▲ Island natives perform a reimagining of a Jeju traditional folk tale. The performance was part of a Jeju dialect competition. Photo by Alpha Newberry
The annual Tamna Cultural Festival, the oldest and most celebrated festival in Jeju, displayed its rich traditional culture for the 49th time in a relatively new location of Seogwipo City. Formerly named Halla Cultural Festival, the event was given its new moniker this year and ventured to bring its eminence over to the south.
“It is my hope that Jeju City and Seogwipo City undergo a balanced development in terms of both art and culture,” said Kang Moon Chil, the current Chairman of the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Association of Federation of Artistic & Cultural Organizations of Korea, who was the organizer of the festival. He introduced himself as one of the few Seogwipo natives to have presided over the position.
Kang explained that the location of the Tamna Cultural Festival, organized under the auspices of the Federation of Artistic & Cultural Organization of Korea, has been determined by the regional orientation of the Chairman. In other words, only Jeju City had been given the opportunity to situate the festival until Kang was elected to the chair.
“Relatively, the Jeju association of FACO has been rarely headed by a Seogwipo native,” Kang said. “I was born and raised in Seogwipo ... the term of my office is four years, so I suggested that Jeju City and Seogwipo City take turns each year. In other words, two years in Jeju City and the other two in Seogwipo City. This is my third year.”
On the second day of the festival, attendance seemed somewhat lacking for a festival so renowned and prominent. Kang postulated that “because they are still very unaccustomed to cultural experiences like this, the people of Seogwipo seem a little hesitant to actively participate.” In addition, the southern population being only a quarter of that of Jeju City may also have been a hindrance, Kang added.
Regardless, the legacy of the festival transcended generations. A significant portion of the festival was allotted for performances by young students who seemed nervous yet enthusiastic to perform in front of an older crowd.
One of the performances was a Jeju traditional play accompanied by Korean traditional percussion music performed by Daykey High School. Hyun Joon Young, the students’ teacher and instructor for the performance, reminisced on the days when he had performed at the festival as a child as he anxiously watched his students on stage.
▲ The recreation of a Jeju traditional Jaesa, a sacrifical rite in honor of deceased ancestors. Photo by Alpha Newberry
“The Tamna Cultural Festival is not an unfamiliar event for me at all,” Hyun said. “I remember as a middle school student, I wore a cow mask and performed under the blazing sun. It was really hot and exhausting at the time, but looking back, it was such a great opportunity for me to participate in keeping alive the long-descended traditions, not only for the people of Jeju but for those from outside as well,”
Organizer Kang also felt strongly about the festival serving as a mode of reviving and passing down tradition. He had participated in the festival throughout his middle school and high school years. Recalling his fond and meaningful memories of engaging in writing prose and performing music recitals, he said that has “made me an artist, a musician, and a composer today.”
“The experiences that young minds have is extremely powerful. See the young students participating today? I do not doubt that they will grow up to be people with an exceptional sense of culture ... I want to give Jeju people the similar experience that I had,” Kang said.
Despite the involvement of budding teenagers, however, the festival displayed a conspicuously missing gap of participants in their 20s. Though no recording had kept track of demographics, the naked eye was enough to observe that the population was predominantly pre-collegiate students in uniform and their parents or those of older generations.
Organizer Kang fully acknowledged the gap and the lack of programs to fill it.
“There is a need for programs to be developed targeting those in their 20s. They’re not coming to appreciate or hang out here. Yet, a festival cannot truly be a festival without the 20s ... those young people need to bring their heat and passion, but see how that energy is absent here?” Kang said. As the organizer he felt apologetic about the problem, but it is one not easily solved. He speculated that the festival may feature popular B-boy troupes in the future to attract younger spectators.
Among the mostly Korean crowd were foreign residents fascinated by the festival. A married couple, James, a British man who teaches English in Seogwipo City, and Barbara, a French woman who provides guided tours around Jeju, felt that the festival was irreproachable.
“I think it’s more traditional and less commercial. I noticed that most of the time from the main land, it was so-called ‘festival,’ but it was very commercial. But the great thing of this festival is that it’s very traditional and authentic,” Barbara said.
James, referring to the traditional clothing booth that afforded volunteers the opportunity to don traditional Jeju garb and traditional toys featured at the festival, said, “It’s good to be able to feel Korea’s past and this way actually by wearing it, playing it, and getting in touch with it physically.”
Overall, the 49th Tamna Cultural Festival exuded a mix of sweet and bitter tastes that has deepened with age. One thing is for certain: next year, around this time, will be the 50th Tamna Cultural Festival, providing citizens of Jeju with the opportunity to reflect upon its past and assess whether the island is enriching or exasperating with age.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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