Shaman Yoon-su Kim took part in the Yeongdeunggut at Jeju-si Suhyup Fisheries on March 9 Photo Courtesy Matt Collison
Jeju’s mythical gods and goddesses are considered as members of the community and ancestors of the island.
But Yeongdeong Halmang holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many Jeju people - particularly among those dependent upon the sea.
According to local folklore, the goddess of the wind and sea breezes into Jeju once a year for a two week visit during the onset of spring to give her sought-after blessings.
Many of Jeju’s fishing industry were hoping for a good catch following a vibrant ceremony on March 9 to welcome her back to the island.
The opening ceremony took place at Jeju-si Suhyup Fisheries with dozens of fishermen and haenyeo, local women divers, among those attending.
Shaman Yoon-su Kim, who descends from a family of four generations of Simbang – meaning divine wise one - performed an opening ritual during the four-hour ceremony.
Kim, who has been designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the South Korean government, said the ritual was being held to please Yeongdeung Halmang.
If she is pleased, Kim said, she can take care of her divers, fishermen and ships as well as provide more fish in the sea.
The intensity of the ritual - a riot of vivid colours, drumming and chanting - comes across even to an outsiders’ eye. Its sense of urgency reflects the short period of time islanders have to please the goddess during her brief stay.
Judging by the number of people attending the opening ceremony alone it would seem there was little sign of the tradition ebbing away among islanders.
Indeed, Kim, who has been involved in shamanism since the age of 16, said participation in the event remained as strong as ever.
In-Yong Han, chief of cooperative at Jeju-si Suhyup Fisheries Cooperative, was among people who came to connect with the goddess.
Taking the traditional role of ChoheonGwan, he bowed at the altar bearing offerings in the hope the deity will provide happiness and safety for the island’s fishermen.
Speaking after the event, Mr Han said he was honored to have been chosen to perform what is an important role within the ritual.
Mr Han said: “For Yeongdeung Halmang ceremony, ChoheonGwan plays a role as a chief priest which anyone cannot manage.
“Thus I feel the sense of responsibility and confidence that the status, ChoheonGwan gives and with this mindset, again, I feel responsible for wishing all the fishermen’s stability and returning with a full load of fish.”
This year’s event is particularly significant to the Fisheries Cooperative which celebrates its centenary anniversary in May.
It has been a 100-year-old tradition for staff from the company to attend the ritual, Mr Han said.
He added: “Although this is superstition, by serving food and bowing down to the god of wind -Yeongdeung Sin- and Sea -Yongwang Sin- as ChoheonGwan and let them have the food, I pray for fishermen for not having accidents like sea storm to god of the wind -Yeongdeung Sin- and for returning with a full load of fish to god of the sea -Yongwang Sin. This is why we do Yeongdeung Halmang Ceremony.”
During Yeongdeong Halmang’s 14-day visit she is said to bring with her seedling marine creatures and plants and if pleased she will scatter these over the surface of Jeju waters.
But extreme winds and cold which descends upon the island around the period of the Goddesses visit often make it difficult or too dangerous for divers and fishers to work.
Hong Cho-Sin, who works in the fisheries industry at Geonip-dong, was also among those who came to pray for the goddesses’ blessings.
She said she had come to the event every year for the past 10 years believing it to bring prosperity for her family business and the health and happiness for her family.
But, she said, the heavy winds and snowfall over the winter had affected trade.
“This is important for my business. My husband is the owner of boats and he does a lot of trips, but recently he doesn’t take the boats. He stays at home,” she said.
With Yeongdeung Halmang now departed from the island, Mrs Hong, Mr Han and other attendees will be hoping their calls have been heeded.
The Yeongdeung Halmang opening ceremony took place at Jeju-si Suhyup Fisheries in Geonip Dong on March 9. The farewell ceremony was held at Chilmeoridang Shrine, Sarabong, Jeju City on March 22.