▲ : This historic photo shows a fisherman in a traditional Tewoo boat receiving sea crops harvested by a diving Haenyeo. Photo from ‘Jeju History through Photos, Vol. 1’
Those of us who have the good fortune to be able to call ourselves residents of Jeju will be aware of the island’s rich traditional culture. Whether it is through trying tangerine tea or visiting a folk village, wearing persimmon cloth or having a photograph taken with an infamous stone grandfather, most of us have experienced at least some of the things Jeju is most famous for.
Raising raft awareness
One thing most foreign residents, and indeed even some Jeju natives, may not be aware of is Jeju’s traditional log boat, the Tewoo. Built like a raft, it played a vital role in supporting Jeju’s community hundreds of years ago, but has largely been forgotten in recent times. Jeju’s government and those descended from Tewoo families would like to change this and plans are being put into action to revive the tradition and make more people aware of this unique cultural item.
Once such way is the inclusion of the word Tewoo in the name of Iho beach as it is now known as Iho Tewoo beach, highlighting the fact that Tewoo were often docked at Iho due to the flat and compact nature of its sand.
Many years ago the Haenyeo women divers of Jeju were responsible for providing sustenance for their communities, since Jeju’s volcanic soil made growing crops difficult. While the women of the village would dive into the depths of the ocean to harvest shellfish and seaweed, the men of the village developed the Tewoo so that they too might contribute to the prosperity of their people through fishing. As the villagers were too poor to afford proper fishing boats the Tewoo became the sole method of boat fishing. Yet, its raft design had benefits over those of a conventional vessel.
Measuring around 15 feet long and 6 feet wide, the Tewoo’s flat shape meant that it could not be capsized, nor would it get knocked by large waves hitting it as they would merely crash over it. It was a simple but effective design comprising of 15 tree trunks tied together and secured with wooden rods and nails.
While the design was relatively straightforward, harvesting the wood was more laborious. The men folk would climb up into the mountain in search of Korean fir trees that grew sparsely and were not always easy to find. Their wood however was strong and not absorbent, making it ideal for the Tewoo. Once the trees had been cut down they were left to dry for 15 to 20 days to make them light enough to carry back down the mountain. The Korean fir became very rare over time and so Japanese cedar slowly replaced it as the material used in the making of the Tewoo.
Boats contributed to Jeju economy
The raft allowed the villagers to harvest many kinds of fish, including Damselfish, one of Jeju’s most famous marine products, as well as seaweed. The edible seaweed caught was used in cooking and the inedible kind was used as a fertilizer in the fields to help combat the affects of the infertile soil. Sometimes they would sell their harvest, using the money to fund the education of their children. Despite the fact that the Tewoo moved by the use of oars or punts and was therefore very slow, it was also used as a means of transport, allowing Jeju people to visit nearby islets.
In winter the water became much too cold to make using the Tewoo viable and so it was brought to shore and the logs separated to allow them to dry and to permit the villagers to perform maintenance.
Each Tewoo built would be passed down from father to son, creating a tradition founded on family and community values. Unfortunately many original Tewoo no longer exist on Jeju but descendants from Tewoo families are advising on the construction of new Tewoo, some of which will be featured in Iho’s Tewoo festival in August.
The Iho Tewoo beach festival runs Aug. 7-9. It offers many activities, the most exciting of which includes the unique opportunity for visitors to experience Tewoo anchovy fishing first hand. To discover something new about Jeju and to get involved in the revival of a wonderful and unique Jeju tradition, head down to Iho and prepare to get wet.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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