The 15th Jeongwol Daeboreum Fire Festival took place on Feb. 3 and 4 at Saebyeol Oreum, Jeju City. Due to extreme weather conditions on Feb. 2, the planned three-day event was cut short, but despite the cold, the final day of festivities were impressive to say the least.
Traditionally, the Fire Festival is held on the first full moon of the Lunar New Year to commemorate the ancient agricultural practice of setting fire to farm fields in the winter, readying them for the spring, by clearing them of dead grass and potentially harmful insects. Over the years, the festival has expanded and is now an annual Jeju cultural staple drawing thousands.
The 300,000 square meters of Saebyeol Oreum, located north of the Seogwipo border on the west side of the island, is barren except for native grass, and is a stark and prime backdrop for the festival’s closing ceremony.
The atmosphere was energetic and addictive. The midway, crowded with people and filled with good food stalls and vendors, ran to the base of the oreum where there was a main stage which hosted many performances by dancers, singers, and musicians. Even a dance group from Jeju’s sister city, Santa Rosa, California, came to support the event.
▲ Photos by Douglas MacDonald
Next to the stage, visitors flocked to write down their wishes and prayers for the upcoming year, which were then attached to numerous hay bales and the large moon house, a sphere made of hay and straw ropes and served as the oreum’s centerpiece. As the day progressed and visitors braved the cold, crowds began to gather in anticipation of the final event.
Throngs of brightly costumed drummers began to parade around the festival grounds and set the mood with rhythmic beats. Bamboo torches were passed out to locals and foreigners alike who paraded towards the oreum and formed a line at its base and prepared to light the hill on fire as thousands waited and watched.
After the sun set, a countdown ensued, fireworks exploded at the top of the oreum, and the torchbearers rushed forward and lit the hay bales. The hay bales, the moon house, and the wishes attached to them went up in flames representing the burning away of bad luck from the previous year and clearing of paths for good luck in the year to come.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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