K-Cultural Heritage 1 Page > Little Korea


Everlasting Legacies of Korea

  • 1982.6.1
    designated date
    Daemokjang refers to a master carpenter in charge of the complete process of building a traditional Korean wood building (such as a royal palace, temple or military facility), including the design, trimming of wood, and overall supervision. The name Daemokjang was coined to distinguish it from Somokjang (Wood Furniture Making).

    Daemokjang controlled the roof tile maker, porters, masons, the plasterer, and the dancheong (ornamental painting) painter. Wood architecture developed early in the country. Olden-day royal palace and temple buildings were all built of wood.

    Carpenters were hired as government officials. According to records, 70 officials of the Unified Silla Period (668 – 935) were carpenters, and the tradition continued during the Goryeo (877 – 1394) and Joseon (1392 – 1910) Periods. During the Joseon Period, 60 carpenters were officials belonging to Seongonggam (Office of Civil Engineering and Building Repair). Records of Renovation of Sungnyemun Gate (also called Namdaemun) written during the reign of King Sejong (r. 1418 – 1450) tell us that Daemokjang was a Grade-5 official. The tradition of hiring carpenters as government officials was stopped toward the late Joseon Period.

    Today, the skills of Daemokjang are used only in limited areas, such as building a temple or private house.

    The skills of Daemokjang are strictly handed down. Among carpenters, Daemokjang is regarded as the person with absolute authority, and is instrumental in the adoption of new skills.
  • 1982.6.1
    designated date
    When holding juldarigi (tug-of-war) in Gijisi-ri, Songak-eup, Dangjin-si, Chungcheongnam-do, the village was divided into two teams, those living close to the shore and the others. It was said that the village would see a good year for the crop when the “close-to-the-shore” group won the contest. The play was performed after Dangje (village ritual) in early March of a leap year in the lunar calendar.

    There are two theories about the origin of the tug-of-war held in this village. One says that the village looks like a fairy weaving and the movement of pulling a cloth being woven at both sides led to the tug-of-war, the other tells us that the local topography resembles a centipede and so villagers engaged in the tug-of-war using a rope that also looked like a centipede.

    The straw rope used in the tug-of-war is 50 – 60m long. The diameter of the main section of the rope, which is made each year, comes to more than 1m and if you sat down on it, your legs would not touch the ground. Many thinner straw ropes are tied to the main section for people to tug.

    The leaders of the two teams would stand on the main section of the rope to give necessary signals while farmers’ music is played joyously to cheer on the participants. After the contest is over, people take away pieces cut off the rope, as it is said that the water heated with a rope piece is a cure for backache or infertility.

    The event is a rite held to pray for a good harvest and to build a spirit of collaboration among the villagers.
  • 1983.6.1
    designated date
    Taekkyeon is a martial art for self-defense featuring soft movements. During the Joseon Period, ordinary people came to practice it.

    The martial art is practiced in three categories: 1. Practicing alone, 2. Defending yourself, and 3. Competition. It is characterized by concordance of movements of the body and the muscles, fluid and dynamic movements, dance-like rhythms, emphasis on defense rather than attack, and frequent use of footwork.

    Taekkyeon features fluid and natural body movements, and thus can be practiced both for healthy exercise and as a sport.
  • 1983.6.1
    designated date
    Yugijang refers to a brassware making skill, or to an artisan with such a skill.

    On the Korean Peninsula, brassware was first made during the Bronze Age. During the Silla Period (57 BC – AD 935), there was a government agency in charge of production of brassware. The skill continued to develop, and thin brassware with beautiful luster came to be made during the Goryeo Period (877 – 1394).

    Then, there was a lull in development, but brassware enjoyed popularity again by the 18th Century. Anseong, Gyeonggi-do was known for the production of good-quality brassware items, and noble class people placed orders for custom-made brassware goods with producers there.

    Brass may be any one of a broad range of copper alloys, usually with zinc as the main additive. Brassware displays a yellowish color with subdued luster. Cupronickel ware displays a white color.

    There are three types of yugi (brassware), depending on the production technique used. To make bangjja yugi, ingots are first made with melted brass and then people strike them with hammers. Examples of articles made with this method are jing (large gong), kkwaenggwari (small gong), food bowls and wash basins. Jumul yugi (forged brassware) is made by using molds.

