▲ Children perform traditional haenyeo songs at Seong-eup Jeju Folk Village in Song-eup, Jeju on the third day of the festival. Below, actors in the midst of an elaborate play filled with song, dance and spectacles, dramatically depict the ancient lives of typical Jeju citizens. Photo by Alpha Newberry
If you were in Seogwipo City Oct. 1 through 5, odds are you were drawn to the colorful Cheonjiyeon Waterfall Square. Drifting with the cool fall breeze by the harbor were the distinctive sounds of traditional Jeju drumming mixed in with laughter and singing. Soaring high in the air were two strings of traditional Korean kites, which signaled the location of the 49th Tamna Cultural Festival.
The island of Jeju, South Korea’s southernmost province, was formed over 2 million years ago by a series of violent volcanic eruptions. Tamnaguk, or “island country,” is the ancient name for Jeju, and was ruled by the Tamna Kingdom for over a thousand years until it became part of the Joseon Dynasty in the early 15th century.
In reverence to its time-honored tradition and history, the theme of Jeju’s Tamna Cultural Festival has been “Sharing One Thousand Years of Tamna Culture with the World,” and according to organizers it has become one of the largest and most attended festivals in all of Korea.
Hundreds of local residents, as well as many visitors from the mainland, Japan and China, descended on the famous Cheonjiyeon Waterfall for the festivities. The streets were closed off to all traffic except taxis and tourist buses, and a colorful group of older Korean Marine Corps veterans were dressed in their finest uniforms and called upon to assist the security personnel with pedestrian and traffic flow.
As is the case during many of Jeju’s festivals, the entrance fee to parks such as Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, is waived. With the Tamna festival falling each year directly after Chuseok, Korea’s traditional Thanksgiving, many visitors take the opportunity to extend their vacation or make a special trip back to the island just to participate in the fun.
The festivities were not limited to the southern half of the island however, as celebrations and ceremonies were held in Tapdong in the north of Jeju City, the Jeju Main Stadium and Sinsan Park, to name just a few.
▲ Photo by Alpha Newberry
The Tamna Cultural Festival is rooted in the commemoration of all that is ethnically unique about the people and culture of Jeju, and it serves as a reminder of the bounty of the land and the tenacity and strength of the Jeju people. In recent times the festival has become a way for representatives from different villages and rural communities to playfully compete amongst one another in traditional musical concerts, ceremonies, performances, rituals, and plays.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival was a spirited singing contest of traditional Korean songs. Another was the effort that various high school students put forth to stage and present their own special versions of Korean folk tales and rituals.
The entire waterfall park area was set up with a vast number of tents where local artists erected stalls to showcase such talents as painting, sketching, jewelry making, and weaving. There were also many vendors who were cooking and selling traditional Jeju dishes and fruits. For the diner who wanted a more sit-down atmosphere in a restaurant, there were various permanent establishments selling fish and seafood brought in from the nearby docks.
Many of those who came to see the Tamna Cultural Festival down at the harbor, took a stroll up “Art Street” of downtown Seogwipo City, where the works of famed Korean artist Lee Jung Seop were showcased at the Lee Jung Seop Museum.
From ancient hat weaving to professional Opera singers the festival was a colleague of tradition and modern art with a little commerce thrown into the mix. Though no records were kept it appeared that attendance was less than expected but with the festival returning to Jeju City next year hopefully more will partake in the island’s deep and unique history.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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