The haenyeo are held aloft by Jeju people as one of the three iconic symbols of the island along with dolhareubang(stone grandfathers) and Halla Mountain.
Today’s post will provide a very simple introduction to these famed women also known as women divers.
We start with a whistle-like sound they make upon surfacing that will alert a nearby visitor to their presence. It is from the divers that go deep into the ocean in search of sea urchins and abalone. The women divers are mothers that have to protect and keep their family by catching this sea food.
If you don’t see any women divers in the ocean then keep an eye out for the storage buildings and huts. It is here they prepare their catch of the day. Be lucky enough and enjoy this freshly caught seafood along with them.
Visitors can also pick out a performance under the gaze of Sunrise Peak.
Then there’s the divers history and culture at the Haenyeo Museum in Sewha-ri. You’ll need to drive some 40 minutes to get there from Jeju City, but it is well worth the effort (http://haenyeo.go.kr/). Every year a festival is held at the museum along with an international symposium. 2014 has its dates set for October 17 to 19.
After you’ve watched the haenyeo and found out about their history and culture why not have a go yourself? The Hansupul Haenyeo School opened in 2007 and is seen as a diver training school for members of the public. You’ll find no whiteboards and desks here. Women who have lived their life in the ocean will pass on their knowledge.
Learn how to hold your breath under water as well as how to swim with the haenyeo’s tewa(basket for the catch) and find the marine life in the water.
The program begins in May and goes for 18 weeks every Saturday for two hours. Participants need to attend over two-thirds of the program to get the certificate.
In 2008 34 graduated. In 2009 this was 34 then followed by 36 in 2010. So in all about 100 people have successfully passed through. Russians, Australians, and Americans have also made the grade.
The ex-prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, visited the divers and commented on their strong lives despite the toughness they endure.
The push will continue for the haenyeo’s inclusion on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.