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The last tewooriHorse herder the last following family vocation
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승인 2009.12.30  19:43:50
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▲ Jeju’s distinctive horses and ponies are still bred but tending the livestock is now viewed as merely another job, and no longer as an inherited vocation. Photo by Kim Gyong Ho

One of the shaman myths of Jeju Island, that of Se-gyeong-bon, tells of a simple slave herd boy, Jeong Su Nam, who tricked his mistress, Jacheongbi, into accompanying him to the foot of Halla Mountain. Although he was killed after attempting to have his way with her, he became the god of livestock farming. The character of Jeong Su Nam shares some similarities with Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and their flocks, who was known for his mischievous ways. Among other tricks, Pan was known to delight in scaring passers-by by unexpectedly and abruptly materializing.

Many characteristics of herder gods, in the myths of both the East and the West, are wild and unruly. The myth of Jeong Su Nam, who was elevated to the status of a god despite his low birth, illustrates the value that Jeju people place on those who tend cattle. Historically, herders were indispensable in stock farming. Since they lived rather lonely lives in the fields with their horses and cattle, the more conventional social manners often wore away. Their isolation caused them to become wild and free to indulge themselves in a variety of antics.

There is a Korean saying that, “People should be sent to Seoul while horses should be sent to Jeju Island.” In the 25th year of King Munjung’s reign during the Goreyo Dynasty (1071), the management of ranches on Jeju Island was launched, and from 1073, Jeju horses were presented to the king. After that, from 1276 to 1376, the ranch management system was under the direct control of the Yuan Dynasty officials.

For the 500 years of the Joseon Dynasty, Jeju Island was Korea’s national pasture. Under the management of Go Keuk Jong in 1429, 10 national pastures for horses and six specialized ranches for black cows, sheep, dogs, camels and elks were cultivated in the mountain regions between 200 meters and 600 meters above sea level.

The herders on Jeju’s 16 national ranches were called tewoori, with the honorary post of supervisor of the tewoori passed down from generation to generation. Those who worked with the horses and cattle were drafted from among the men of the Jeju populace. Because the government did not pay them, they were allowed to farm the fields around the ranches. As a result, the tewoori during the Joseon Dynasty were very poor and many men tried to avoid the job because the work and the lifestyle were difficult.

▲ Ko Tae Oh, the last of a family line of tewoori horsemen since the Joseon Dynasity. Photo courtesy JejuSori
Ko Tae Oh is a proud member of a family of tewoori who have lived and worked with horses since the Joseon Dynasty. His father was famous around Jeju Island for his horse-riding skills and, as the middle child of six brothers and three sisters, Ko grew up around horses while watching his father work. Since he was 10, he has been absorbed in the art of horse riding and has developed remarkable equestrian skills.

Ko’s father died when he was at a relatively young age, so the son followed early in his father’s footsteps by becoming a tewoori. Except for the period of his military service, Ko has committed his life to raising and training horses and has never considered any other vocation. The main reason, he said, for his commitment, is the innate intelligence of horses. There are often misunderstandings between people, but not with horses.

Ko believes that the aptitude of a tewoori is inborn and that not everyone is suited to the job. Watching him work with his horses, an observer has to concede his point. Riding bareback with a shout of “Ho, Ho-Oh,” he leads dozens of horses in perfect order to drink from the swamp near his house. As he works with the animals, he exemplifies the unique style of Jeju’s herders and cuts the true figure of a tewoori.

Sadly, Ko is the last of the family lines of tewoori on Jeju Island today. Although the island’s distinctive horses and ponies are still being raised, the occupation does not thrive as it did in the past. The tradition of sons inheriting the family occupation is dying out, even in Ko’s family, and he has resigned himself to the thought that the Ko line of tewoori may end with his generation. Today’s ranch hands see their work as simply a job and not a vocation to be pursued with passion and dedication.

In some ways, Ko is reminiscent of the god of stock farming Jeong Su Nam. He lives for his horses and himself. While he is very kind to horses, he is very blunt with people and there is no point in trying to talk to him when he is working with his horses. He loves to disappear on horseback, leaving behind only the sound of hooves and a heavy cloud of dust.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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