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Part 3 Turn of the century Jeju, A to ZUS adventurer Malcolm Anderson summits Mt. Halla, but barely
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승인 2011.01.02  19:38:02
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In the summer of 1905, Malcolm Playfair Anderson, an American explorer and scientist, knew that traveling to Jeju Island – an island that was considered relatively unknown even to Koreans – was going to be difficult. His first problem was finding passage from the mainland to the island, which he eventually solved. The language barrier was another problem but by having two assistants, one a Korean and the other a Japanese, he was sure he could over come that obstacle as well. But there was one obstacle he could not overcome – the spirit of Mt. Halla.

Anderson’s first night on the slopes of Mt. Halla was a miserable one. He and his Korean assistant, Kim, had returned to Jeju City in order to bring up the rest of their equipment and, prior to leaving the camp, had instructed his Japanese assistant, Ichikawa, to finish setting up the camp and to gather some firewood. While they were returning to the campsite, a strong wind, followed by a pounding rain, made their progress nearly unbearable. Their discomfort was made even greater when they discovered that Ichikawa, complaining of not feeling well, had done absolutely nothing except huddled in the poorly set-up tent.

“All that night, the next day and the second night, the storm continued without abating. On account of the poor manner in which our tent was pitched, it was not proof against the torrents of rain, and scarcely slept for fear it would be torn from over us by a great wind.”

When the storm did abate, the men took advantage of the lull in the weather and quickly moved to a deserted hut near the small Korean settlement. The hut, complete with a large hole in the roof and a damp, muddy floor, provided them with shelter from the wind and was made tolerable by building a large fire in the center of the main room.

Over the next couple of weeks, Anderson and his party became somewhat familiar with their neighbors – a Korean family that raised a few head of cattle, pigs and potatoes. The Koreans were somewhat curious of their foreign guests and the children and older males often came and stared at them from the hut’s open doorway. While their curiosity was understandable their indulgence was extraordinary.

Most of the islanders believed Mt. Halla to be sacred and to ascend its peaks without performing the proper rituals was blasphemous and would result in the island being punished with violent weather.

When Charles Chaillé-Long visited the island in 1888, he was told by the governor that “one hundred days of sacrifices must be performed in any case before attempting to climb the mountain in order to propitiate the spirits of Halla-san.” If the sacrifices were not made or the mountain was defiled, “the people and the island and the crops would be certainly ruined by the rains which would surely follow.”

Siegfried Genthe was told by the governor in 1901, that “never has anybody been on the summit, neither native nor stranger. The mountain spirits would surely plague the island with bad weather, thunderstorms, poor harvest and pestilence if anyone were to approach them and disturb their rest. A bad harvest would cause the people to blame you, the foreigner, and no doubt would result in your physical harm.”

A sudden downpour accompanied by a howling wind punctuated the cringing governor’s warning. Genthe ignored his warnings and went on to become the first known Westerner to climb Mt. Halla.

It seems almost incredible but apparently Anderson was unaware of the islanders’ belief. Exasperated by the continuous rain and wind, Anderson went to the old matriarch of the Korean farm and asked him if this type of weather was normal for the island and how much longer would it last? The old man admitted that it wasn’t normal and quietly added that the island would continue to suffer as long as Anderson remained.

▲ By the harbor, circa 1905. Courtesy Robert Neff Collection
Anderson later recalled:
“It [was] true, the stormy weather commenced the day after I went to my first camp upon the mountain, and the natives firmly believed that I had caused the anger of the Mountain Spirit.”

Undaunted, Anderson eventually climbed to the top of Mt. Halla but it came with a price. Not only had bad weather plagued him and his assistants but so too had sickness. Ichikawa was sick from the very beginning, Kim soon came down with a bad chill “and for several days the poor fellow’s moaning made [Anderson] think that [Kim] was a great deal worse than he really was.” Even Anderson suffered, first from a bad cold and then later from a large boil on his thigh that made walking painful and difficult.

Anderson spent almost six weeks on Jeju Island, gathering insects, birds and small mammals – including two previously unknown species (a mouse and a weasel).

All of these creatures were carefully preserved, packed away and then hauled down the slopes of Mt. Halla to Jeju City by Anderson and his assistants and, although he doesn’t mention them, Korean coolies.

Although a scientist, Anderson apparently found some humor, or perhaps truth, in the islanders’ belief of the Mountain Spirit.

“After forty days’ sojourn in Quelpart, thirty of which had been stormy or foggy, I again boarded the little old steamer and went back to Mokpo. The day was quiet, the sun bright, but one small cloud hung near the summit of Halla-san. The Mountain Spirit was at last appeased.”

Anderson continued to travel throughout Korea and later visited Japan, Tsushima Island, China, Tibet and extensively in South America. After becoming ill in South America in 1913, he returned to the United States where he continued to write and do research. His brother described him as very patriotic so when the United States entered World War I, he answered the call for men.

Unable to join the army due to his illness, he joined the labor force in Oakland building warships. In February 1919, while working on a ship, he slipped from a scaffold and fell to his death.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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