▲ Genghis Kahn is pursued by his rivals in the thrilling reenactment of his rise to power, performed at the Ma Park in western Jeju. Photo courtesy The Ma Park
The one-time occupation of Jeju by the far-reaching Mongolians can still be seen in Jeju culture, and in the faces of Jeju people. Statues pay tribute to the water-gathering method adopted from the Mongolians, and the horses they brought to the island were bred with local stock to create a breed of horse unique to Jeju.
Now, 900 years after the Mongolians retreated they are back, and putting on quite a show.
The Ma Park is one of the newest tourist attractions on Jeju, and features a stirring performance of equine prowess by a band of hand-selected Mongolian horsemen and horsewomen.
The 50-minute, four act performance is held in a purpose-built stadium in Hanlim, in the vicinity of O’Sulloc Tea Museum. The main show acts out the story of the rise of the notorious Mongolian leader, Genghis Khan.
It’s quite a spectacle, as 58 elaborately costumed riders on equally elaborately costumed horses clash and dash, wielding swords and axes at full gallop.
Mongolians traditionally pride themselves on their horsemanship skills, and this group is the best of the best. They have all participated in Mongolia’s famed Nadam festival and had to audition to get on the Ma Park team. They trained for 8 months in Mongolia, developing their physical strength and trick riding skills before coming to Jeju in October of 2008, when the park opened. The park is managed by The Ma Park of Raon Land Corp. and the Mongolia Ulan Bator Horse Association.
▲ The performers in “Genghis Kahn’s Black Flag” display an expert level of horsemanship, as in this scene in which their horses are made to lie still on the ground while the battle rages around them. Photos courtesy The Ma Park
The performers need their strength to meet the grueling performance schedule. They put on three shows a day, seven days a week.
The program brochure is in Korean only, and it’s not always easy to follow what’s going on, but it’s an exciting show nonetheless.
As audience members file in the performers warm up by racing around the arena on horseback, executing moves such as slipping off the saddle and onto one side of the horse, then over to the other side (originally done to avoid arrows), standing on the saddle at full gallop, and running and jumping onto a horse at full speed. Their command of the animals is impressive.
The horses are not the short, shaggy Mongolian horses from which the Jeju stock is descended, but large Thoroughbreds, Palominos, and even a spotted Appaloosa.
Full-sized murals of the Mongolian steppe surround the arena, creating the illusion of being in 12th century Mongolia, witness to the rise of one of history’s most infamous rulers.
“Genghis Khan’s Black Flag” opens with the birth of Khan as Temuchin. He befriends Jamuka, who also has leadership potential. The boys together dream of becoming the ruler of the known world, but they know there can only be one such leader.
Temuchin is chosen by the Mongolian God to become the king, or Kahn, and a battle ensues, led by the thwarted Jamuka.
Jamuka is betrayed by his followers, but Genghis Kahn, not known for his mercy, executes the betrayers instead. Kahn then offers to renew the brotherhood between he and Jamuka, but the vanquished responds that there is only room for one sun in the sky, and one Mongol lord.
▲ The battle over, Genghis Khan meets his new bride and prepares for peace in a scene they have perfected over many performances at Jeju’s Ma Park. Photo courtesy The Ma Park
In a scene that may be too violent for young children, Jamuka asks to be executed in a noble manner, without the spilling of blood. His wish is granted, and Kahn orders his soldiers to break Jamuka’s back.
Still, the Ma Horse Park is a favorite outing for Jeju families and visitors alike, with a snack bar and the opportunity to meet the riders and pet the horses after the show.
The park also features real Mongolian yurts which visitors can check out, and imagine what it might have been like to live when Mongolians ruled Jeju, and a large portion of the world.
The Ma Park is located near Hanlim-eup, Wollim-ri. The show is performed daily at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Admission is 15,000 won adults, 12,000 won middle and high school-aged, and 10,000 won for children. Jeju residents get half-price admission.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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