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Celebrating the conchUdo hosts festival
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승인 2010.05.03  11:59:58
페이스북 트위터
▲ The haenyeo diving women were a major component of April’s Conch Shell Festival on Udo, which attracted an estimated 20,000 visitors. Photo by Kang Bong Su

The conch shell may be a fictional symbol of power and leadership in William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies,” but on the small island of Udo, the conch’s value is cemented in reality. For hundreds of years, the conch has been the prized harvest of Udo islanders, serving as a significant source of income for the local economy. The haenyeo, or women divers, who harvest seafood, have garnered enormous respect as family bread-winners due to the intensity of their jobs. Without the luxury of oxygen tanks, these hardy women endure very cold sea temperatures, holding their breath for up to two minutes at a time, protected by nothing more than rubber diving suits and goggles. They spend days in the sea, scouring the ocean floor, hoping to count in their harvest plenty of conch shells that promise money for their families on land.

The harvest itself is a cultural event that the residents of Udo have come to embrace as part of their identity. In celebrating the conch shell, the islanders are also celebrating their status as a community.

From April 16 through 18, Udo held its second annual Conch Shell Festival, attracting an estimated 20,000 visitors, according to organizers. The ferries that carried passengers and vehicles to Udo from Seongsan were filled with excited men, women and children of all ages. Once off the boat, the visitors were lured to the dining tents by the scent of grilling seafood. The festival, which had an outdoor market and restaurant, featured freshly caught shellfish, alongside bowls of juk (rice porridge) and plates of bingdduck (buckwheat pancakes) filled with radish and green onion. Vendors also sold other goods, including peanuts, seaweed and mugwort soap.

▲ Photo by Kang Bong Su

Although most of the tents were food-themed, one offered traditional Korean art for free. Korean families were encouraged to visit the tent, tell the artist their family name and values, and within minutes, he would produce a beautiful banner on traditional hanji (Korean handmade paper).

The festival also had scheduled performances each day, with acts such as island parades, musical shows using conch shell instruments and traditional samulnori percussion music.

After enjoying the celebration itself, many visitors took advantage of being on the island to go sightseeing. For transport, they could select from motor bikes, which allowed the freedom and spontaneity of off-road travel, bicycles for the more active, or bus tours for those who wished to explore the better-known scenic spots on Udo.

As the weather was less than ideal on some days, many visitors chose to take a tour bus to the hill where Udo’s lighthouse is located. Although the walk up the hill was harder than it looked, the reward at the top made it worthwhile. From the highest point, one got breath-taking views over the entire island and its houses, with vibrant orange, yellow and pink native flowers scattered across the fields and the unrelenting waves of the ocean pounding the cliff below.

The next stop on the tour was near a black sand beach created by waves eroding the black volcanic rocks over thousands of years. Organizers encouraged visitors to participate in scuba classes as part of the festival, but due to the cold and windy weather the Sunday this writer was there, few took them up on the offer.

▲ Photo by Kang Bong Su

The weather did not detract from the fun that family and friends found at the Udo Conch Festival, however, and enjoying the island’s rich fishing culture and pastoral allure proved an enjoyable way to spend part of the weekend.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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