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Art&Culture
Onggi, Jeju’s traditional breathable earthenware, ideal for fermented food culture.
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승인 2017.10.31  14:17:56
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Jeju Onggi or Jeju’s traditional earthenware shows a natural color formation and various colors. This comes from the properties of the soil, the natural glaze, and the way it is heated.

The factors which lead to the various colors of Jeju Onggi lie in the rich iron content of Jeju soil, the differences of temperature between the low and high places in a stone kiln, the kind of firewood used, shell, and variables in the heating process. The amount of iron in the Jeju clay is an important factor to determine the surface color of Jeju Onggi.

Photo by Oh Joong-seok

One of the most notable features of Jeju Onggi is its excellent “breathability.” The feature helps with the fermentation of food contained in the Onggi. It is known to fit very well with Korean fermented food culture.

There is also a Onggi jar dotted with breathing holes. It is ideal for storing grains as it keeps the moisture out even during the hottest days and retains the taste of the food.

The Onggi was once faced with disappearance when various convenient earthenware that are made up of other materials entered the marketplace after the 1960s. But preservation efforts of the Onggi became intense and the colors and qualities of the Onggi have been newly recognized in recent times.

Photo by Oh Joong-seok

One cannot make an Onggi alone. A stone kiln is formed from basalt, Jeju’s volcanic stones, which can withstand up to 900˚C. Then, a 20-meter long tunnel is dug into the kiln. The baking of Onggi itself is a communal work, involving about 50 containers at a time.

It takes four full days in a row to fire up the kiln. If left without attendance, the kiln often goes up in flames or the fire may die down. This means the fire master has to tend to the fire all night.

Photo by Oh Joong-seok

Unlike the mainland where people burn firewood, the people of Jeju obtain seompi (bundles of twigs or leaves) from Gotjawal forest and burn them while waiting for the creation of Onggi.

The firestorm in the kiln eventually engulfs the Onggi like the volcanic explosions that used to rock the island. The interaction of ash on the surface and the amount of heat on the Onggi differs even in the same kiln, resulting in different patterns or colors.

Photos above by Oh Joong-seok
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