K-Cultural Heritage 2 Page > Little Korea


Everlasting Legacies of Korea

  • 1996.5.1
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    Seoul Saenamgut was performed for the upper classes in Seoul to console the spirits of the dead and pray for their peaceful life in heaven. It is presumed that this rite was first performed during the Joseon Period (1392 –1910) and took on a more developed form during the 17th and 18th Centuries.

    The rite is composed of Andang Sagyeong Maji (spending time from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. in the courtyard) and Saenamgut, which is performed from the following morning by five female exorcists and six dancers to the accompaniment of janggo (hourglass-shaped drum), buk (drums), daegeum (bamboo flute), piri (flute) and other instruments.

    Seoul Saenamgut has features that cannot be found in the other exorcism rites. It displays elaborate composition and looks gorgeous. It includes both Buddhist and Confucian elements as well as contents relating to the royal court of the Joseon Period.
  • 2017.5.1
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    Haenyeo is a living witness representing Korea's traditional marine culture and women's fishing culture. Beyond the changing times, haenyeo have created a community culture, and in the livelihood and culture of haenyeo, various wisdom can be found about the coexistence of nature and human beings and the continued use and distribution of common lands.

    The records of haenyeo have a long history, as shown in the 17th-century records related to Jeju Island, and the 'material' of haenyeo is a primitive form of language that is not found elsewhere. In addition, the folk knowledge of the ecological environment accumulated from the material experience is considerable, and it forms a unique community life culture of haenyeo, including consideration and collaboration for their fellow haenyeo, and their faith and rituals.

    As such, the culture related to haenyeo was designated as a national intangible cultural asset in order to preserve and inherit the cultural heritages, as they were highly valuable in terms of historical, artistic, and uniqueness.

    ※ List of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016 (Jeju Haenyeo Culture)

    ※ The culture related to haenyeo is not recognized by certain holders or organizations in that it has a strong community nature through collaboration.
  • 1975.5.3
    designated date
    Jongmyo, in Seoul, is a royal shrine where the mortuary tablets of deceased royal couples are kept, and is an important site symbolizing the fundamentals of the existence of a state along with Sajikdan Altar, which is the altar for the national soil and grain ceremonies. The regular ancestral rituals were held at Jongmyo in the first month of each season, i.e. January, April, July, and October, while extraordinary rituals were held on special occasions. Since 1945, the ritual has been held only once a year, on the first Sunday of May. The ritual is held in a solemn atmosphere.

    The ritual is carried out in a way so as to entertain the spirits of the dead royal ancestors. The procedure for the ritual is as follows: Chwiwi (placing of ancestral tablets), Yeongsin (greeting the spirits), Haengsinnarye (King's obeisance to ancestral tablets), Jinchan (presenting the spirits with food), Choheollye (first obeisance), Aheollye (second obeisance), Jongheollye (last obeisance), Eumbongnye (partaking of sacrificial food), Cheolbyeondu (overturing of ritual dishes), Mangnyo (incineration of prayers). The King had to behave discreetly for four days and keep his body clean for three days before the ritual.

    Jongmyo Jerye featured grandeur and solemnity as a ritual that set an example for the people of a Confucian society that attached particular importance to etiquette.

    The ritual, along with the music associated with it (Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No.1), was registered with UNESCO in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity in May 2001.
  • 1990.5.8
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    Onggijang refers to the skill of making earthenware pots and jars, or to an artisan with such a skill. Koreans have used earthenware pots and jars for thousands of years. The place where an earthenware artisan worked was called Onggijeom, which was divided into a workshop and a kiln.

    Traditional pots and jars, along with porcelain items, were the main items produced in private kilns. Pots and jars were made after the application of caustic soda to the surface of clay-made objects and putting them through a pre-firing stage. Just 40 or 50 years ago, there were many places selling traditional pots and jars across the country. Their number stood at about 500 when surveys were made in 1968 and 1969. However, they have been pushed aside by their machine-made western cousins.

    Traditionally, caustic soda was used as glazing in the production of pots and jars. Recently, it was replaced by a lead oxide named Gwangmyeongdan. With the use of lead glazing, the quality of pots and jars declined and the number of Onggijeom decreased to about 250 by 1984 and to less than 199 by 1989. Stainless steel and plastic goods have pushed traditional pots and jars out of the market.
  • 1978.5.9
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    This play, which has been handed down in Dongnae, Busan, is associated with the work of fishing and songs sung by fishermen while working. The lyrics of the songs are divided according to specific parts of fishing work – deploying nets in the sea, withdrawing the nets, and celebrating a good catch.

    The melody is Kwaejina chingching nane, which is frequently sung in the Gyeongsang-do area, for all. People carry flags during the festival, publicizing the festival, praying for a good catch, and displaying a phoenix. This play combines songs sung by fishermen while working or celebrating a good catch and women’s group play.

    The Fishing Village Festival of the Left Naval Headquarters of Gyeongsang-do was the country’s only fishing operation cooperative which could boast a long history and tradition.
  • 1982.6.1
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    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
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    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
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    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.