Hong Sunyoung is native to the Pyoseon region of Jeju Island. She is a researcher and doctoral candidate with the Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change in Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom.
Can you tell me about your village?
Pyoseon, my hometown, is a coastal village located in the southeastern part of Jeju Island. Due to its geographical location providing easy access to mountain areas to the north, and other coastal villages to the east as well as to the west, it used to be an important traffic hub crowded with cow and horse traders.
In addition to that, since the 1980s when it was designated as a tourism site called “Pyoseon Folk Village Complex,” it has joined the island’s tourism development procedure and is now popular with tourists for its beach, folk village museum, Haevichi Resort, and so on.
What’s the most interesting feature about Jeju Island, in your opinion?
I think they are the oreum [parasitic volcanic cones], haenyeo [diving women] culture, shamanism, and the Jeju people who have striven against a harsh natural environment as well as challenging historical process.
And what do you think is the most important aspect of Jeju’s culture?
I think Jeju is one of the rare places to observe the co-existence of traditional and modern ways of life: both Confucian and shamanistic rituals are prevalent while the rapid growth of tourism development speeds up commercialization and materialism, generating ill-effects of modernization.
In communal rituals, it is not difficult to witness the strong sense of community bound by the occupation and the village whose deity or common ancestor provides a strong centripetal force. Periodically held, group rituals reproduce and sustain local identity whilst binding the members tightly together. It is in the ritual that the ‘traditional mutual-aid system’ still functions and is thus maintained.
Jeju government has a goal of making Jeju into a free international city. What are your thoughts about this?
I understand the government’s will to raise Jeju’s position to a higher level similar to Singapore and Hong Kong by means of the free international city scheme of Jeju. However, ongoing physical development as in the “Six Core Projects” concerns me not only because it is in disharmony with natural protection but as it doesn’t seem to consider the social development of Jeju inhabitants.
In other words, development projects, targeting either tourists or people from outside, lack in providing programs to empower communities and to preserve traditional culture on Jeju. I think the nurturing of communities is as important as the physical development of the island. They must be balanced.
Do you have any concerns for Jeju’s future?
I am lucky because I can still enjoy interesting and important features of Jeju culture which I think makes my life affluent. I am wondering whether this culture can carry on to the next generations and whether the government prepares any long-term program to work this out.
What would you hope for Jeju’s future?
We have seen some societies having social problems such as the increase of drug addiction, violence, murder, suicide and so on. I think theses problems are partly because individuals do not feel connected to other individuals as well as to the society itself, so-called traditional values disappeared long ago, and intimate communal and familial relationships are not available any longer.
However, Jeju has a different story: we have many occasions we feel what/where we belong to, affirming both personal and societal identity; traditional mutual help system, both labor and economic exchange, keeps individuals bonded within the community. I suppose we can take this as a starting point to build prosperous future of Jeju.
I understand that you’re a doctoral candidate and that your research is focused on Jeju Island. Would you elaborate on that?
Aiming to examine the role of tourism in the production of the “traditional” festival, my research project is focused on one particular festival on Jeju, the Tamnaguk Ipchun Gutnori.
In typical approaches, researchers seek the role of local festivals with reference to tourism, emphasizing the festival’s economic effects on host regions. My distinct research approach allows me to explore the entire procedure of festival production, internal dynamics between key stakeholders derived from their varied interests in the festival, and tourism’s role in changes and appropriation of traditional cultural practice performed for the festival. This is why I was spontaneously interested in the communities and traditional culture of Jeju.
What do you recommend for Jeju in terms of cultural preservation?
I must say that this is very difficult question to answer, as I think the notion of cultural preservation always goes along with the dilemma of how to modernize and internationalize while retaining traditions. I suggest that we should be very careful and sophisticated in reviving extinct traditions for local festival and tourism uses, which can be achieved through careful communication with the owner of those resources and thorough historical research. We may re-conceptualize or appropriate the past for tourism commodity. What’s important in this process is the community’s autonomy to decide what to select over others and why.
Anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
For me, The Jeju Weekly has been not only a valuable information provider but also a unique site to learn many view-points of those who are not Jeju natives, regarding both the present and past culture of Jeju. In this sense, I think The Jeju Weekly contributes to cultural preservation by allowing various readers to share the facts and their views. I hope more and more people can join and share this important process together.
Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychologist.
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