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‘Vividly alive’Shamanism still important in Jeju
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승인 2010.01.20  13:52:27
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Religion Series-3: Shamanism

▲ Shamanistic rites, such as the Tamnaguk Ipchungutnori, pictured above and left, are still an important part of life on Jeju Island. Photos courtesy Sunyoung Hong

In the first of our Religion Series, on Shamanism in Issue No. 15, chief director of the Jeju Traditional Culture Institute, Moon Moo Byung, said that Shamanism is on the decline, although it will never go away. Here we offer a different perspective on the future of Jeju Shamanism.

Sunyoung Hong has travelled a long way since her birth on Jeju Island almost 40 years ago. She completed an undergraduate degree in Computer Science at Dong-a University in Busan before going to the University of Surrey in England to complete a masters’ degree in Tourism. She is now based in the United Kingdom again where she is in her third year as a PhD candidate at Leeds Metropolitan University, at the Center for Tourism and Cultural Change. She arrived back on Jeju in late December to undertake more fieldwork and research.

“Basically I’m researching the relationship between the festival and tourism,” she said, referring to the Tamnaguk Ipchungutnori, held to celebrate Ipchun, one of 24 seasonal divisions in the solar calendar, “because the festival is taking place in a tourism destination.” She explained that Tamnaguk refers to the Tamna kingdom, which was an independent state on Jeju Island between the 7th and 11th centuries, and Ipchun refers to the period welcoming spring and occurs on Feb. 4 each year. Gutnori is a compound noun that denotes a Shamanistic play or enactment.

“Recently, some newly created festivals have applied some elements of the Jeju gut in festivals,” she said. To analyze her data effectively, Hong first needed to understand what gut entailed so has attended many such rituals on Jeju Island.

“I’ve been to Yeongdeung Gut several times, mainly the Chilmeori Dang Yeongdeung Gut, and Wasan Village Shrine Gut.... Also Shinyang Village, with the women divers, there is a village shrine gut.”

“Every village on Jeju Island has its own village shrine so when people have some troubles, some kind of worries, or think to themselves they have a lot of bad luck, they go to the village shrine and ask for help from the gods, through the help of the shaman.”

For her thesis, Hong plans to feature five or six examples of Jeju gut, only three of which are truly authentic. “At this moment I’m writing about Chilmeori Dang - Chilmeori Shrine. The main focus of this chapter is how this kind of Jeju Shamanism has persisted for such a long time.”

She does not agree with those who believe Jeju Shamanism is on the decline. “Maybe it’s a tradition in crisis but I think, I’ve noticed, that the authentic form of Jeju Shamanism may be on the decline but, on the other hand, it has been revived through many different forms.

“Maybe many elements of gut, when they are involved in newly created festivals or newly staged performances, they have changed. However, I think there are some reasons they have persisted. “I presume, some kind of essence makes people believe, or makes people use this element of gut, even in modern society.”

Hong expects she will have to address the question of how tourism can co-exist with tradition when writing her dissertation. “There are some notions about how tradition is implicated in the changing of traditions,” she said. She cited one well-known academic, Davyyd Greenwood, who criticized the influence of tourism because he believes that once those organizing a festival notice the presence of tourists, they change their traditions. “He emphasized the negative influence of tourism on tradition,” she said.

“But another notion says that tourism contributes to keeping tradition alive.”

And although even traditional gut have changed over time, with offerings of money now being common in addition to the more customary donations of produce, some feel that tourism concerns sometimes take precedence. One example was the celebration of the 2009 Tamna-guk Ipchungutnori. In 2009, for the first time since the festival was first held in 1999, it was moved from Feb. 4, a Wednesday, to the weekend so more people could attend.

“People normally believe that the gods related to Ipchun only come down to the earth on that day, so if the festival is held after the Ipchun day, then it is nothing. Most people for Shamanistic groups said, ‘It’s a kind of sin. We shouldn’t have done this.”

Hong said some say tradition means continuity, while others say traditions need to change. And there are changes that she identified as positive, such as when she attended the Shinyang-ri Women Divers’ Gut and was surprised at the number of people present who were not women divers, fishermen or ship owners, including political representatives.

“I just felt, this kind of tradition is not on the decline, it is still vividly alive.”

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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