K-Cultural Heritage 9 Page > Little Korea


Everlasting Legacies of Korea

  • 1969.1.7
    designated date
    As a folk play performed in Andong around the full moon period of January 15 on the lunar calendar, it is said to have stemmed from the battles between Gyeon Hwon of Later Baekje and King Taejo (Wang Geon) of Goryeo.

    Villagers select good trees to be used for the play in nearby mountains toward the end of the preceding year, hold a sacrificial rite for mountain deities, fell them, and carry them to the village. Since the thickness and solidity of the trees are decisive factors of the battle, they work on the trees under tight security to prevent opponents from getting information on the trees.

    The village is divided into two sides according to their place of birth. On the event day, farmers’ music is played to arouse people’s interest. People stand on their side of the battle and try to discourage the other side by raising the wooden structure they made.

    The leaders of the two sides stand at the top of the raised structure set up against that of the opponent team. They balance their body by holding the string tied to the top of the structure and give commands to their team. The team that makes the opponent’s wooden structure fall to the ground wins the battle.

    The beauty of the play lies in the spirit of fair play. If any participant in the play is in danger, both sides immediately back off and get him out of danger before engaging in the battle again.

    As a mock battle among males, Andong Chajeon Nori displays the martial spirit kept by the people in Andong. It is also a rite of praying for a good year for crops. The winning side will reportedly enjoy better harvest in the year.
  • 1971.1.8
    designated date
    Cheoyongmu is the only dance performed at the Royal Court with a human face mask. The performance is based on folklore about Cheoyong, who is said, during the reign of King Heongang (r. 875 – 886) of Unified Silla, to have driven away an epidemic-spreading deity about to touch his sleeping wife by singing a song composed by him and dancing.

    Cheoyongmu is danced by five performers wearing clothes of five different colors, blue indicating the east, white the west, red the south, black the north, and yellow the center. The dance is based on the theory of five elements and yin yang, and is intended to drive away evil spirits. The dance movements are gaudy, imposing and lively, and go well with the expressions of the facials masks worn by the performers.

    Until the late Goryeo Period, the dance was performed by one person but the number of performers had increased to five by the reign of King Sejong (r. 1418 - 1450) of Joseon. By the reign of King Seongjong (r. 1469 – 1494), the dance came to be performed as part of a rite held at the Royal Palace. It continued to develop until the late Joseon Period through changes in the lyric, melody, and dance movements.

    Following a temporary hiatus in performance upon Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, the Yiwangjik Aakbu (Royal Music Institute of the Yi Household) had it performed again in the late 1920s.

    Cheoyongmu is a high-level art performance, combining music and dance movements with costumes and facial masks, which depicts the virtuous and humorous minds of the people of olden days.
  • 1971.1.8
    designated date
    Hak Yeonhwadae Hapseol mu refers to a comprehensive dance of the Crane Dance(Hak mu) and the Lotus Flower Dance(Yeonhwadae mu). These dances were performed following the rite of driving away evil spirits from the Royal Court during the early Joseon Period.

    The Crane Dance was performed to bless and praise the King in a rite held at the Royal Court from the Goryeo Period. It is the only dance in the country in which the performer is disguised as a bird.

    The Lotus Flower Dance is based on a story about two girls born as pistils of a lotus flower repaying the King’s virtuosity with a dance and asong. Two performers disguised as cranes start the performance with a dance. A little later, they peck the two lotus flower buds. Two girls appear from the lotus flowers and the cranes run away, frightened.

    The Crane Dance is accompanied by music like seryeongsan, samhyeon dodeuri, and taryeong, and the Lotus Flower Dance by a piece of Royal Court music. These dances portray communication between animals and humans. They display high artistic quality and traditional values both in content and style.
  • 1971.1.8
    designated date
    Gasa, which is part of the country’s traditional vocal music, refers to a long narrative in verse. Based on relevant records, it is presumed that this form of verse started to be written after the reign of King Yeongjo (r. 1724-1776).

    A total of 12 pieces have been handed down and survive today. They are Baekgusa(The Song of the Seagull), Jukjisa(The Song of the Bamboo Branch, Hwanggyesa(The Song of the Yellow Cock), Eobusa(The Song of the Fisherman), Chunmyeongok(Spring Indolence), Sangsa Byeolgok(Longing for the Departed One), Gilgunak(The Street Military Music), Gwonjuga(The Drinking Song), Suyangsanga(The Song of Mt. Suyang), Cheosaga(The Song of the Hermit), Yangyangga(The Song of Yangyang Town), and Maehwa Taryeong(The Song of the Plum Blossom).

