Explore the unique culture of women divers, haenyeo, in Jeju island

Under Water, Haenyeo Museum, 2012/2012, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum
Who are the Jeju haenyeo?
Haenyeo are professional women divers who dive into the sea without any mechanical equipment in order to catch sea products. The sea is the Haenyeo's workplace, as well as a common fishing ground that has been called a 'sea farm'. Because farmland is scarce in Jeju due to its volcanic nature, the Jeju people have cultivated the sea like farmland. Jeju Haenyeo make their living by harvesting abalones, conches, sea cucumber, and hijiki from the ocean. They are called Jomsu, Jomnyeo, and Jamsu in Jeju. Their lives are an integral part of the history of Jeju. It is believed that fishermen harvested abalones (marine snails) and presented them during the Joseon dynasty. Jeju topography, written by Lee Gun in 1629, also recorded that Haenyeo harvested abalones. The records of Haenyeo are recorded on bibliographic data such as the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, Jiyoungrok written by Lee Ik Tae, and Jonjaejeonseo by We Baek Gue.
haenyeo, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum
Haenyeo on Jeju island 
Jeju-do is the largest island situated in the southernmost region of Korea. Jeju Island has nature beautiful enough to be on UNESCO's World Natural Heritage list and is visited by many tourists. By the Jeju sea, there is scenery which attracts attention and is every bit as beautiful as scenic views of other coastal areas. People dive there without equipment and catch sea products. Let's meet the Jeju Haenyeo and listen to their stories.
The Rape Flowers and the Haenyeos, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo walking to the sea along a road lined with canola (rapeseed) fields.

Haenyeo, Long Live its Name, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo going to work at sunrise.

Diving from a boat, Seo Jae Chul, 1969/1969, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo on the boat, working at sea.

Jeju Haenyeo, Haenyeo Museum, 2012/2012, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum
Muljil skill
The job haenyeo do in the sea is called 'Muljil'. When did haenyeo diving begin in Jeju? Given that records of the 6th century CE indicate pearls were sent to the central government as an offering to the king, it is estimated that the haenyeo history is long. We can find records about haenyeo in the literature of Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). Diving seems to have begun before the period of the Three Kingdoms (57 BCE - 668 CE), judging from the fact that Jeju had a record of contributing pearls to the King. 
Carrying “Cholgudeok”, a basket around the waist, Seo Jae Chul, 1975/1975, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Muljil skill is acquired by lengthy training and experience. Haenyeo near the ocean learned how to swim and dive in the shallow sea at the age of 8 and became baby Haenyeo at age 15. This skill, considered 'superhuman', is gained from individuals' working for long periods of time beneath the sea. They can do the work only if they can control diving time themselves by sensing water pressure and the amount of oxygen, and estimating the distance to the surface of the water.

The Cheoncho Murae Fish Net Bag of the Elderly Haenyeo, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Starting to dive at the age of 15, Haenyeo continue to do so into their 70s and 80s.

Diving into the water, Jeju Photo Members, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

The methods for haenyeos to carry out muljil are threefold: the gotmuljil, which refers to going out to the sea from the shore, the baetmuljil, which goes out to the sea by boat, and finally, the nabar, which refers to sailing for days on a ship and do muljil moving from one island to another.

‘Go over there’, Jeju Photo Members, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo pointing to the sea 'field' where they will work for the day.

The gotmuljil, Seo Jae Chul, 1968/1968, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

The gotmuljil refers to diving into the fishing area by actually swimming out there from the shore as it would be near the village. The young haenyeos or the senior haenyeos would go into the nearby sea depending on their aptitude.

To the Island by Boats, Seo Jae Chul, 1969/1969, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Batmuljil refers to going out to the sea from the shore.

On a boat, Seo Jae Chul, 1976/1976, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo boarding a boat at a port to go diving.

Braziers on Boats, Seo Jae Chul, 1969/1969, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

When haenyeo go diving from a boat, they prepare a brazier in advance for warming their bodies after diving.

Forming a Community of Fishing Industry, Community of Dongwie Fish Industry, 1970/1980, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo jumping into the sea from the boat.

Who will go First into the Sea, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Who will go into the sea first?

