K-Cultural Heritage 1 Page > Little Korea


Everlasting Legacies of Korea

  • 1969.2.11
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    There is no exact record of the origin of it, but it is assumed that the shape of nearby Mountains resembles two bulls were competing.On the occasion of the event, the village is divided into two sides: those living in the east section of the village and those living in the west. The winning side will reportedly enjoy better harvest in the year. The play used to be performed around the full moon period of January 15 on the lunar calendar; now, however, it is performed along with a tug-of-war competition during the March 1 Cultural Festival, held to commemorate the independence movement carried out with the locals in Yeongsan, which played a leading role during the colonial period.

    The event is said to have started from the wish to stop the evil power of the two nearby mountains, i.e., Yeongchuksan and Jagyaksan (also called Hambaksan), which look like two bulls confronting each other. With the approach of January 15 on the lunar calendar, villagers flock to a nearby mountain and fell a 10m-tall tree. A pyramid-shaped structure is made using a log and straw rope that people will carry on their shoulder, with the leader of the team, together with two lieutenants, standing at the top of it, giving command to fight the opponent. A wooden carved bull head or a mask is put on the top of the structure. Prior to the commencement of the battle, farmers’ music is played to create a delightful atmosphere. The team that makes the opponent’s bull head fall to the ground wins. Yeongsan Soemeori Daegi is a local folk play performed to pray for good harvest.☆
  • 1969.2.11
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    For the event, the village is divided into two teams: the East Team (symbolizing males) and the West Team (symbolizing females). The village will reportedly enjoy better harvest in the year if the West Team (females giving birth to children) wins.

    The tug-of-war is also called galjeon, which is associated with the use of arrowroot vines for the rope. The event had been handed down as a rite held in farming provinces south of the central area of the country. At present, it is performed as part of the March 1 Cultural Festival.

    The rope used for the event is 40 - 50m long. The diameter of the main section of the straw rope made in a year comes to larger than 1m; if you sit down on it, your legs do not touch the ground. Many thinner straw ropes are tied to the main section for people to tug. Each team makes its own rope, with the two ropes connected right before the event. The leaders of the two teams stand on the main section of the rope to give the necessary signals. Farmers’ music is played joyously to cheer for the people.

    The event is a rite held to pray for good harvest and build a spirit of collaboration among villagers based on the belief associated with dragon and snake.☆
  • 1966.2.15
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    ☆A traditional performance of song and dance by women, Ganggangsullae was first performed by local women around the coastal areas of Jeollanam-do on moonlit nights around the Chuseok (Harvest Moon Festival) on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.

    Some believe that the dance was first danced as part of a military tactic designed by Korea’s great naval hero, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598), to surprise the Japanese naval forces invading the southwestern coast of the Korean Peninsula during the late 16th century and mislead them into believing that he had strong enough forces to repel them.

    Meanwhile, some argue that it can be traced as far back as prehistoric times when early settlers on the Korean Peninsula had already established a tradition of singing and dancing on moonlit nights.

    Whichever version is the more correct explanation, the dance continued to develop and become more sophisticated, and eventually became associated with other folk games such as “bracken picking,” “herring tying,” “tile treading,” “tail picking,” “straw mat rolling,” “gatekeeping”, and “needle threading,” as well as “tortoise play,” in which one dancer moves to the center of a circle with others following her.

    The dance consists of a range of exciting movements and formations and is preserved in Haenam and Jindo on the southwestern coast of Korea.
  • 1966.2.15
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    Eunsan Byeolsinje is a shamanic rite held to honor the guardian deity of Eunsan Village at the village shrine in Eunsan-myeon, Buyeo-gun.

    The rite is connected with a legend about a severe epidemic that led to the loss of many lives and with the strange dream of an elderly village leader. In his dream he met a Baekje general who had been killed during a battle fought to protect Baekje and was asked to bury the general and his men in a sunny place in exchange for a ‘magical intervention’ to repel the epidemic. Upon awakening from the dream, he visited the place mentioned by the general in the dream and found many bones scattered there. The village people collected and buried them in an auspicious site and performed an exorcism to console their spirits. The burial was followed by the end of the epidemic which, in turn, led the villagers to hold rites to honor their heroic deaths.

    The tradition gradually developed into the festival event of Eunsan Byeolsinje, which was initially held for about fifteen days between January and February once every three years.

    As the date of the rite approaches, the village elders select those who will officiate over the event and assign military titles such as General, Colonel, Lieutenant, and Private to the designated officiants. In addition, the chief officiant is requested to use the utmost care in preparing the sacrificial offerings and to preserve the ritual venue from any signs of impurity or evil by, for example, covering the well to be used in the rite with a straw mat, and by encircling the venue with an “evil-repelling rope” and scattering yellow and black grains of sand around it. The villagers then cut down trees to support the village guardian poles and make paper flowers to offer to the village guardian, and hold pieces of white paper in their mouths as they move to the shrine as a symbolic action to repel evil spirits.

