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Dive into the 5th haenyeo festivalIsland's traditional occupation a way for Jeju culture to reach out to the world
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승인 2011.04.26  16:02:55
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▲ Haenyeo pose for a photo before taking to the water for the diving competition in Sagye-ri harbor, Seogwipo City, on April 24. Photo by Darryl Coote.

[Please scroll to the bottom of this page to see more images from the event by photographer Douglas MacDonald. -- Ed.]

On April 24, 58 haenyeo (woman divers) competed in the 5th Haenyeo Diving Competition at Sagye-ri harbor, Seogwipo City. Sunday’s competition consisted of a diving competition where haenyeo gathered shell fish, octopuses and abalone; and a kayak race.

Founder and organizer of the event Yang Hwang Il said the purpose of the event was to not only preserve the profession, which has seen a rapid decline in practitioners since 1990, but to “make Jeju public to the world through Jeju’s haenyeo.”

Yang views the haenyeo as one of Jeju’s traditional occupations and a symbol of the island and worries that one day it might become obsolete from the lack of young women becoming haenyeo, who would rather have a more modern and safer occupation. Currently, the majority of haenyeo are above the the age of 50 with only a handful in their 40s, the youngest being 46 according to Yang.

The event, which was more of a celebration of the haenyeo than a contest, began at 10 a.m. with speeches, music and impromptu dancing by the haenyeo. During the opening ceremony Yang anointed all haenyeo present as honorary ambassadors of Jeju to help the island in its push to become one of the New7Wonders of Nature. Immediately after being inducted, all haenyeo used their cell phones to cast their votes for Jeju.

The haenyeo took to the water at 12 p.m. for the hour-long diving competition. Yang said that Sagye-ri harbor had been prohibited for fishing for the last year and a half to ensure that there would be lots of crustaceans and fish for the competition.

▲ After all 58 haenyeo were appointed honorary ambassadors of Jeju, they collectively voted for Jeju to be one of the New7Wonders of Nature. Photo by Darryl Coote.
▲ A woman rests her head on a fellow haenyeo during the opening ceremonies of the 5th Haenyeo Competition. Photo by Darryl Coote.

Originally, Yang said that there were suppose to be 68 haenyeo from 10 fishing villages, but at the last minute two of the villages were unable to attend. Also, at last year’s competition Yang told The Jeju Weekly that he hoped that of the few male divers (haenam) who work in this field, he hoped five would compete. All of them eventually declined.

After an hour of harvesting the seabed, the haenyeo came back to shore where their catch was weighed. Points were given depending on the overall weight of the catch as well as for the variety of crustaceans and sea creatures gathered.

Yang Geum Sun from Sagye-ri village came in first place receiving 500,000 won in prize money for catching 24 kg of conch, one abalone, one octopus and three sea cucumbers. In second place, for 300,000 won, was Kang Sun Ja from Gangjeong village with 16.8 kg of conch, one halibut and one sea cucumber. And in third place, for 200,000 won was Sangmo village native Kim Mi Hwa with 29 kg of conch.

After the diving competition the haenyeo took to kayaks for the kayak race. Though not traditionally apart of the haenyeo’s occupation, Yang said he decided to include a kayak race because he though having only one event would not be enough to entice people to attend.

In first place was again Yang Geum Sun, with team mate Kim In sun from Sagye-ri village earning the pair 400,000 won. In second, for 300,000 won, were Ok Bok Yul and Oh Sun Ja from Hwaseon village. And in third, for 200,000 won, were Ko Chun Ja and Sun Nyeo from Yongsu village.

The event ran until 3 p.m. and Yang estimated that roughly 1,000 people, many of whom were retired haenyeo, attended throughout the day. The 6th Haenyeo Diving Competition will occur somewhere on the north side of the island, as the event rotates every year between Jeju City and Seogwipo City.

▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald
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