▲ Jeju residents traditionally move house at a particular time of the year. Photo courtesy Jeju City Hall
There is a mystique to Jeju Island that is both alluring and mysterious. It can be sensed in every gentle breeze, every waterfall and every piece of mountainous terrain. Jeju natives understand the island’s charm to be none other than the workings of the 18,000 gods who toil on a daily basis to bring order and balance to the land.
According to Jeju locals, the gods reside virtually everywhere and each god plays a different role in maintaining harmony. There is an earth god, a kitchen god, a sun god, a storage god - in fact for every object in existence, there is a god to watch over it. To disrupt this spiritual flow would cause great disapproval in the spiritual world, and hence, result in bad luck.
As a shamanistic society, Jeju has developed one tradition that residents believe allows them the liberty to move houses or renovate their homes without disrupting the gods’ work. This is what is known as the moving season, referred to in the local dialect as Shingugan, and it occurs during the only time of the year at which the gods are away from their duties.
In the solar calendar, Ipchun, which commonly falls on Feb. 4, marks the onset of spring. From five days after the previous seasonal division, which falls on Jan. 20 and is called Daehan for the “coldest weather,” until three days before Ipchun, the Great Jade Emperor summons all 18,000 gods from the island to report about the past year. The emperor also chooses a new set of gods to work on earth, replacing the old with the new. This is the meaning of Shingugan (“the period of old and new”), and it is only during this period while the gods are absent that Jeju Islanders can start afresh.
Jeju residents who do not follow this moving tradition are susceptible to sickness, fire and other forms of ill-fortune, said Kang Bong Chul, a Jeju City Hall official. However, if moving during this time proves to be impossible, Jeju Islanders are supposed to move the cooking cauldron at the very least, because appeasing the god or goddess of the kitchen holds the highest priority when moving. The cauldron is the symbol of life’s fundamentals, of richness and of fire for the people of Jeju, hence making it the item of utmost importance within the household.
During Shingugan, the Jeju government tries to alleviate the troubles of the moving season by allocating a specific place on the island at which unwanted furniture and clothes can be taken and redeemed by others for possible use.
To this day, there are few residents of Jeju Island who break with this ancient custom. Even the younger people who are raised on the island, as they age and get homes of their own, still adhere to the Shingugan tradition.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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