    The main part of the rite usually starts in the evening and ends at dawn with the process of erecting the village guardian pole and praying for the safety and prosperity of the village.☆
  • 2004.2.20
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    Hwahyejang refers to a craftsman skilled in the art of making traditional Korean shoes. It is a compound word consisting of “hwajang,” a person who made hwa (long-necked shoes), and “hyejang,” a person who made hye, or shoes that did not cover the ankles.

    According to Gyeongguk daejeon (National Code) published in the Joseon Dynasty, the demand for shoes was so high that there were 16 hwajang and 14 hyejang affiliated with the central government office. This record also shows the separation of the two specialties.

    Hye are made by pasting several layers of cotton or ramie cloth onto the cotton lining and covering them with silk to make the outer rim. This is then sewn onto the sole made of leather. It is important to maintain balance to prevent the tip of the shoes from twisting. The shoes were finished off by shaping them with wooden lasts.

    Since traditional shoes were mostly made of leather, their manufacture involved numerous different processes and consequently called for a high level of skill. Many records from the Joseon Dynasty mention shoe craftsmen and shoe-related matters, giving us an idea of life at that time. For this reason, the art of shoe making is historically important and worthy of academic study.☆
  • 1978.2.23
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    Jangdojang refers to the skill of making decorative daggers, or to an artisan with such a skill. Since the Goryeo Period (877 – 1394), people, men and women alike, carried jangdo (ornamental knife) to protect themselves or as an accessory. Following the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592 – 1598) women of noble families regarded jangdo as an essential item to be carried by them to protect themselves. Toward the late Joseon Period (1392 –1910), jangdo became a luxury accessory.

    Jangdo was made of gold, silver or white jade. Scholars liked to carry jangdo displaying their favorite phrase inscribed with a heated iron. Jangdo were mainly made in Seoul, Ulsan, Yeongju, and Namwon. Those made in Gwangyang, Jeollanam-do are known for their uniquely Korean gracefulness. Jangdo made of diverse materials display also the diverse handicraft techniques of the Joseon Period.☆
  • 1978.2.23
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    Talchum (Mask Dance) is a stage play in which one person or people wearing a mask takes the role of a person, animal or a supernatural being (god), delivering a message through dialogues or dances. Talchum was performed throughout the country until the early Joseon Period. After the Sandae (a type of mask dance) came no longer to be performed in the Royal Palace in 1634 (the 12th year of King Injong’s reign), it was still enjoyed as a pastime by ordinary people.

    Eunyul Talchum was performed for 2-3 days on Dano (May 5 in the lunar calendar), Buddha’s birthday (April 8), and on Baekjung (July 15). It is said that people who fled to islands during war 200-300 years before wore masks on their return home as they felt ashamed, and that was the origin of Eunyul Talchum. Eunyul Talchum is composed of six acts, Lion Dance, Sangjwa Dance, Mokjung Dance, Old Monk Dance, and Dance of the Old Couple. Prior to the performance, the troupe held a sacrificial rite in a forest and marched to the site of the performance, entertaining people along the road. There are a total of 28 characters appearing on the performance. The play included satires about nobles harassing commoners, depraved monks, and male chauvinism in the custom of allowing a man to take plural wives.

    Eunyul Talchum displays a relationship with Bongsan Talchum (Mask Dance of Bongsan) and Haeju Talchum (Mask Dance of Haeju), both of which stem from Hwanghaedo Talchum (Mask Dance of Hwanghae-do).☆
  • 1971.2.24
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    Akgijang refers to the skill of making instruments used to play the country’s traditional music or to an artisan with such a skill. It is presumed on the basis of murals dating from the Goguryeo Period displaying wind, string, and percussion instruments that such artisans existed during the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC – 668 AD). During the Joseon Period (1392 – 1910), musical instruments required by the government were made at an independent institution named Akgijoseongcheong (the Office of Production of Musical Instruments) within the Royal Court.

    The number of types of the country’s traditional musical instruments comes to 60 – 70. Gayageum (twelve-stringed zither) and geomungo (six-stringed zither) are the leading ones, followed by ajaeng (seven-stringed zither), daejaeng (fifteen-stringed zither), and hogeum (two-stringed fiddle). Wagonghu (harp), sugonghu (vertical harp), dangbipa (four-stringed Chinese mandolin), hyangbipa (Korean mandolin), yanggeum (dulcimer), geumgwasul are produced, but rarely used.

