|▲ Jeju’s traditional markets have long been centers of commerce for locals and migrants alike Photo courtesy The Jeju Weekly
According to old ancient ruins and various mythologies, there is evidence that people have been living on Jeju since prehistoric times.
During the mid-Goryeo period (918-1392), people moved from mainland Korea or arrived on Jeju from China. After this, those who settled on the island during the Joseon period (1392-1897) arrived for various reasons including being exiled from mainland Korea or due to wars.
More recently, in the 1960s and 1970s people from the southwestern parts of Jeollanam-do moved to Jeju, while the last decade has seen culture migrants blow a fresh breeze to the island.
This all points to the fact that Jeju has a long history of people settling on the island.
Since the late Goryeo dynasty, there have been various attempts to look at the process new arrivals go through as they try to set up roots on Jeju and also to seek ways to ensure native Jeju residents and newcomers are able to live together.
First, let's take a look at one of the first large scale movements to Jeju, which happened during the Yuan dynasty. During this time, 1,500 Mongolians including soldiers, prisoners, supervisors, and administrators (and horses?) came to Jeju during the reign of Khubilai Khan. This wave of migration started in 1274 and lasted for 20 years.
One thing that is unique about this movement is that all these migrants were male. Thus, many Mongolians married Jeju women, in effect becoming early “multicultural families.”
During the time when the ruling dynasty changed from Goryeo to Joseon, still more people moved to Jeju.
These migrants had some features in common; most of them moved to Jeju between the era of King Gongmin of Goryeo and King Taejong of Joseon; they lived in the northern part of Jeju; and the reason for their immigration was exile, political asylum, seeking hermitage, or settlement after official business.
Researcher Kim A-ram explained that much later on during the Korean war, the government set Yeongnam and Jeju as a final place of refuge. This meant that over one hundred thousand people moved to Jeju in a short period of time.
The inflow of North Korean migrants was the first large scale settlement in Jeju after modernization. There were three types of North Korean migrants who settled in Jeju. These were those who settled just after the August 15 independence, refugees from the Korean War, and refugees from the January 4 retreat. As of 2013, there were still around 8,900 of these migrants in Jeju.
The number of people who settled in Jeju due to the war is much smaller when compared to those that settled in Seoul and Incheon. This is mainly due to the fact that Jeju is geographically difficult to move to.
However, in the 1960s and 70s, people from the Jeolla-do, Youngnam, and Chungcheong moved to the island.
According to Professor Choi Hyun of Jeju National University, a large number of people from the Jeolla-do area moved to Jeju because it is relatively close and also because Jeju was closely related socially and economically to the Jeolla area.
Korea suffered from severe droughts five times during the 12 years between 1967 and 1978, and because of this about 25,000 (48.3% of the total number of incomers) farmers from the Jeolla-do area moved to Jeju during this period of time.
These first generation settlers from Jeolla-do have completely settled in Jeju now and their families account for 20% of the whole population.
Yeom Mi-kyeong, a Professor from Jeju National University, studied the features of Jeju migrants during Korea’s period of rapid industrialization from the 1960s to the 1990s.
From 1960 to 1995, other than those born on Jeju, more Jeju residents were born in Gwangju and Jeonnam than any other area of Korea.
In particular, from 1970 to 1980, 42% of people living on Jeju were born in Gwangju and Jeonnam.
Professor Yeom explained that due to the increase in development on Jeju, migrant workers were needed to help with the work. These workers mostly came from the geographically close areas of Gwangju and Jeonnam.
However, during this time the population influx to Jeju wasn’t the largest of any province in Korea. In fact, Gwangju, Jeonnam and Seoul had the largest number of migrants during this period. Later on, Busan and Gyeongnam saw a high number of people arrive.
The population of Gwangju and Jeonnam rose about 36.8% from 1965 to 1970 and 38.1% from 1970 to 1975, although, after this, the population increase started to slow down. Seoul saw a population increase of 30.6% from 1980 to 1985. Meanwhile, the population of Busan and Gyeongnam increased about 20% since 1980.
Professor Yeom said, "Since Jeju has developed as an international tourist attraction, physical labor was needed. People who came to Jeju from the Jeolla area settled around Jeju harbor in order to make it easier to transfer tangerines from Seogwipo as the tangerine industry was also growing."
Professor Yeom added that 1.5 or second generation migrants from the mainland who moved to Jeju with their parents did not experience much discrimination due to not being natives.
Researcher Kim Dong-hyun points to two distinct migration phenomenon seen in Jeju since the 2000s. These are people who are artists or work in culture and those who want a change from their corporate lives on the mainland.
Kim explained about this new migration pattern, "Jeju migration nowadays seems to be following the phenomenon of the “Life Reset”, which is where people take a break from city life. People who come to Jeju to take part in culture and arts should be accepted. Also, Jeju society should accept the alternative life value of these people and through this, Jeju should utilize it as a methodology to suggest a new vision of the Jeju community."
One thing that is remarkable is that the number of children from multicultural families in Jeju is increasing constantly. In fact, the number increased from 734 children in 2008 to 3051 children in 2015. Keeping in mind that many people from Jeju settled in Japan, education is needed to change the biased perception of multicultural families.
Jeong Eun-hee, the author of “History of Jeju Immigrants,” mentioned there are some problems in Jeju caused by the rapid growth of its population. These problems include water shortages, increased household garbage and water pollution, traffic jams, ecosystem and landscape destruction, and the demolition of Jeju’s traditional culture.
Jeong insisted that these trends should not be a problem if migrants are trying to protect Jeju as it is. The author also stressed that all Jeju residents should work together to appreciate Jeju's nature and that if relations between migrants and native residents can be harmonized, Jeju will become an island of coexistence.