The Double Mast Pose and Mangsari, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo diving from a Tewak deep into the sea.

Sumbisori, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum
Sumbisori
Sumbisori is the whistling sound Haenyeo make when they surface. It sounds like a 'Hoowi Hoowi' sound when they inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide created when submerged for 1 ~ 2 minutes. Sumbisori provides fresh air to Haenyeo and enables them to work extended periods of time with only short rest periods needed. Physical conditions such as lung capacity, ability to withstand pressure, and capacity to adjust to cold water are needed. Cool nerves are also necessary when swimming near and encountering big fish. Jeju Haenyeo have extended their skill and wisdom, by learning the effective use of physical strength and knowledge of the ocean from the seniors at the Bulteok.
“Ho-oi, ho-oi”, catching her breath, Seo Jae Chul, 1974/1974, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

“Ho-oi,ho-oi” – Haenyeo catching her breath.

Under Water, Jeju Photo Members, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum
Knowledge of nature
Knowledge of nature refers to the haenyeos' acquired knowledge and experience of tide, wind, sea creatures and etc. Haenyeo are able to recognize sea geography, changing tidal currents, and habitats of marine life. They can estimate the growing process of seasonal marine life and harvest them accordingly. For example, the best time to harvest agar-agar is different year by year. They don't harvest abalone and conches during spawning season. The Haenyeo's vast experience and accumulated knowledge of the marine ecosystem has been handed down from generation to generation.
60 - 70kg of Cheoncho Collecting, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Carrying the collected agar. Dripping water connotes the heaviness of the burden.

haenyeo, Haenyeo Museum, 2012/2012, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

The sea is almost like a field to the haenyeos. The haenyeos know where a certain rock is, where the conches are, and where there are plenty of abalones once they go into the sea. The diving work by haenyeos are carried out in groups and during the spawning season, there is a ban on catching anything. There are also strict regulations as to where certain haenyeos from specific regions can go into which area of the sea.

The Scene of Collecting Seaweeds, Seo Jae Chul, 1968/1968, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Before sea mustard farming was started in the 1980s, gathering sea mustard was the most important work of the haenyeo society. Jeju's women and all family members went out to the sea and collected the seaweed. They collected mounds and mounds of seaweed during that time.

Seaweed is dried and put into Strips, Seo Jae Chul, 1968/1968, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Drying brown seaweed.

wearing wetsuits and kkaburi, Haenyeo Museum, 1976/1976, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum
Haenyeo's union
Diving has a strong community spirit. Haenyeo should work in accordance with the regulations and laws, and not dive alone. By doing work together, they can avoid dangerous situations. Solo Haenyeo can't exist. Sea farm, which is the haenyeo workplace, is operated by an Eochongye, Haenyeo cooperative. In Jeju Island, there are about 100 Eochongye, one belonging to each coastal village. They have their own regulations about the boundary of fishing ground, qualifications for catching sea products, and catching methods and periods, which are kept strictly. This is a pledge to preserve and co-exist with the ocean eco-system. This haenyeo community shows a form of 'town meeting'. When they have some problems, they get together and make decisions through free discussion until every member understands and accepts. Haenyeo are divided into three levels: Sang-gun, Jung-gun, and Ha-gun, according to their experience and skills. Haenyeo with special wisdom and virtue are called 'Dae-Sanggun', who lead the community for their safety and harmony.
Listening to the Rules of Sea-diving, Seo Jae Chul, 1968/1968, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo begin collecting seaweed in April, which is called ‘Miyeokhaegyeong’ (start of collecting seaweed after prohibition period).

The Gaettakie (Cleaning of the Fishing Grounds), Haenyeo Museum, 1990/1995, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

The Gaettakie (cleaning of the fishing grounds)

The sea is just like another field for the hanyeos. When the hanyeos go into the sea, there are rocks and fishing grounds. They know by heart where there are plentiful numbers of abalones. The daughters inherit this knowledge from their mothers and eventually become superior hanyeos themselves. The village's fishing grounds are their own property so they carry out the cleaning of the fishing grounds by removing the 'badangpul' (sea grass) which are considered to be weeds. The cleaning of the fishing ground is carried out 2 or 3 times a year and is called 'gaettakie'. It is one of the biggest responsibilities given to the members of the Hanyeos' Association.

