▲ Visitors enjoying the 2008/2009 Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) Festival. Although previous festivals had 20,000 to 30,000 visitors, the organizing committee expects a smaller number to attend the 2009/2010 event because of concerns about the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu. Photo courtesy Seongsan Ilchulbong Festival Organizing Committee
Though Koreans traditionally celebrate the Lunar New Year, or Seol-Nal, which falls in February this year, they also mark the beginning of the Western calendar year with fireworks and festivities. One of the most important of these festivals on Jeju Island is the Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) Festival, centered around the tuff cone that is one of the island’s three UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites and is a popular place to watch the sun rise on a new day.
The 2010 festival will be the 17th , but festival committee organizing chairman Oh Bok Kwan said this year’s event, which coincides with the publication of this issue of Jeju Weekly, would be smaller and different to previous years. Up until now, the annual festival has been government-led, he said. “But this year, for the first time, even the organizing committee is from the local community, which is more meaningful. It will help local residents unite and promote their sense of belonging.”
▲ Seongsan Ilchulbong Festival organizing committee chairman Oh Bok Kwan, Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
In the past, 20,000 to 30,000 visitors have participated in the New Year festivities, but the 2009/2010 event had been scaled back because of concerns over the H1N1 virus, commonly termed swine flu. About 7,000 visitors were expected to attend, in addition to many of the 15,000 local residents.
“In the past,” Oh said, “singers and celebrities were the highlight of the Seongsan Sunrise Peak Festival, which had a very festive mood. This year, the festival is more community-based, to revive local traditions.” The true meaning of the event is not fancy, he said, but a simple one of poetry and hope.
The festivities were scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on Dec. 31 with an opening ceremony, followed by live acts including folk singing, a fan dance, brass bands and an appearance by the NANTA performers. Two main highlights planned for visitors were a guided night hike with lanterns provided at 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and a group walk to the peak at 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day to make wishes as the sun rises. Jeju Governor Kim Tae Hwan would welcome in the New Year with a message of hope, which would be greeted with fireworks and a flame descending from the top of the peak to light logs aboard a traditional tewoo boat, on which written wishes for the future would be burned.
Oh said that designation of Sunrise Peak as a UNESCO site has increased the number of tourists to the tuff cone, and increased the pride of local residents in their landmark. “When I was a child,” he said, “Sunrise Peak was just an oreum.”
▲ The tuff cone and harbor lit up by fireworks. Photo courtesy Seongsan Ilchulbong Festival Organizing Committee
Being added to the UNESCO list has made the local people realize the environmental importance of the area, he said. The peak also has great historical and religious significance. “Japanese soldiers dug caves around this area to use for military purposes. While they were doing that, many local people were forced into labor to dig the caves, without knowing why.”
Just 2.5 kilometers away from the Peak is also an area where many villagers were massacred during the 4.3 Uprising, Oh said. The 13 fishing villages of the area hold rituals to soothe the spirits of the victims, and Seongsan is also the site of the final part of the Shamanistic Yeondong Gut, where the goddess is believed to depart from Jeju again.
Local resident Kang Joon Hoon, whose guest house and home overlooks not only Seongsan Ilchulbong and Udo, but also the site where his parents and grandparents were killed in the 4.3 massacre, is sad that visitors to Sunrise Peak often do not see beyond the name.
“Historically speaking, this peak embraces historical scars,” he said. “Tourists look only at the sunrise - a glorious scene. But I see the brutal scene of the massacre here. There are scars behind the beauty. We need to see the brutal beauty behind the sunrise. Some poets describe the sea of Seongsan Ilchulbong as where “children swim and play on the sand that drank the blood of killing.”
He said visitors should also see the other things surrounding the Peak. “There is Udo island on its left and on its right stands Seopjikoji and, above all, 500,000 pyeong [1,650,000 square meters] of sea on which the Peak looks like floating.” That is like the yin and yang of Oriental philosophy, he said. “We have to see not only Seongsan Sunrise Peak, but also realize how the Peak is surrounded and supported by many things.”
For festival chairman Oh, much of that support comes from the community spirit, and that will be uppermost in his mind when making his New Year’s wishes. “My wish is that the local economy will revive, the political situation is stable and preparations for WCC [World Conservation Congress] 2012 goes well.”
And his wish for visitors to the site? “This year, the Sunrise Festival marks 17 years but until now, we have been able to only watch two [New Year] sunrises because of the cloudy weather. I really hope this year we can watch a sunrise. But whether the sunrise is seen or not is not that important. Truly, the sun can rise in our hope and in our heart. Next year, I hope the sun rises for everyone.”
Visitors enjoying the 2008/2009 Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) Festival, above, and the tuff cone and harbor lit up by fireworks. Although previous festivals had 20,000 to 30,000 visitors, the organizing committee expects a smaller number to attend the 2009/2010 event because of concerns about the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu. Photos courtesy Seongsan Ilchulbong Festival Organizing Committee
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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