Haenyeo museum, Jeju, South Korea
When contemplating a visit to the eastern side of Jeju Island, your thoughts may immediately turn to visions of Sunrise Peak. There is, however, much more to this part of the island than Seongsan Ilchulbong. Jeju’s east coast is quite literally a hub of haenyeo history. Haenyeo (해녀) are the women of Jeju who dive deep into the sea without air tanks to gather seaweed, abalone, and various other types of seafood. There are approximately 5,400 haenyeo working on Jeju Island, and 10% of them live in and around Hado, located in Gujwa-eup, about 15 minutes north of Seongsan by bus.
A historic location
The Haenyeo Museum was opened in June of 2006 on the historic second meeting site of the haenyeo anti-Japanese movement of early 1932. This meeting brought the haenyeo together to fight against Japanese colonial exploitation. Long known as the embodiment of the independent and resourceful Jeju woman, haenyeo showed their strength by being the only women in Korea to lead their own movement against the Japanese domination of the 1930s.
This feeling of strength and independence permeates the exhibits on display at the Haenyeo Museum. The building itself is reminiscent of a concrete ship afloat on a sea of green grass stippled with waves of volcanic stone. Inside the airy foyer, you can view temporary displays of interesting artwork or photography. To the right of the entrance is a small theatre that shows a movie about the history of the haenyeo on Jeju. It is very informative and has the added benefit of English subtitles.
The first exhibit hall contains a full-size replica of a traditional haenyeo house with information about their daily lives and belief systems. While haenyeo are best known for their diving ability, they are also agrarians. They typically dive from October to July, and then work on their farms during the other months—all while taking care of their children and domestic duties.
The second exhibit hall focuses on the tools of the haenyeo trade. There are examples of the thin diving outfits worn prior to the invention of the wetsuit, as well as diving techniques and various implements used to collect seafood. This hall also offers a glimpse into the history of the haenyeo migration from their origins on Jeju to mainland Korea and Japan.
Until the 17th century, there were also male divers called pojakin (포작인). These men worked for the Kings during the Josun Dynasty as suppliers of marine products. The women divers worked in the shallow water while the men dove into the deep waters. Over the years, the number of male divers dwindled, and the women took their places. The haenyeo typically married fisherman, so, as they were diving, their husbands were fishing from boats.
Because of this connection, the third hall in the museum allows one to explore the fishing culture of Jeju. There is a full-sized, traditional Taewoo boat hanging from the ceiling and many examples of fishing apparatuses and techniques used in the waters around Jeju.
If you head to the museum at mid-morning on a weekend, you can easily spend an hour or so looking through the exhibits there. Pack a lunch so you can eat in the picnic area behind the museum. Then, make your way south along Route 12 to Seongsan Ilchulbong for some real haenyeo watching. If you take the stairway just north of the peak at approximately 1:00 pm, you will end up down at the sea where you can view a diving demonstration by the local haenyeo. After the demonstration, you can take photos of them and, if you’re brave, sample their fresh and tasty sashimi treats.
Hours: 09:00 – 18:00 (closed every first Monday)
Ticket Prices: 1,000-1,200 won for adults, 900 won for children
Take the Bus that runs on Route 12 around the east side of the island and get off at the Jeju Haenyeo Anti-Japanese Movement Memorial Tower stop at Hado-ri. From the bus terminal in Jeju City, it takes about 60 minutes. From the Bus terminal in Seogwipo, it takes about 90 minutes.
Web site: www.haenyeo.go.kr