    The term Anseong Machum was coined to refer to an object or item that was custom-made for a particular situation, as brassware made in Anseong satisfied specific needs of customers. Semi bangjja yugi refers to brassware made using both bangjja and forging methods. Yugijang is the country’s leading traditional metal artifact-making skill with wide practical applications.
  • 1983.6.1
    designated date
    Ipsajang refers to the skill of inlaying ornamental silver or gold string into a groove made on a metal surface, or to an artisan with such a skill.

    Objects made with this skill were among the relics unearthed from the sites of Lerang dating from the 1st or 2nd Century BC and from Silla (circa 57 BC – 935) tombs.

    There are two ways of making this ornamentation. One was a method which started during the Goryeo Period (877 – 1394) of inlaying ornamental silver or gold string into a groove made with a chisel on a metal surface. The other, which started toward the mid-Joseon Period (1392 – 1910), was to make a figure on a metal surface using a chisel, and fit thin silver/gold pieces into the space by striking with a hammer. The patterns thus made were chiefly apricot, orchid, chrysanthemum, bamboo, crane, deer, bat, tiger, and pine.
  • 1983.6.1
    designated date
    It is presumed that this mask play stemmed from the puppet play performed by itinerant troupes called Namsadang in Anseong.

    The face-shaped mask is put on a foot stretched out by a person inside a covered space sized 2m by 1m and the puppet’s arms are moved with a string (now with bamboo sticks) attached to them. The person inside the space sings, dances, and cracks gags.

    Another clown outside the covered space moves in harmony with the movements made by the masked foot to the accompaniment of music played on piri (flute), jeotdae (bamboo flute), haegeum (two-stringed fiddle), buk (drum), and janggo (hourglass-shaped drum).

    Baltal is a puppet show mixed with a mask play. The gags cracked by the clown included acrimonious satires about what was happening in society and expressed the delights and sorrows experienced by commoners who were forced to live hard lives.
  • 1971.6.10
    designated date
    Chwita refers to the simultaneous playing of wind and percussion instruments. Daechwita refers to a large-scale performance of chwita and seak (traditional ensemble music played with instruments with small sound volume suited to an indoor event) to announce the presence of the King or for a parade of troops.

    Chwita appear in murals dating from Goguryeo (circa 37 BC – 668 AD) and in records about Baekje (18 BC – 660 AD), which tells us that it was performed during the Three Kingdoms Period.
    Chwigakgun (a military band), which originated in the Goryeo Period (877 – 1394), continued into the Joseon Period (1392 – 1910). Seak came to be included in the military band repertoire in the mid-Joseon Period.

    The military band playing chwita and seak wore a yellow uniform with a blue band hung across the chest, and a straw hat. They played jing (large gong), janggo (hourglass-shaped drum), buk (drums), nabal (trumpets), sora (conch horns), and taepyeongso (conical wooden oboe). At the command of the leader, jing and buk start up and they are followed by the other players. Their playing gives a feeling of being brave, resonant, and magnificent.

    After the forced disbanding of the Korean troops by Japanese imperialists toward the end of the Korean Empire (1897 – 1910), “Piri Jeongak and Daechwita” has never been played formally. Some semblance of this style of music has barely been maintained by private businesses for advertisement, or by temples for rituals, but now it is almost extinct.

    Daechwita is a precious cultural heritage as the music that displays the unyielding spirit of the people of olden days.

    Change in the name: Daechwita → Piri Jeongak and Daechwita (in June 1998)
  • 1989.6.15
    designated date
    Jeontongjang refers to the skill of making a quiver (a long case for carrying arrows), or to an artisan with such a skill.

    On the Korean Peninsula, the skill started to develop as early as the Neolithic Age. Quivers appear in murals in Ssangyeongchong Tomb dating from Goguryeo (circa 37 BC – 667 AD). Quiver ornaments were unearthed from tombs dating from Silla (circa 57 BC – 935 AD) and Baekje (18 BC – 935 AD). The development of firearms after the Japanese Invasion of Korea (1592 – 1598) led to the decline of arrows and consequently, quivers.

