As far back as a thousand years ago the volcanic soils of Jeju Island forced many Jeju women out to sea to find sustenance for their families and communities. These brave daughters, mothers and grandmothers began harvesting sea creatures and fish to feed their families and to trade. They still do to this day.
The haenyeo went on to form the backbone of the close-knit village communities in coastal regions characterized by extended kinship culture known as, “goendang.” Signalling this close affinity, local people even today call haenyeo “samchun” as a sign of affection, having a similar meaning to aunt in standard Korean.
There are many ways visitors can experience haenyeo culture today but supporting local “eochongye,” the village-based agricultural and fishing cooperatives, is the best way to ensure your money directly benefits the haenyeo and their families. Many of the activities introduced here are directly supported by local eochongye and you can also find local eochongye restaurants in coastal areas.
This guide is thus designed to help you choose the best ways to learn about haenyeo culture and contribute to its preservation. We have included the usual suspects such as the Haenyeo Museum, which spearheads many of the preservation initiatives, and also some haenyeo performances across the island directly supported by the communities.
▲ Jeju haenyeo or diving women tours mapped out. Design by Ko Ayoung
Jeju Haenyeo Museum
This anthropological museum is a must if you are interested in haenyeo culture. There are three exhibition halls each representing key aspects of haenyeo life. Across the three you can learn about domestic haenyeo life, explore the bulteok, where haenyeo change clothes and congregate after dives, and learn about fishing tools such as the “taewoo,” a traditional Jeju fishing vessel used to collect seaweed and for transportation. There is also a children’s area where kids can try on haenyeo clothing and even catch some sea creatures.
Jeju Haenyeo Museum
26 Haenyeobangmulgwan-gil, Gujwa-eup, Jeju City
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Ticket office closes at 5 p.m.)
Closed on the first and third Monday of every month
Adults (25+): 1,100 won
Youth (13-24): 500 won
064-782-9898 or visit here for more info.
Hado-ri Village haenyeo experience
Many fishing villages hold special events for tourists to experience haenyeo culture. This may be fishing, snorkeling and “muljil,” or catching sea creatures in the shallows. This is recommended as it gives visitors the opportunity to appreciate the skills needed as a haenyeo.
The Hado-ri Village haenyeo experience program is available between March and November and all you need is basic swimming skills. The program lasts about 1.5 hours in total including changing into haenyeo clothing. You can even eat all of the seafood you catch!
Hado-ri Village coast
1897-27, Haemajihaean-ro, Gujwa-eup, Jeju City
March to November (Must be reserved in advance)
20,000 won (Groups of five or more)
064-783-1996 or visit here for more details.
Haenyeo performance at Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak
Seongsan Ilchulbong (“Sunrise”) Peak is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site so it is worth a visit alone, but you can also witness a haenyeo performance against this stunning backdrop. Watch the women prepare and then dive into the water to capture seafood in the coastal waters.
Mouthwateringly, you can buy and eat their harvest by the shore after they come back to land. One of the main attractions of the show is the “sumbisori,” the sharp whistling exhalation sound haenyeo make upon resurfacing. Afterwards, why not try a quick hike up Sunrise Peak itself?
Seongsan Port coastal area
284-12, Ilchul-ro, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo City
Performance hours 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. (Twice a day, everyday during summer)
Contact Number 064-783-1135
Hanwha Aqua Planet Jeju diving women performance
Most haenyeo dive to depths of 5 meters for 30 seconds at a time, yet they have even been known to stay underwater for up to 2 minutes at a depth of 20 meters when necessary. A 10-minute demonstration of this extraordinary ability is put on in the Sea of Jeju tank at Hanhwa Aqua Planet Jeju. The shows provide visitors with a truly unique perspective on the diving women and the aquarium itself is Asia’s largest and one of the island’s premier tourist attractions.
“Sea of Jeju” att Hanwha Aqua Planet Jeju
95 Seopjikoji-ro, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo-City
10:30 a.m., 12:10 p.m., 2:10 p.m. and 4:10 p.m. (Four times a day, everyday)
Adults: 38,400 won
High school students: 36,800 won
Children: 34,900 won
064-780-0900 or visit here for more details.
Sagye-ri Village haenyeo experience
At Sagye-ri you can try diving as haenyeo in the shallow coastal area and trying on haenyeo clothing. The whole experience lasts around an hour.
13-1 Hyeongjehaean-ro, Andeok-myeon, Seogwipo City
Year round (except in poor weather/)
25,000 won (more than two people are required/must be reserved in advance)
Visit the website here for more details.
Daepyeong-ri Village Nandeureu Jamnyeo night show
Nandeureu is the traditional name for the villages of Daepyeong-ri and Haye Hadong. They are now divided into two administrative districts (Daepyeong-ri was West Nandeureu and Haye Hadong was East Nandeureu) but they share the same traditional community.
Jamnyeo (or Jamsu) is the local term for haenyeo and the community in Daepyeong-ri started this performance in 2009. Entertainment includes traditional dancing and singing and diving performances. The performances are held at the start of JejuOlle 9, which means visitors can end a day of walking with a relaxing show by the sea.
Daepyeong-ri Harbor (Olle 9 start)
8 to 9:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday between July and September
Making a taewak at Beophwan Harbor
Beophwan Harbor is on Olle 7 and you can try out making a “taewak” with local villagers. A taewak is a floating multi-functional object used by haenyeo. It is not only a net for storing the catch but it also helps locate haenyeo while they are diving. It is also used for buoyancy and resting between long dives.
Beophwan Hall for the Elderly
76 Beophwan-ro, Seogwipo City
Monday to Wednesday, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Reservation needed)
25,000 won to make and buy one taewak (prices range from 15,000 to 150,000 won)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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