine knowledge. They have supported their home economy and the village’s through the harvesting of aquatic products.

According to Goguryeobongi in Samguk Sagi record, Jeju pearls were offered for kings, indicating diving was active prior to the three kingdom era.

In 1960, when the number of Haenyeo reached the most, Jeju girls started their shallow water diving around 7 or 8 years old of age. The Haenyeo become experts around 18 years old. Senior Haenyeo passed down their knowledge, wisdom and diving techniques to their junior Haenyeo.

What would the modern Haenyeo require for diving ?

Haenyeo women diver museum

A rubber suit to protect them from the cold sea, swimming fins, a cap, goggles, gloves, and a pig lead to dive into deeper waters! How about the Naenyeo in the past ?

Haenyeo women diver museum

The Haenyeo wore Mulsojungyi instead of rubber suit till around 1960s. The towel is to cover the head, and Joksoenun was first used in the early 1900s.

The Haenyeo hung onto Tewak, floating on the surface of the water and also used Tewak for swimming. The Haenyeo picked abalone with Bitchang. Kkakkuri is used to flip over rocks and dig up the bottom.

Haenyeo women diver museum

The Haenyeo’s beathing sound is called Sumbisori ( release out and inhale fresh air at once ).

Diving is usually done in a community, and about 100 village Haenyeo community in Jeju supervise the boarder lines of fishing grounds, price range for the catches, catching methods, set the diving period and restricted diving periods. The Haenyeo always get ready for diving in the community for safety. The bulteok is a necessary spot for the Haenyeo community at work.

Haenyeo women diver museum

The Haenyeo community get ready to go into the water and rest after their dives around the Bulteok. The round Doldam stone fence blocks the wind, and the Haenyeo can change in the covered place. The Haenyeo community share their diving technique and methods and exchange advice for their family issues. The modern Haenyeo dressing room serves the function of Bulteok.

The Haenyeo are separated in different classes per their diving skills. The Haenyeo are separated as Hagun (the low level), Junggun (the mid level), Sanggun (the high level) and Daesanggun (the grand level) with the outstanding catching skill, experience and wisdom. Daesanggun (the grand level) lead the Haenyeo’s safe work and the community, participating in the village issues. The Haenyeo community have developed, managed and cleaned the village fishing ground.

Yijangbadang was granted for the village foreman for his hard work. Hakgyobadang (the school sea) took care of the elementary school support fees. Halmangbadang (the granny’s sea) was set for the old and weak Haenyeo. The Haenyeo shared their profits from the catches, and the culture of community catch and share of Sea week fusiforme and Ceylon moss still exist.

Jeju Haenyeo did not exclusively dive in Jeju water only. They explored the Korean Peninsular, Japan, China and Russia for harvesting the sea. They have expanded the marine economic horizon of Jeju and have supported Jeju economy prior to the tangerine industry was established in Jeju. They did not treat the sea as their fishing ground but the place of co-existence. They have led the economic development through their catches, shard with others, and valued the public good over personal benefits.

The Haenyeo are getting old and the number is decreasing. Jeju is putting its best effort to pass down the Jeju Haenyeo culture, however citizen’s interest and affection is most essential. Our effort to register the Jeju Haenyeo culture in the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and continue the strong Sumbisori (the Haenyeo’s breathing sound) must go on.

Haenyeo women diver museum

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