▲ An artist apprentice pours molten iron into a cast. Photo by Kim Jung Lim
In the distance, people wearing galot, Jeju traditional persimmon-dyed clothes, move giant millstones. At another site, four men try to melt iron to make pots. Then a group of people twisting straw ropes begin to sing!
This is not a description of old Jeju but the scenes from a festival in Deoksuri, a small village in Seogwipo. The 20th Deoksuri Traditional Folk Festival, held on Oct. 12, was different from other Jeju festivals in that it offered a rare chance to see three Jeju traditions that have survived only in this village.
In the old days, Jeju had only occasional contact with other places so people had to produce their daily necessities themselves. Among the traditional crafts which developed through the self-sufficient process was ironware making, called Bulmi, the 7th Jeju intangible cultural asset. Bulmi is a Jeju word derived from pulmu, a standard Korean word meaning a wind producing machine. It is used to melt pieces of iron in a blast furnace.
At a small yard of the festival site, near a big cylindrical blast furnace, stood the artisan Yun Moon Soo and his three apprentices with spectators and cameras surrounding them. The spectators focused their attention on one of the apprentice’s every motion as he poured molten iron into around 10 mud casts. After the lightning-red water filled the casts, the iron turned black, and apprentices then forced it from the cast, which smashed to pieces, and a newly born pot appeared among the wreckage.
The artisan Yun Moon Soo, 76, has been reenacting the craft for 20 years. As for the specialty of the Jeju ironware craft, he said that only Jeju uses handmade casts. Even now, Deoksu village is preserving this traditional method.
He said he always scolds his students, even shouts at them, due to his concern that accidents can happen at anytime. That’s the way he had been taught by his uncle since he started to learn when he was 15. When he became an artisan in 2008, he was 73. The man who dedicated his life to this craft said, “I’m not doing this for money. The only reason why I do this is to preserve this craft.” With a question how he feels about that day’s showing off the craft to common people, he smiled brightly saying, “I’m so happy. I appreciate [the chance to do this].”
Jipjul Noneun Norae (A song sung while twisting straw rope)
In the past, Jeju had roofs that people had to fill with thatch and bind them with new straw ropes regularly. While working, people twisting the ropes sang a song to relieve boredom. The unique song was developed in this village. That’s because Deoksu village had harsher winds so people had to redo the work every other year and make stronger ropes.
At the grass field of the festival site, three pairs of people were making three lines of straw ropes with a wooden spinner. Next to them, a man and a woman were singing a song. The man Kim Dong Yun, a former village chief, acquired the song during his boyhood. He said his father was very good at this song. Interesting was that he set only the melody and decided on the lyrics in an impromptu way.
He said, “Reenacting the tradition is the pride of the whole of Jeju. Children don’t know what the straw rope is for even when they have it in their hands. I hope more children visit this festival and learn about Jeju [tradition].”
▲ Rope spinning. Photo by Kim Jung Lim
Bangatdol Gullineun Norae (A song sung while rolling millstones)
To make the giant millstone, the Jeju people carved two rocks into a flat shape and then moved them to the village. Many people of both sexes joined in the work to roll the stones.
Around 40 people from the village participated in the reenactment. As they began pulling long ropes connected to the stones, a person with a good voice, accompanied by a band playing traditional music, started to sing. The lyrics of the song are about the process of making the stones and moving them. The rest of the people sang along with the chorus, which seemed to give them joy. After people finished moving the stones, they laid the bigger stone down first, and set up the smaller one on top, finally to make the millstone. People turned the completed millstone, dancing along to the music.
▲ A traditional seed grinding ritual. Photo by Kim Jung Lim
How does the reproduced tradition look to those who experienced it long ago when these practices were a way of life? Visitor Hur Gi Hyun, an 81-year-old senior from the village, said that in the past the work had been a lot harsher than was beautifully depicted that day. Even though it could not be a perfect reenactment, he said it made him feel good to see the tradition here and he comes to the festival every year to encourage the participants.
Kang Myung Oen, organizer of the festival since 2002, said, “We have to preserve what our ancestors preserved. We have a mission to promote them to foreign countries too. And I hope this festival will also be an opportunity to improve the village’s tourism.”
Kang, who was dressed as a noble man of the Joseon dynasty, added, “The treasures of Deoksuri [of the three reenacted traditions] are those of Jeju island.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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