▲ Jeju’s ubiquitous “Stone Grandfathers” are a vital link to the island’s ancient past, and a reminder of its rich culture. Photo by Gyong Ho Kim
The sky set a somber tone as a small crowd of spectators gathered for the Seolmundae Halmang festival at Jeju Stone Park recently.
Clouds bunched overhead as a Jeju grandmother, dressed in a beautiful red han bok, began a mournful recitation to the spirits. She told the tale of Seolmundae Halmang, Jeju’s legendary grandmother, who is credited with creating Jeju Island from muddy soil.
Jeju’s mythology is full of colorful tales of this goddess, who was described as being so tall that she could straddle Jeju Island and use Udo Island as a rock to scrub her laundry on.
In addition to creating Jeju itself, she is said to also be responsible for the creation of Sanbangsan, the unusual dome-shaped oreum in southwest Jeju.
As the story goes, after sculpting Jeju into a peak at Mt. Halla, she decided it was too tall, scooped off the top and tossed it. The dirt that scattered became the oreums of Jeju, while the rounded top came to land as Sanbangsan, one of the island’s most distinctive features.
The demise of this goddess is attributed to either drowning in the “bottomless” Muljang Ori on Mt. Halla, or falling into a soup pot and then being eaten, unwittingly, by her 500 sons.
▲ Jeju’s Stone Park features a replica of a Jeju village, with a large collection of stone bowls and other household items. Photo courtesy Jeju Stone Park
A look at Jeju’s volcanic history Jeju Stone Park pays tribute to this unique Jeju figure with a gigantic bowl-like “skypond,” said to resemble her soup pot. On a still day Banong oreum is placidly reflected in the large surface. Water, said to represent the tears of her sons, cascades endlessly over the sides of the bowl.
The park is one of Jeju’s newest attractions. The first stage opened in 2006, after seven years of construction. It is a joint project of private and public sectors. The vision of its creators is “nature over artifice,” and it is more attuned to the environment than many of Jeju’s tourist attractions.
The largest man-made structure is the Jeju Stone Museum, and it is tastefully set below ground level, preserving the feeling of spaciousness that the park exudes.
There is a small gift shop containing an expensive and limited selection of Jeju traditional crafts. The collection of tomb guardian children was particularly nice, but again, expensive.
Much more interesting are the hundreds of stone figures that line a trail winding through the lush forest of the large park’s Second Course.
The trail starts with a collection of eight traditional thatched huts which are well done, but very tidy and artificial looking. The working folk village at Seongeup gives a much better representation of real life, including the infamous pig-feeding toilets.
Large stone figure collection Just before the folk village is a collection of replicas of dolmens and menhirs, used to mark ancient burial sites. Jeju is dotted with dolmens, but it’s easy to mistake them for simply large boulders in farm fields.
The course goes on to provide examples from the stone cultures of the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties on Jeju, including Dongjaseok, or tomb guardian child stones; Dolharubang, or stone grandfathers; and Jeju’s unique funerary tombs.
Stone figures peak out from lush vegetation all along the path, delighting the eye at every turn, and giving the trail a primitive feeling.
Large plaques written in very good English give detailed descriptions of every category of stone figure. On a sunny day with a picnic, the Jeju Stone Park is a worthwhile journey into Jeju’s past.
The park is open daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer, shorter hours in the winter. Admission is 5,000 won for adults, 2,500 for Jeju residents or foreigners with an alien registration card, and 2,500 won for children ages 7-12.
The park is located off the 1139 route, east of Jeju-si. From Jeju-si bus terminal ask for the bus going to Namjoro and Jeju Stone Park.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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