    By the late Joseon Period (1392 – 1910), archery became a hobby and this affected the types of quivers used. Quivers were made of bamboo, paper, wood, or shark skin. Some of them were adorned with mother-of-pearl or engraved patterns. Bamboo quivers were made of transparent green-colored bamboo at least two years old. Bamboo pieces cut were stored in a shady place for more than two years and then put in watery caustic soda for three days to remove oily substance. The work was completed with the removal of nodes and the engraving of patterns.
  • 1967.6.16
    designated date
    Sanjo refers to the playing of an instrument solo to the accompaniment of janggo (hourglass-shaped drum), moving from slow to fast rhythm in four to six movements. Geomungo Sanjo is Korean instrumental folk music played solo with geomungo (six-stringed zither).

    Geomungo, which is also called hyeongeum (literally “black zither”), is said to have been made by Wang San-ak during the Goguryeo Period (circa 37 BC - 668 AD). It has six silk strings made of twisted silk thread tied to a wooden body 1.5m long and 25cm wide. A player sitting on the floor plays it while it is placed on his/her lap the way one plays a guitar, with the left hand tuning melody with string support called “gwae” and the right hand striking strings with thin bamboo (“suldae”).

    Geomungo Sanjo was first played by Baek Nak-jun in 1896 (33rd year of Emperor Gojong’s reign), but some people said that it was music that degraded the gracefulness of geomungo. Thus, it was only years later that a particular type of geomungo playing was accepted by majority of the people. At first, it was composed of monotonous melodies or rhythms; gradually, however, exquisite and complicated rhythms were added.

    Geomungo Sanjo has five rhythms: jinyangjo (slow), jungmori (moderate), jungjungmori (moderately fast), eonmori (irregular), and jajinmori (fast). Overall, its melodies are made up of ujo (calm and steadfast feeling), which appears in the first and middle parts of each movement, and gyemyeonjo (sad, soft, and plaintive feeling), which appears mostly at the end of each movement.

    Geomungo Sanjo is a piece of music containing a sense of subdued masculinity, featuring moderate yet grand and unrestricted feeling; its rhythms, slow and fast, express the sense of delight, anger, sorrow, and joy well.
  • 1967.6.16
    designated date
    Mask dance is a stage play wherein one person or several people wearing a mask act as a person, an animal, or a supernatural being (god), delivering a message with dialogues or dances.

    Talchum (mask dance) was performed throughout the country until the early Joseon Period. When the Sandae (type of mask dance) was no longer performed in the Royal Palace, it was enjoyed as a pastime by ordinary people.

    Bongsan Talchum was started in Bongsan-gun, Hwanghae-do about 200 years ago. Performed on the night of Dano (fifth day of the fifth lunar month) and Haji (Summer Solstice), it is composed of dances associated with four monks, eight monks in black robe, a female member of a troupe, an old monk, a nobleman, and an old wife. Prior to the start of the play, the 36 members of the play (27 of them wearing masks) march to the site of the play while playing music. They also hold a sacrificial rite.

    The play contains satire about nobles harassing commoners, depraved monks, male chauvinism in a custom of allowing a man to take many wives, etc.

    Members dance to the tune of praying to Buddha, taryeong (Korean folk song), and gutgeori rhythm songs accompanied by the playing of samhyeon yukgak (three strings and six wind instruments) such as piri (flute), jeotdae (bamboo flute), haegeum (two-stringed fiddle), buk (drum), and janggo (hourglass-shaped drum). Compared to other mask dances, this one features the frequent citation of Chinese poems.

    As the best known among the mask dances handed down in Hwanghae-do, Bongsan Talchum displays the lively movements of dancers including the shaking of the sleeves of the robes.
  • 2001.6.27
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    Yeomjang is the term for a craftsman who makes blinds out of various materials such as reeds and hemp stalks, especially bamboo.

    Blinds were necessary for life in Korean traditional houses called hanok. They were used in summer to block the strong sunlight and keep the people inside cool; they also served to prevent people from looking inside. They were made in various sizes, ranging from small ones to block palanquin doors and large ones to cover doorways.

    Bamboo blinds in particular took a lot of time and effort to make, so much so that the hands were said to have had to accomplish 10,000 steps. In Korea, blinds had been used since the Three Kingdoms Period; with the gradual disappearance of hanok, however, they had fallen out of use, with demand rapidly declining from the 1970s. As a result, there are few people left who make them.