    Generally, the sounding board of a string instrument is made of Paulownia wood. The bottom board is made of chestnut and pine wood. The wood of the jujube tree, ebony, and Chinese juniper tree is used to make pieces decorating instruments. Paulownia, in addition to being rot resistant, has good resonance properties and does not crack during drying.

    Akgijang is protected through designation as important intangible cultural heritage. Buk (drum) making skills were integrated into Akgijang in March 1995.☆
  • 1971.2.24
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    ☆Yaryu(field playing) is a custom of Ogwangdae(mask dance drama) that was first performed in inland areas of Gyeongsangnam-do but spread to Suyeong, Dongnae, and Busanjin.

    Yaryu literally means playing in an open field. This mask play was performed by non-professionals such as villagers. Suyeong Yaryu is performed by villagers when the full moon rises on the night of January 15 on the lunar calendar after holding a sacrificial rite for mountain guardian deities, village spring water, and the spirit of General Choe Yeong.

    Two hundred years ago, a naval commander had a troupe of clowns in Bamma-ri, Chogye (present-day Yulji-ri, Deokgok-myeon, Hapcheon-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do) play a round of merrymaking for his troops in a naval compound. This is said to have been the origin of Suyeong Yaryu.

    The performance is composed of four acts: Nobleman’s Dance, Yeongno Dance, Dance of an Old Couple, and Lion Dance. Prior to the play, the troupe marches, playing music, to entertain spectators along the road to the site of performance. At the end of the performance, they collect the masks used and burn them as a rite of praying for the peace of the village.

    Characters appearing in the performance are 11 in all, four from the noble family, a son of the head of a clan, Malttugi (a servant), Yeongno (a therianthropic character), an old woman, Jedaegaksi(a hierophanic character), a lion and a tiger. The performance includes a satire about nobles and deals with the problem of concubines. In contrast with the other Yaryu, it does not have a leper dance, but it does include a lion dance, which is missing from the other Yaryu.

    Suyeong Yaryu is a play performed by masked performers. It is a ritual and satirical play with artistic quality performed by villagers.
  • 1996.3.11
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    ☆Baecheop refers to a traditional method of making a scroll, frame or folding screen for preserving calligraphic letters and pictures. Baecheopjang refers to an artisan belonging to the Dohwaseo (Bureau of Painting).

    It is said that picture mounting started during the Han Dynasty of China and developed further during the Tang Dynasty. Folding screens appearing in mural paintings of Goguryeo lead us to presume that the skill was introduced to the Korean Peninsula during the Three Kingdoms Period (circa 37 BC – 668 AD). The skill continued to develop during the Unified Silla (668 – 935) and Goryeo (877 – 1394) Periods. In the Joseon Period (1392 – 1910), artisans skilled in picture mounting were designated as Bacheopjang.

    There are five types of picture mounting – making scrolls, making folding screens, making frames, binding and refurbishing.☆
  • 2001.3.12
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    Iron casting is one of the oldest professions of mankind. Iron technology is assumed to have been introduced to Korea around the 5th~6th centuries BCE. According to “Dongyichuan (Biographies of Dongyi) in Weishu (Book of Wei)” from Sanguozhi (Records of the Three Kingdoms), Koreans produced and traded iron ware.

    Considering the crucial role of iron in the development of civilization, iron technology and smiths were matters of national interest in ancient states. With the introduction of Buddhism to the Korean peninsula, Buddhist temples were built all over the country, and numerous temple bells were cast. Naturally, bell founding became an important profession.

    Korean temple bells are characterized by their clear sound with deep resonance and exquisite surface decoration. Mostly shaped like upturned crockery jars, Korean bells typically have a dragon-shaped hook and a sound tube at the top. The oldest known temple bell in Korea is the Bronze Bell of Sangwonsa Temple in Odaesan Mountain, made in 725 during the Unified Silla Period. In terms of size and aesthetic value, the Sacred Bell of the Great King Seongdeok, dated 771, is considered peerless.

    Korean temple bells were traditionally cast using beeswax models. The method was briefly introduced in the Chinese text Tiangong kaiwu (Exploitation of the Works) written in the 17th century, only to be discontinued under the Confucian-oriented Joseon Dynasty.

    Though they vary according to the size of individual bells, Korean traditional-style temple bells are basically cast with an alloy of copper (80%) and tin (17%). For the model, beeswax is mixed with cow fat at a ratio of 8:2, but the ratio changes according to climate.