    It is not known who composed these songs or wrote their lyrics, but it is thought that the tradition of Gasa was established toward the end of the Korean Empire (1897 – 1910). The narratives of Gasa are very long and are not regularly styled, and so it is not clear how singers are supposed to arrange their diverse features and sounds. Melodies differ slightly from narrative to narrative. Modulations and repetitions appear characteristically.

    As for their rhythm, Baekgusa and Jukjisa have dodeuri rhythm (sextuple time). Sangsa Byeolgok, Cheosaga, and Yangyangga have quintuple time. Gwonjuga has no fixed rhythm.

    Basically, Gasa is sung without instrumental accompaniment, but sometimes it is sung to the accompaniment of piri (flute), haegeum (two-stringed fiddle), daegeum (bamboo flute) or janggo (hourglass-shaped drums).

    As a free-style song, Gasa is good at expressing people’s sentiment or natural beauty. It is a song sung by professionals, and is the country’s indigenous music featuring peacefulness and locality.
  • 2006.1.10
    designated date
    Bulhwajang refers to the art of Buddhist painting or an artist who is skilled in such art. Buddhist paintings are considered objects of worship along with pagodas and Buddhist statues. Based on their forms, Buddhist paintings can be categorized as taenghwa (hanging paintings), gyeonghwa (sutra paintings), and byeokhwa (mural paintings).

    In particular, taenghwa are hung behind the Buddhist altar after holding a number of religious ceremonies. These hanging paintings, found at traditional temples, are the major form of Buddhist painting in Korea; the monks in charge of producing the paintings go by several names such as geumeo, hwaseung, hwasa, or hwawon.

    The art of Buddhist painting was formerly handed down by the holders of Dancheongjang (Ornamental Painting). Considering the differences in technique and function, however, it has now been separated from the ornamental painting to form its own category. Therefore, Buddhist painting and ornamental painting are being taught and handed down as two separate categories.

    The colorful ornamental paintwork at Buddhist temples and palace buildings is clearly different from Buddhist painting in purpose and expression. While it is used to decorate the walls and structural members of wooden buildings with geometric patterns and drawings, Buddhist painting refers mainly to the production of paintings, expressing Buddhist doctrine in an easy-to-understand manner.
  • 2013.1.14
    designated date
    Gungjung Chaehwa, Royal silk flower making, is the art of making flowers with silk or ramie fabric preserved in the royal court of Joseon for the decoration or celebration of various royal and state events such as banquets and ceremonial rituals. The art, which has been registered on the list of Important Intangible Cultural Heritages in recognition of its close connection with the traditions of the Joseon royal court, uses various silk flowers as symbols of peace, longevity, or health.
  • 1967.1.16
    designated date
    Jinju Geommu is a sword dance performed by women and handed down in Jinju. Also called Geomgimu or Kalchum, it was one of the dances performed during a party held at the Royal Palace.

    There are two theories about its origin, i.e., one about the Silla people who started dancing in memory of a boy who sacrificed his life for the country and the other about gisaeng (female entertainer) of Jinju engaging in dancing to console the spirit of Nongae, a gisaeng who jumped into the river clasping a Japanese officer during a party held at a pavilion on a riverside cliff during the Japanese invasion in the late 16th Century.

    Jinju Geommu is played by a group of eight dancers in warrior’s uniform to the rhythms of dodeuri, slow taryeong (Korean folk song), and fast taryeong. Two rows of four people on each side dance facing each other, holding a sword and a piece of rainbow-striped cloth in their hands. Dancers’ movements include turning around with bent knees, sitting on the floor, bending forward and then backward, and stretching out the arms with the sword placed on the floor.

    The dance is accompanied by the playing of piri (flute), jeo (bamboo flute), haegeum (two-stringed fiddle), janggo (hourglass-shaped drum), and buk (drum).

    Jinju Geommu as we see today is one that was handed down among gisaeng who belonged to the local government of Jinju. The old ones were presumed to have served previously at the Royal Palace but returned home and taught the dance to the locals.

    Jinju Geommu have artistic value as one that maintains the prototype of the sword dance performed at the Royal Palace in terms of style of performance, movements, and way the swords are handled.
  • 1967.1.16
    designated date
    Dano, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, is called Nopeun nal (High Day) or Surit nal (Day of Gods). The Dano Festival of Gangneung is one of the festivals with the longest history in the country. On that day, people held a sacrificial rite to mountain gods in Daegwallyeong Pass and prayed for good harvest and peace of the village.

