Many people come to Jeju because they hear it is the “Hawaii of Korea”. True there are beautiful beaches and scenery at every turn. However, learning about the local culture and history of this treasure of the Yellow Sea, will deepen a visitor’s experience. Jeju has a long history that is presented in various museums and sites around the island. Prior to its inclusion into Korea during the Joseon period, Jeju was known as the Kingdom of Tamna. The legend of the three founding families of Tamna is preserved at Samsunghyeol, which means “three family name holes,” near Shi-cheong.
History on display The entrance to this sacred place takes the form of a tall red gate with the symbol of Korea adorning the apex. Several varieties of shade trees line the entry corridor and paths, which wind through the rest of the grounds. Upon entering the main gates there is a long line of gravestones, perhaps of descendents of the three founders. A painted pavilion for relaxation is nearby.
An exhibition hall serves as a museum for the site. It houses miniature scenes of the Samsunghyeol tale. There are also other locations on the island which are related to the Samsunghyeol story. An interactive scene with an aerial view shows which part of the island each site is located on. In addition, there are antique documents on display including a carved wooden slate dating back to 1435. Other objects of interest are brassware and traditional ceremonial garb, like those worn in the spring and autumn sacrificial rites, which take place on April 10 and Oct. 10 each year.
Around the bend, one finds Sam Sung Jeon shrine, where the memorial tablet of the founders is kept. These can be viewed at a distance only. The yard to the actual shrine is roped off. However, a beautifully painted awning with an impressive wrought iron incense burner invites visitors to pay homage. Three similar buildings next to the shrine were utilized by scholars and those conducting ceremonies. One is open for the public viewing of an informative and entertaining animated video about Samsunghyeol.
The legend of the three families Step outside and you will see another yard containing a ring of stones surrounding a circular depression in the ground. Three stone slabs and a tall stone marker flank the depression and you can get a glimpse of three holes inside it. These are where three demigods are said to have emerged from. According to legend, the holes are so deep that even during heavy rains they don’t fill up. The names of the demigods were Ko Eulla, Yang Eulla, and Bu Eulla. Once inhabiting the island, they hunted and wore clothes of leather, unlike most people in other parts of the world at that time.
One day a purple fog drifted in from the sea. They were curious, so they went to the beach and were met by a boat emerging from the fog. When it came ashore, an envoy greeted them and presented them with farm animals, five grains, and three beautiful princesses. Apparently, the demigods had been being watched! The father of the princesses had seen a mysterious aurora coming from the island and must have sent explorers there. When it was reported to the king that three great men without wives lived there, he decided to send his daughters as brides. The demigods accepted, and used the gifts to start the first farms and families here. First, they went to the pond, Honinji, on the east side of the island, to bathe before their wedding ceremony. Next to the pond is a cave called Sinbanggul where they spent their honeymoon. After their farms were established and they began trading with other countries, it was decided that a government should be formed.
In order to decide where the seat of each family’s government would be, they each shot an arrow into the sky from Sasijanorak. Then they searched for the landing spot of each arrow. This is when the areas Il-do, Ido and Sam-do were designated. Samsaseok is a historical place where one of the arrows became embedded in a stone. Samsunghyeol is open March-Oct, from 8am-7pm, Nov.-Feb. from 8am-6:30pm. The entry fee for adults is 3,000W. Children, teens, seniors and military personnel are offered a discount. It is located within walking distance of Shi-cheong, and is well sign-posted.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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