    The authentic bell founding process is as follows: bricks are piled to form a support mount slightly smaller than the intended bell size; a mixture of clay and sand is applied to the brick mount until the intended bell form is obtained, and the surface is smoothed out with a mixture of graphite powder and water; a wax model engraved with all the decorative patterns is made over the mount; the model is covered twice with a thick mixture of clay and coarse sand and allowed to dry; heat is applied to melt the wax inside; molten alloy is poured into the cavity; after the alloy cools and hardens, the mold is removed, the bell is trimmed, and the surface designs are given their final touches.☆
  • 2001.3.12
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    The term chiljang refers to the craftsman who creates lacquerware by applying lacquer -- or the refined sap of lacquer trees (Rhus verniciflua) -- to various objects. The first trace of lacquer use dates back to the third century BCE, but the earliest relics of lacquerware date back to the first century BCE.

    Lacquerware began to develop into an art form during the Nangnang (Lelang) Period and progressed further in the Silla Kingdom. In the Goryeo Dynasty, lacquered works were decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay, creating a new art form called najeon chilgi. In the Joseon Dynasty, lacquerware became more common, and many works were produced. The state compiled data on the distribution of lacquer trees nationwide and collected the sap from these trees. Lacquer craftsmen working in the capital and in the provinces were affiliated with their local government offices.

    The raw lacquer from the trees had to be refined before it could be used, and lacquer craftsmen would do the refining themselves. The refining process removes impurities and creates a fine particle liquid. Creating lacquer works is a long, laborious process. The item to be lacquered, called soji, had to be made of materials that are easy to work with and to paint, including wood, bamboo, cloth, paper, clay, and metal.

    First the object is smoothed down, and then the lacquer is built up in many coats, requiring lacquering, smoothing, and drying over and over again. Basically, the process is divided into three steps: chochil (first lacquering), jungchil (middle lacquering), and sangchil (final lacquering). After the final coat, the object is vigorously polished.☆
  • 1971.3.16
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    The Dano Festival held in Jain-myeon, Gyeongsan-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do is said to originate from a legend handed down in the village. During the Silla and Goryeo Periods, Japanese pirates frequently invaded coastal areas. A military general disguised himself as a woman and danced with his sister and clowns to entice the pirates, thereby winning a victory against the invaders. After his death, villagers built a shrine for him and held a sacrificial rite there on Dano (May 5 on the lunar calendar).

    During Gyeongsan Jain Danoje, villagers gather together in the square in the center of the market and hold a masquerade parade toward the tomb of the general. Standing right in the front is the bearer of a flag indicating the five directions, followed by one bearing a farm flag, and one carrying a tall (3m high) decorative crown. These are followed by dancing men, Higwangi (a character), a man disguised as a woman, military slaves, officers, cannon troops, gisaeng (female entertainers), troops, petty officials, a wide sun screen, the military commander, and the commander’s lieutenants. The paraders go around the tomb and return to the village square, while officiants hold a sacrificial rite at the tomb.

    The masquerade parade is a feature that distinguishes Gyeongsan Jain Danoje from other folk festivals. The dance movements are also unique. Lying at the heart of the festival is people’s deep-rooted respect for a person who protected their village. Ÿ

    Change in the name of the event (General Han Play → Gyeongsan Jain Danoje in March 2007)☆
  • 1971.3.16
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    Sanjo refers to the playing of a solo instrument to the accompaniment of a janggo (hourglass-shaped drum), moving from a slow to a fast rhythm, in four to six movements. Daegeum Sanjo is an instrumental folk music played solo on the daegeum (bamboo flute).

    Daegeum Sanjo is said to have been created by Park Jong-gi in the early 20th Century. Its musical features are embellishments designed to add rhythm and tempo to melodies, nongeum (embellishment sounds improvised by the performer), teul (forms), and extemporaneousness.

    Daegeum Sanjo has been handed down with its unique features intact. A skilled performance based on arrangements that aim to make it easier to listen to has the power to render both tension and joyousness.☆
  • 2014.3.18
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    Suryukjae (Water and Land Ceremony), a ritual in which all the spirits of beings from both land and water are guided to the peaceful other world, was first performed during the early Joseon period. This ancient Buddhist rite has great historical and cultural significance and aesthetic merit, as confirmed by its appearance in numerous ancient texts, including Joseon wangjo sillok (Annals of the Joseon Dynasty). The rite is performed night and day for the peace of all the living and the dead, whereas the Yeongsanjae (Celebration of Buddha's Sermon on Vulture Peak Mountain) was usually performed for the peace of individual beings.

    A ritual ceremony called Araennyeok Suryukjae, currently preserved by Buddhists in the Gyeongsangnam-do area, is characterized by its wonderful integration of Buddhist ceremonial music and solemn ritual proceedings.☆