    There are some records left by ancestors about the relevant rites. Chugangnaenghwa, a collection of writings of Nam Hyo-on (1454-1492), contains a statement about a sacrificial rite held for mountain gods and a three-day rite held in March through May. Seongsobubugo, a collection of writings of Heo Gyun (1569-1618), tells a story about witnessing a scene from the Dano Festival of Gangneung in 1603.

    Villagers believed that their village would suffer a calamity unless they held a sacrificial rite on Dano. Thus, they brought a guardian deity from the shrine of tutelary gods in Daegwallyeong Pass. They placed it along with the female guardian of Gangneung on top of an altar and held a sacrificial rite. They are said to have believed the leading tutelary god in Daegwallyeong to be General Kim Yu-sin, the guardian placed on the top of their altar to be Monk Beomil, and the female guardian to be a maid from the local Jeong family.

    Locals make liquor to be served during the festival, on the eve of which they hold a sacrificial rite at the shrine in Daegwallyeong. They take a holy tree and a deity and keep them at the female deity shrine in Hongje-dong. After holding a rite of welcoming the deities in the evening, they take the deities to an altar set up at a riverside place close to Namdaecheon Stream. During the festival, people hold sacrificial rites twice a day for five days at the altar, praying for the peace and prosperity of the village.

    During the festival, special events such as the following are held: mask stage play, tree swinging, ssireum (Korean wrestling), farmers’ music contest, washing the hair in water mixed with changpo (iris; Acorus calamus), eating rice cake made with surichwi (Synurus deltoids), etc.

    On the day after Dano, the holy tree is burned, and the tutelary god is taken back to Daegwallyeong. This marks the close of the Dano Festival.

    The Dano Festival of Gangneung is composed of a Confucianism-style rite held by officiants and a gut performed by exorcists. It is a village festival that is larger in scale than any other held in areas along the East Coast, attracting a large crowd and creating an atmosphere similar to that of an open-air market. The mask stage play, wherein actors act as those from a noble family and slaves, is a pantomime entertaining the audience.

    The festival displays the spirit of locals collaborating with each other. In November 2005, it was designated as UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in recognition of its cultural originality and outstanding artistic quality.
  • 1967.1.16
    designated date
    As textile traditionally made in the country, mosi (fine ramie) is made of the outer skin of ramie plant stalks. A record made during the reign of King Gyeongmun (r. 861-875) of Unified Silla makes us assume that it was sold to neighboring countries. Ramie plant is a perennial plant. The stalks close to the root are harvested when they turn yellowish brown and the leaves at the bottom are withered. They are harvested three times a year, i.e., between May and early June, between early August and late August, and between early October and late October. Those harvested between early August and late August are the best in terms of quality.

    Fine ramie produced in Hansan is far better than that produced in other areas in terms of quality and exquisiteness. Thus, fine ramie of Hansan has been regarded as synonymous with fine ramie in this country. Fine ramie is produced as follows: first of all, the outer skin is peeled from the harvested stalks; the peeled off skin is soaked in water for about a day and dried; then it is soaked again in water; strands of split ramie pieces are made into threads, and this process of making threads decides the thickness uniformity of threads. Products of Hansan are known for exquisiteness and thickness uniformity. The thickness of threads decides how many strands are to be put into a given space. The threads are starched, and then ramie is woven with a weaving machine. White ramie fabric is made through the process of bleaching based on the repeated process of soaking ramie fabric and then drying it in the sun.

    Ramie fabric is usually divided into 7 sae through 15 sae. One sae refers to 80 warp threads woven into a 30cm wide cloth. A cloth with 10 sae or more is called semosi (finely woven ramie). Ramie cloth is easily broken in a space with insufficient humidity. Thus, ramie weavers should work in unventilated space even in summer. They cannot work on a windy or a rainy day. Nowadays, however, white ramie fabric is made by means of chlorine bleaching. The relevant industry is on the decline with the development of modern textile technology.

