▲ The dress is western but the tradition, and big family, is Korean in this undated historic photo. Photo from “Jeju History through Photos”
For most young people the decision to get married is a long, difficult one. Meeting the right person, hoping each others’ families will get along and finally taking the plunge can be difficult and stressful.
Then once the right person has been found, it’s time to start preparing for the actual wedding. The whole process can take years, and usually ends with a bride decked out in a beautiful Western-style white dress and a groom in a dashing tuxedo.
Marriage by design However, it has not always been this way. When Jin Song-Gi married Byeun Sun-Ah 65 years ago no one even thought of having anything except a traditional Korean wedding.
“At that time, it was normal,” Jin, the owner and curator of the Jeju Folk Museum, said. The bride and groom were introduced through a matchmaker, the bride’s aunt, and only met once before the wedding day.
Instead of months or years of planning after the proposal Jin asked his future wife to marry him the first time they met.
“I asked her, ‘Can you marry me?’ She told me she was not good enough for me and asked me if it was okay for her to marry me,” Jin said.
It is one of his favorite memories from his long life with his wife. While it may seem a little odd for us today, there has been a long tradition of setting up marriages.
While we think choosing our own partner is of great importance, in the past the ability to provide for the future, work together, and have children were the driving factors. These were not to be left to chance.
To make sure the bride and groom were compatible — marital harmony was of utmost importance — their respective families would check their sa ju, or four pillars. The sa ju is based on a person’s birth date and is similar to astrology, but used to determine compatibility. A couple would not be chosen for each other unless their families felt they made a good match.
Traditional wedding The traditional Jeju wedding is a three-day celebration. In wealthier families there are a large number of gifts given and more grand traditions are followed, but in poorer communities, such as the farming village in which Jin and his bride-to-be grew up, fewer gifts are given.
Jin’s family sent foodstuffs to the bride’s family, such as rice, eggs, and a pig, that would be used for the large feast on the second day. After the proposal the bride and her family started to prepare for the celebration.
A servant butchered the pig for the second day of the celebration, and the bride’s family prepared the food to share with the groom and his family.
Friends, neighbors, and family members all joined in on the second day. The groom came to the bride’s home in a horse drawn sedan chair called a ga-ma. At the bride's house he was welcome to enjoy the feast with her family and they were introduced as a couple. The groom then stayed the night at the bride’s home.
The final day of the wedding consisted of the bride meeting her new in-laws. She was taken from her family’s home by her new husband to his home. Bringing his wife to his home symbolized her joining his family and announced their marriage to everyone.
Traditions have changed on Jeju; many young couples are combining the old with the new, but there is a lot of beauty to be found in the past. Jin has watched these changes happen, and sometimes they confuse him.
‘Traditional weddings were based on our values, and our history, but young people today follow the western style without the meaning,” he said. “In the cold winter they will wear a dress and tuxedo. I can’t understand why they wear a ‘dragonfly’ dress and shiver. What are these marriages for?”
As for his wife, due to illness he has had to put her in a nursing home. After 65 years together it is hard for Jin Song-Gi. “I am lonely,” he said.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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