“If only we could all be so lucky as to have a savvy artist design our lofts, our homes, our messaging packs! If only we all had the map
sense no navigate in the troubled times and places!
Diving and stargazing are two essential actions to do in the
Islands. Both have a connection with the unknown, with the
mystery that always surrounds the abyss. Who knows if the
absolute tension between extreme freedom and fear is the
energy that fixes the feet on the ground. In the remote islands,
the horizon is always a very thin imaginary boundary between
two imposing forces: the infinity of the universe and the depth
of the sea, both impregnable in its totality. It is a very difficult
line for humans to explore, since it is there where they must
deal with strong hinges, such as those between the visible and
the unseeable, the sacred and the profane, sleep and
wakefulness, the different layers of the unconscious, or
between life and death.
For Centuries, in Jeju Island brave women continue to
challenge the depths of the sea. They are the Haenyeo
(meaning sea women), the freediving fisherwomen who turned
the Patriarchy into Matriarchy undertaking the role of men when they began to collect the precious abalone from the depth of the sea.
It was during the Seventeeth Century, when a king of the Joseon Dynasty sent hundreds of men to fight at war while he kept reclaiming
large amounts of abalone as a tribute.
From generation to generation, the Haenyeo have developed very
sophisticated techniques to control their bodies underwater, as well as for
breathing, such as the Sumbisori, the whistling they make in emerging to
expel the carbon dioxide they have kept in the lungs after being into the
sea for up to two minutes. On the other hand, they have accumulated a
high level of knowledge about the ecosystem in which they are co-existing
and where they catch conches, seaweed, octopus and slugs as well as
abalones, harvesting while taking care of their seafarms. This is exactly
their approach to the sea: as an environment to be respected, cultivating
and preserving its fruits, since it is a treasured garden with a complex
balance to maintain.
configure as well a strong and highly organized intergenerational
community (some of them are in their 80’s-90’s, while they usually begin
their practice in their teens). The Eochongye is the cooperative of this
women society and it is organized though three groups, according the
different levels of experience and skills, Sang-gun, Jung-gun and Ha-gun,
with the leadership of the Dae-Sanggun. They all are aware of their
condition of intrepid survivors. “When we measure the depth of the ocean
and dive down one or two body lengths, we pass between life and death2
Always connected to nature, Haenyo sing to calm the fury of the waters:
“As I enter the sea, the afterlife comes and goes . . . I eat wind instead of rice . . . take the waves as my home3”. Every February, Haenyeo
across Jeju hold a ceremony in honor of Yeongdeung Halmang, the goddess of the winds, when all Jeju residents suspend all regular
activities to celebrate.
Natural phenomena in Korea are traditionally interrelated with Astronomy, and for this reason stargazing is so important in Korean
History. The oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia, and possibly even the world, is located in South-East Korea, at the
ancient Kingdom of Silla. Cheomseongdae (literally means “tower for stargazing”) was built 1400 years ago during the reign of Queen
Seondeok, the second queen of oriental Asia in History, first daughter of King Jinpyeong (princess Deokman). It was under her kingdom
when Science, Arts and knowledge were situated in first place. Cheomseongdae is a tower without doors or windows, but with a big
surface on the top, a sort of huge overture to the sky when the stargazers lie on their backs. The tower, which has a cylinder shape, is
instead of a building, a device. It was designed in such a way that it did not receive the light of the Sun at the Summer Solstice, so it
was used as a calendar, accurately indicating the passage of the four seasons; in addition, this structure functioned also as an
the weather, a place from which predict natural and even political phenomena. And it has as well a strong symbolic
charge: It was built over a surface composed by 12 stones representing the months of the year, while 362 stones were used to erect the
tower, representing the 362 days in a lunar year. The stones are organized in 27 levels, representing Queen Seondeok, the 27th.
monarch of the Kingdom.
Facing this inland observatory, is the remote island of Jeju, where it is historically believed that the longevity of its residents is so
remarkable because they can see the second brightest star in the sky, as seen from Earth. It is Canopus, the symbol of longevity on the
island. Connected with the infinite and the unknown cosmos, contemplating this star from the island is a kind of challenge to the
secrecy and inscrutability of the Universe. Thus, the famous longevity of the Jeju inhabitants, is a victory.
Inhabiting the hinges of the unknown
Both, diving and stargazing have a strong connection with shamanism: while the kings and queens of the Three Kingdoms period -as
Queen Seondeok was-, could be seen actually as shamans, Haenyeo have their own songs, dances and shamanistic rituals.
Dongkimnyongri is one of the most important rituals of the sea women, as is Yowangmaji, a ritual to call the Dragon King to pray for
abundance and safety, and also Sidream, a homeopathic magical ritual to plant seeds into the sea to harvest an abundance of abalone,
conches, agar-agar and hijiki4. Mainly women, mudangs are the masters of shamanism, the ones who mediates between the human
beings and Gods assuming the identity of the spirits, personified in themselves. Because in Korea tradition it is believed that “spirits
tend to inhabit heavenly bodies and geographic entities such as rocks, rivers, and mountains (…) and these spirits are, by and large,
given human form” .
In Jeju Island, due to the importance that the wind play in the lives of the residents since they traditionally earn their living at sea, the
Shamanist rituals offered to the wind spririts are the most important. The Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut is a celebration through
different rites held in the second lunar month to pray for calm seas, an abundant harvest and a plentiful sea catch6. In Jeju City, it is so
important that, because it is distinguished as a preeminent example of a ritual to promote the welfare of the community, the ceremony
was designated an important Intangible Cultural Property by the government of Korea in 1980, and an Intangible Cultural Heritage of
Humanity by UNESCO in 2009. The celebration takes place at Chilmeori Shrine, a sacred place that was originally located near the
docks of the port, although today its remains (three spirit stones) are located side by side at the Sarabong Park. The transfer of the
stones was due to the construction of a new road, while most of the accessories were lost in the process.
Thinking-with from Jeju Island
Big phenomena like globalization and its
effects, such as mass production, climate
change, massive tourism and gentrification,
are changing landscapes and societies
through rapid processes without return.
There are new hinges on the horizon to
explore: those between globalization and
identity, heritage and the future, memory and
modernity and at the time, construction and
Namsung and Jeju Old Downtown are Jeju
neighborhoods that are perfect places from
which to observe and to analyze these
phenomena. Standing on the hinges of the
transformation processes that are changing
the Island very fast, will be the core of the
Global Culture Youth Forum Jeju, taking art,
culture and youth as forces of change.
As philosopher Donna Haraway has pointed
out in her highly lucid last book, it is essential
“to think-with”, promiscuously with other
critters, “as microbes, plants, animals,
humans, and nonhumans, and sometimes
even to machines 7”. And she vividly
recommends tangling us (as if being spiders),
as she is, in SF: entwining our thinking and
action “in the poieseis -the making- of
speculative fabulation, science fiction,
science fact, speculative feminism, soin de
ficelle, so far (…) SF is storytelling and fact
telling; it is the patterning of possible worlds
and possible times, material-semiotic worlds,
gone, here, and yet to come8 ”.
Transfering attitudes of wise women as
Haenyeo or Queen Seondeok to the future
could be a good point to start imagining the
cities and the societies to come. Let’s do it
from Jeju through diving and stargazing as
methodologies to approach reality, to deep in
the city, rooting a community with art and knowledge, through the subterranean rivers, the volcanic cones and with comets through the