    Fine Ramie Weaving of Hansan has been designated as important intangible cultural heritage to maintain the production skills considering its historical value as material for traditional summer clothes, symbolizing the country’s esthetic quality.
  • 1975.1.29
    designated date
    Chaesangjang refers to the skill of making a basket of diverse geometric patterns with thinly cut and colored bamboo skins, or to an artisan with such a skill. Colored bamboo baskets were loved by women at the Royal Court and of the noble class since the ancient period. Toward the late Joseon Period (1392 – 1910), they became popular items even for commoners as necessary articles for marriage. They were chiefly used to contain clothes, accessories, sewing supplies, and precious items. ☆

    The first thing to do in making a bamboo basket is to peel off the bamboo skin in even thickness. The skin thus peeled is soaked in water and then trimmed, dyed, and spliced. The edges and corners are wrapped with blue or black satin silk. The designs made on the surface of a bamboo basket are mostly letters or patterns associated with propitiousness.
  • 1975.1.29
    designated date
    ☆Somokjang refers to the skill of making wooden doors/windows, wooden vessels or wooden furniture like wardrobes, chests, dressing tables or desks, or to an artisan with such a skill.

    The name Somokjang was first used during the Goryeo Period (877 – 1394). Until the early Joseon Period (1392 – 1910), wooden furniture was chiefly made for the people of the royal court and the noble class, but toward the late Joseon Period, it came to be used widely even by commoners.

    Wood furniture-making artisans use traditional woodworking techniques, striving to preserve the natural beauty of the wood with its patterns.
  • 1985.2.1
    designated date
    When a person died on Jindo Island after a long life, villagers came to console the bereaved family and had professional entertainers perform all night, which was part of the custom of praying for the peace of the spirit of the dead. Dasiraegi is a term referring to this custom.

    Goguryeo (circa 37 BC – 668 AD) tomb murals and books on the history of Goguryeo and Silla (57 BC – AD 935) show that people sang and danced during the funeral period.

    Jindo Dasiraegi is composed of five acts. In Act I, a person pretending to be a member of the bereaved family exchanges jokes with mourners. In Act II, a blind man, a female member of the troupe and a monk engage in a round of play. In Act III, mourners carry an empty bier on their shoulders and sing a funeral song. In Act IV, the mourners assume an act of digging a tomb, while singing a song. In the final Act, food and liquor are served to the invited entertainers.

    Jindo Dasiraegi is the country’s only folk play performed during a funeral period and handed down among professional entertainers belonging to Sincheong (an organization of exorcists and music performers). It is a valuable source of material for those studying funeral customs and folk plays. ☆
  • 1985.2.1
    designated date
    Donghaean Byeolsingut is a large-scale rite carried out in villages along the East Coast to pray for the peace and happiness of the village and the safety of fishermen. It is also called Pungeoje or Pungeogut (Ritual for Bountiful Fish) or Golmaegi Dangje (Ritual for the Village Guardian Golmaegi). The ritual is held annually, between March and May or between September and October, or every two/three years in some areas. ☆

    The place the ritual is held is decorated flamboyantly, but the exorcists wear plain-looking costumes. This ritual features diverse dances, humorous dialogues, and gestures.
  • 1985.2.1
    designated date
    These rituals are held annually in coastal villages in Haeju and Ongjin, Hwanghae-do and Yeonpyeongdo Island to pray for the peace of the village and for a bountiful catch.

    Baeyeonsingut is held by boat owners to pray for the safety of the boat, a bountiful catch, and the happiness of the family. It is performed on the boat and creates a merrymaking atmosphere.

    Daedonggut is one of the largest-scale rituals. It is held on a suitable day in January through March on the lunar calendar to pray for the happiness of all villagers and strengthen ties among them. Representatives of the village hold a rite on a nearby mountain, while each household holds Segyeonggut (Rite to Farming Deity). Then, all villagers march along the coast, praying for the safety of fishermen, a bountiful catch, and peace for the spirits of those drowned while catching fish.

    These two rituals are held on a large scale. They are characterized by flamboyance, mysteriousness, and merrymaking, and require lots of props. ☆
  • 1985.2.1
    designated date
    Wido Ttibaennori is held in early January every year in Daeri Village, Wido-myeon, Buan-gun, Jeollabuk-do to pray for the peace of the village and for a bountiful catch. The name Ttibaennori stems from the practice of letting a boat made of tti (Imperata cylindrica) sail out to sea as part of the ritual. The event is also called Wondangje, as it is performed at Wondang, a shrine set up for the ritual.

    The boat is made of tti, straw, and bush clover spliced together. It is usually sized 3m (L) by 2m (W). People put sacrificial offerings and seven puppets into the boat.

    The event is a local festival in which people sing, dance, and drink together, praying for a bountiful catch and for the safety of fishermen. ☆