Haenyeo’s catch of abalone, Seo Jae Chul, 1976/1976, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum
Seafood collected by haenyeo
The act of catching conches, abalones, sea urchins, and octopus is called 'heotmurae'. When they are carrying out 'heotmurae' it does not mean they can catch the sea produce almost immediately. It is most often the case where they can't catch anything. It also refers to any action that is not group based such as the collection of tot or cheoncho. The work that they carry out in the water is dangerous in the sense that they could miscalculate the time that they can hold their breath in the water and die. As such, they have to learn how to calculate accurately almost to the second and become a competent haenyeo. The heotmurae work differs greatly in terms of amount of the collected sea produce depending on the haenyeo's competence and ability, even if they worked for the same period of time and in the same place.
Topshells and a scale, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Individual diving, where they caught conches, abalones, sea slugs, and sea urchins, take breaks during the summer spawning period. Other seaweed was collected from April to May. Gamtae (Kind of seaweed, Latin name: Ecklonia cava) is collected from July to August, tot is collected from the last day of February until the end of April. In addition, cheoncho is collected from the middle of March to the end of June, cheongak (sea staghorn) is collected from July to August, abalones and conches are caught from October to June, sea urchins are caught from May to July, and finally sea slugs are caught during the winter season.

After Finishing Up their Work, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

The catching of sea produce is prohibited depending on their size. Conches which are less than 7cm long are prohibited from being collected and the same applied to obunjagi. Obunjagi which is less than 3.5cm in width is banned from being caught. As for abalones, it is under 10cm in width.

Haenyeo Family, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

The work with cheoncho and tot is carried out as a group project and sold as a community property. Regardless of the amount completed by an individual, they carry out the work together for a specific period of time, dry it and sell it. After getting rid of all moisture, they leave in the storage space and sell it on the sale date in sacks of 30 kilos and 60 kilos.

Agar weed work, Jeju Photo Members, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Husband holding a basket of collected agar as haenyeo wife emerges from the sea.

Swim fins and octopus, Seo Jae Chul, 1976/1976, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Bitchang is an important tool used to pick up abalones from the rock.

Selling their Products, Seo Jae Chul, 1976/1976, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo weighing collected marine products.

Topshells store, Seo Jae Chul, 1975/1975, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo storing topshells in sea.

Haenyeos are peeling the sea urchins, Seo Jae Chul, 1974/1974, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Sea urchins are creatures that live at the bottom of the sea and are fed to a variety of shellfish. It is cut with a small knife and its yellowish eggs are picked out and washed. The 'boraseonggae' (purple sea urchins) is usually captured during the barley season and so is also known as 'boriseonggae'. The eggs that have been extracted from the sea urchin are called 'eundan'.

Haenyeo cleaning sea urchin, Seo Jae Chul, 1976/1976, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

An old haenyeo is cleaning green sea urchin, called ‘som’ in Jeju dialect.

Octopus caught haenyeo, Jeju Photo Members, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haenyeo delighted by an octopus catch.

The Elderly Haenyeo who sells Octopus, Seo Jae Chul, 1976/1976, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Sea creatures, such as the octopus, were allowed to be sold on an individual basis so elderly grandmothers took it out to the market to get good or better prices for them. The profit was used as pocket money or to buy more food.

The Sea is their Second Home, Haenyeo Museum, 2004/2005, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum
The value of haenyeo
Jeju haenyeos don't simply consider nature as something to take advantage of. They have passed on the ways of co-existing to generations by preserving the natural environment. Therefore, they merit being called advocates of ecology. They are also experts of the ocean as they have accumulated knowledge of the sea and diving skills by adjusting to the marine environment and mastering geographical features of the sea. In addition, they are models of gender equality as they have played an independent role in the society and domestic economy alongside men.
To home, Seo Jae Chul, 1976/1976, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Going home: Haenyeo returning home after diving.

A frontyard of Haenyeo’s house, Seo Jae Chul, 1974/1974, From the collection of: Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Frontyard of haenyeo house: Octopus and floating nets hanging on clothesline in the frontyard of a haenyeo house.

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