On Jan. 10 there was a press preview of the documentary film “At search for spirits on the island of Rocks, Wind and Women,” at Artspace C, Jeju Halla Art Hall. Film director Giuseppe Rositano invited media representatives, experts in Jeju shamanism and local artists to the limited screening.
According to Rositano, the film focuses on Jeju’s shamans, “simbang,” affiliated with village shrines, and particularly examples of shrine devotion, “dang sinang,” being kept alive by villagers despite the death or absence of a ceremony-performing shaman.
Rositano filmed over a period of a year and a half on the island and his investigation covered the five villages of Samyang, Naedo, Sanggui, Pyoseon, and Tosan. Of these, only two villages were screened during the preview.
As the director and his team personally went out and collected the stories from the villagers, the stories are told in their words. In both villages, locals are well aware of the existence of the shrines and remember the village communities holding village shrine rites, or “maeul dang gut.”
Villagers also confirmed that devotees visit the shrines to provide offerings, and the film team observed colorful fabrics and paper money tied to branches of the shrine tree.
However, the film team could not find any actual followers who visit the shrines, as only traces of them were left, such as the smell of rotten eggs and candle nubs. In the film, the director and his group even attached a big colorful snake figure, with candles, to the surface of the Naedo shrine in order to attract the villagers' attention.
It is clear that urbanization and industrialization are direct threats to this indigenous belief system. For example, the present Samyang shrine was re-located five years ago from its original site, “Dangpat Dang,” to the village park, due to residential development at the original site.
In addition, few elders can remember the snake stories related to the shrines, even though Naedo shrines have a snake mythology related to the Kim family ancestor, a rice merchant. In short, the snake goddess, known as “Yongnyeo Buin,” saved a rice-trading boat from sinking by plugging a hole the hull. Honoring Her wishes, villagers worship Her spirit at two different shrines: a lower shrine, “Al Dang,” located on the seaside, from Feb. 1 to the end of October by the lunar calendar, and the “Dangpat Halmang” shrine for the rest of the year.
In the Q&A session that preceded the 30-minute screening, the filmmaker said that he only chose five villages as many shrines have been neglected due to the absence of the shaman, or urban development, resulting in the relocation of the shrine site. However, certain shrines and shamanistic ceremonies, including “Jeju Chilmeori Shrine,” “Youngdeung Gut” and “Jeju Keun Gut,” have been protected and preserved under global, national and local regulations by being designated as cultural heritage.
“I wanted to preserve the spirit of these beliefs, which is dying out, through the voice of its devotees and practitioners,” Rositano said.
Experts and local artists provided insightful feedback, too. Moon Moo-byoung, a local folklorist who has researched Jeju shamanism for more than 40 years, suggested it would have been better if the film had shown the way in which the mythological meaning of the goddess is associated with modern life, emphasizing that the shrines, as the home of the goddess, are sacred sites within the real world.
Oh Seok-hun, a local painter and member of the Jeju Traditional Culture Institute, pointed out that the film is flawed as it did not capture the ways in which devotees worship the shrine gods. He encouraged the director to film the shamanistic ceremonies held at the depicted shrines for the film's final cut.
Indeed, this film is in progress. Having shown the dying traditions of shrine belief on Jeju, Rositano is doing significant and fascinating work to preserve the spirit worship of the island. The spirits on the Island of Rocks, Wind and Women are still being sought.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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