    Today, blinds are made only in a few places such as Damyang in Jeollanam-do Province and Tongyeong in Gyeongsangnam-do Province.
  • 1966.6.29
    designated date
    Najeonjang, or mother-of-pearl inlaying, is a Korean traditional method of decorating the surface of diverse household objects by lacquering and inlaying them with strips of mother-of-pearl. This traditional handicraft is known to have originated from Tang China, but discoveries made at many archaeological sites related with ancient Korean kingdoms prove that Korea has a long tradition of the craft and that ancient Korean people exploited it profusely to produce all kinds of everyday household objects.

    To produce a lacquer work inlaid with a mother-of-pearl design, the artisan needs to make a “white frame” with wood first of all. He then lacquers its surface and decorates it by inlaying carefully prepared strips of mother-of-pearl, some of which are as thin as threads, on a prearranged pattern by using the techniques of kkeuneumjil and jureumjil. Each of the individual work processes is completed with a stage of grinding, lacquering, and polishing the surface.

    In the Goryeo and early Joseon Periods, the most favored designs included peony blossoms, chrysanthemums, and lotus flowers. Designs became more diverse during the mid-Joseon Period as artisans began to extend their interest to flowers with birds, white cranes, grapes, apricot flowers, and the Four Gracious Plants.

    The traditional technique of inlaying mother-of-pearl is a time-consuming process that is currently preserved by, among others, two government-designated artisans, Song Bang-ung and Yi Hyeong-man.
  • 1966.6.29
    designated date
    Farm music performed when farmers are working while helping each other, by forming a cooperative farming team, in a broad sense, refers to music performed when people march, work, hold ceremonies, and enjoy games while beating small gongs, gongs, hourglass drums, and drums. The performers are called gut, maegu, pungjang, geumgo, or chwigun.

    All performers play musical instruments while wearing hats. In Pangut (entertainment-oriented performance), the chaesangmo game makes a fine show. On the other hand, paljinhaesikjingut, a military game, looks unique. Its beat is fast, powerful, and exciting.

    Jinju Samcheonpo Nongak, a successor of pangut, has higher artistic value. In Paljinbeop, Beokku Nori, sangsoe (leader of the farmers’ music troupe), and Mudong Nori (kids sing and dance), individual skills are excellent.
  • 1976.6.30
    designated date
    Jultagi was mainly performed on special holidays like April 15, Dano (5th day of the 5th lunar month) and Chuseok (Harvest Moon Festival on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month). Tightrope clowns also performed for payment at private parties.

    There were two types of Jultagi performance, one for entertaining people of the noble class performed by exceptionally skilled clowns, and the other for commoners with the focus on gags and entertainment. Jultagi performance was comprised the tightrope clown, jokers, and the players of instruments like piri (flute), jeotdae (bamboo flute), haegeum (two-stringed fiddle), buk (drum), and janggo (hourglass-shaped drum).

    The rope was about 10m long and 3m high. The feat was performed usually by a well-trained man. A folding fan or a towel held in the clown’s hand was for balancing the body. The instrumental players brightened up the atmosphere. The clown entertained the spectators by displaying ten-plus movements on the rope, in addition to singing or telling jokes about depraved monks or noblemen, displaying foolish acts, or imitating a woman applying facial makeup.
  • 1987.7.1
    designated date
    This ritual is held biennially in Tongyeong and Geojedo Island to pray for the peace of the village and abundant fish. This ritual features the exorcist’s beautiful songs and inclusion of buk (drums) among the accompanying instruments. Unlike its cousin held in villages along the East Coast, this one is carried out in a serious atmosphere with few gags exchanged between the exorcist and music players or in the narratives. In some instances, spectators and drummers act out a play in the middle of the ritual.

    The exorcist’s dance performed along with the ritual in most cases is rather simple and monotonous. Cheongsinak (music to invoke the deities) and Songsinak (farewell music to the deities) are performed respectively at the start and end of the ritual, to the accompaniment of daegeum (bamboo flute).

    This ritual has little entertainment value and involves not many narratives, but it goes long on the depth of belief in deities.