The Dolhareubang built and placed around Jeju Island for protection and guidance during the 1700s are being replicated today by one man and his team. The motivation behind the replication of these volcanic stone statues is to bring peace to the deceased and reiterate their cultural significance to those who see them. Kim Nam Heung is the owner of Dolhareubang Park in Bukchon. The park was developed 11 years ago in the middle of an agricultural area, about a kilometer and a half from the 1132 highway. The road is narrow and appears to hug your vehicle while the wind seems to blow you in the direction of tree limbs pointed toward the park. The environment is serene.
Kim studied Art at Jeju National University. After graduating, he said, he searched for a deeper meaning in his surroundings. What he found was a need to define the culture of Jeju Island. To Kim, the only way to see beneath the surface is to understand the cultural significance of your environment.
▲ Kim Nam Heung owner of Dolhareubang Park in Bukchon wants to help viewers understand the statues’ message of peace. Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
The Jeju Cultural Property Commission declared the dolhareubang an official cultural symbol of Jeju in 1971. Kim said it is his mission to provide island residents with a meaningful understanding of the object chosen to represent them. The park has four themes to reiterate the overall message of peace, he said. These are the functionality of the dolhareubang, its history, a modern perspective and the art entailed in the statues’ creation.
During the 1700s, the land on Jeju was barren, and there was not much to eat. Kim said there were many intruders that took from the islanders. The Jeju people looked to the dolhareubang for guidance and protection, but now society looks to the stone grandfathers as more of a superstitious symbol. Nowadays, the island is more prosperous and less of a target, so the statues are rubbed when making wishes and in the belief that the grandfather will offer blessings of fertility.
Kim says there are now 45 of 48 original dolhareubang that survive from the Joseon Dynasty. All the dolhareubang at the park were made on location. Because the older statues were designated as a national symbol, Kim said it is illegal to move them from their original settings. Dolhareubang are placed sporadically around the island, making it difficult for all of them to be seen. This is why Kim decided to replicate them and create a park, so that everyone can view the statues. In the beginning, Kim said, it took him 45 days to make a replica, but now it takes him approximately 20 days. While Jeju Islanders used hammers and nails to chisel their protectors in the past, Kim said he uses the more modern approach of electrical machines. It is illegal to just take the material from which to create a dolhareubang so Kim purchases volcanic rock from companies that mine the area.
Kim believes that the larger the statue, the more protection people felt it offered, which is why he says the statues you see in Jeju City are much taller and have a more serious demeanor. All the statues look similar to the untrained eye, he said, but each is unique. They all share large round eyes and nose and a peaked cap, but the placement of the hands and facial expressions differ. According to historians, different positions are supposed to signify different things. The left arm in the upper position indicates a warrior, while the right hand uppermost represents a scholar.
The park is only halfway finished and Kim said that once it is completed, its true intention, as a message of peace, will be understood. He had not initially intended to locate the park in Bukchon but the balance the trees and nature of the surroundings complement the placement of the statues. Bukchon is historical itself, as it is believed to be home to the spirits of the most aggressive attacks during the April 3rd massacre. Kim believes the statues the victims looked to for protection then will bring them peace now.
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