▲ Jeju Culture Research Institution President Kim Yoo Jeong. Photo by Angela Kim
Jeju is known for its three plenties — stone, wind, and women. Yet, Jeju Culture Research Institution President Kim Yoo Jeong posits a novel idea.
With his recently published book “Jeju’s Natural Characteristics and Tombs” (2011), Kim argues that Jeju has “five plenties” and that the traditional three on their own are not capable of encompassing all of Jeju’s culture.
“Understanding the five plenties will widen the prospect of Jeju culture,” Kim told The Weekly during an interview at his Jeju City office.
What are the five plenties of Jeju? Kim strongly believes that drought (water) and horses should be considered as additions to the three plenties.
Over the course of tens of thousands of years of volcanic eruptions, during which many tons of basalt stones were ejected and scattered all over, Jeju was created. Jeju’s geographical location also meant that the island was in the path of monsoons and other meteorological phenomena from the Pacific Ocean.
As a result, the people of Jeju used the available materials — the characteristic black basalt rocks — to create stone walls that were durable against wind.
The Jeju haenyeo (traditional diving women) culture was derived from drought because the lack of water caused villages to spring up around the shore. The constant lack of a steady water supply forced farmers to raise crops that grow well without much water like barley, millet, beans, and buckwheat. Droughts also led to the development of Jeju earthenware (called onggi) in which rain water was collected and transported.
An additional water-free technology on the island was the outdoor toilet — which also served as a pigpen — to recycle human waste as food for pigs and as fertilizer for crops.
Another of Jeju’s symbolic structures — the black stone walls and the three post gates called jeongnang — are important to Jeju culture for several reasons. Kim believes that the abundance of horse links these two structures to the essence of Jeju culture.
“Everyone knows that there were a lot of horses on Jeju, but this wasn’t included in the three plenties,” Kim said. The reason was that the stone walls cannot be fully understood without considering Jeju’s long history of raising horses.
From 1273 and for the next 100 years, he continued, the island was controlled by Mongolians. Three years after arriving here they brought 160 horses from Mongolia. Since then, Jeju has always had a large population of horses and historically the villagers needed to construct stone walls to prevent them from entering their houses and farms.
He emphasised that in order to understand Jeju, you need to understand its cultural climate. “The combination of natural resources and production gives insight into Jeju people’s lives,” he said.
The five plenties can also be found in local myths. “Mythology was created through the lives and history of the Jeju people,” Kim said. Islanders prayed to Jeju gods who had specific duties related to one or more of the five plenties.
Kim said that the purpose for writing this book was for the public to understand the “cultural differences between Jeju and the mainland.”
“Jeju culture is very autogenous and creative,” Kim said. Regardless of numerous influences from invaders, like that of Japan and Mongolia, the islanders had managed to protect Jeju’s indigenous cultural assets and customs.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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