October 2014

Jeju Haenyeo Mulot and Diving Tools

Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Tradition and change in diving suits and gear
A haenyeo diving in traditional mulot garb
Mulsojungi, the traditional outfit for divers, has side openings so that they are easy to put on, even for pregnant women.  

Traditional outfits which are called <mulot> are composed of three pieces such as <mulsojungi> meaning pants, <muljeoksam> meaning jacket and <mulsugun> tying hair. Mulsojungi which is made of cotton is designed for minimizing the water resistance to work well under the sea. It has a side opening for Haenyeo to change clothes without showing their bodies. The distribution of rubber diving suits has greatly increased Haenyeo's income since their application in the early part of 1970.

Muljeoksam is a white cotton top, which is worn over the mulsojungi, and it has been common since 1960’s. It is a kind of jeogori (a basic upper garment in Korean traditional clothing), which is mixed style of a jeoksam (an unlined summer jacket) and a shirt. It protects haenyeo from the cold and sunburns.


Usually they put a string or an elastic band into a cuff and an edge of a garment, tightened to fit a body, so didn’t let it come off in the water easily, and adjusted with front buttons.

A black sojungi decorated on the vent and gusset  (Haenyeo Museum Collection)
Haenyeo at work while wearing muljeoksam  
A sojungi in the 1960’s made from a flour sack  
Shoulder sojungi (eokkaemari sojungi) 
A bitchang rust stain on the back of a mulsojungi  
Jeoksam with attached long sleeves (Haenyeo Museum Collection)
Haenyeo at work while wearing muljeoksam  

Kkaburi (Haenyeo head protection)

In the 1960’s, instead of mulsugeon, kkaburi came into wide use by young chulga haenyeo** who went to the mainland or Japan. The kkaburi covers the head and entire nape of the neck. It is easier to wear and warmer than a mulsugeon. It can cover the cheeks as well as provide protection from the sun. There are holes at about ear level to let the water out.

But there were few haenyeo who made kkaburi themselves and wore it. They wore it in summer as a substitute for the rubber diving suit (wetsuit) cap, which is the modern garb of the haenyeo.

 Haenyeo in the 1970’s wearing wetsuits and kkaburi, which they wear instead of a rubber cap    

Today's rubber clothes, worn by haenyeoes were introduced from Japan in the early 1970's. They are made up of: a 'cap' in one piece that goes down to the neck, 'top' with buckles, and pants-like 'bottoms' that cover the ankles and up to the chest. 

In addition, haenyeoes wear flippers on their feet in the sea also known as 'Oribal' (fins). As sponge-type rubber clothes are buoyant, haenyeoes need to tie lead sinkers called 'Yeonchul' to their body to get into water. 

Fabric, imported from Japan, was tough and hard in the initial period. Later on, softer ones were produced and the quality became much better, as a result, haenyeoes could work more comfortably.

A wetsuit set (Haenyeo Museum Collection)  
Rubber Swimming Suits distributed in the 1970s.  
Rubber Swimming Suits distributed in the 2000s. 
When haenyeo don their wetsuits, they help each other. 

Rubber clothes made a big difference in the working environment of haenyeoes. In the past, it took them 30 to 60 minutes to work in the sea. 

It is now possible to stay 3 to 5 hours in rubber clothes and dive deeper. Rubber clothes have led to a harvest several times greater than before, but they have caused side effects such as decompression sickness.

Haenyeo preparing for diving  
Old haenyeo wearing diving cap  

Yeoncheol: Lead belt

The yeoncheol (lead belt) is a belt-like tool for sinking the diver in the water because of the differential buoyancy of the wetsuit. The weight of lead belt depends on the thickness of the wetsuit and the weight of the haenyeo. A thin wetsuit requires only a light lead belt, while the thicker wetsuit needs a heavier one.

At first, before lead belts were used, the haenyeo used to fill bags with rocks, and wore arm and waist bands.

The haenyeo made lead belts themselves, or their fathers or husbands helped them.

They would make several lead pieces, connect them with rubber or nylon string and make a belt to wear around the waist. Or they would connect sinkers, which hanging on the net with string, then wind the sinker strings around the waist.

Along with the supply of wetsuit, haenyeo have made their own soft iron weights to control buoyancy.  
Colored wetsuits 

Haenyeoes get a suit of rubber clothes once a year. In general, they have a new suit and the other one they mend. They wear the old ones after mending in summer, and in winter they tend to wear the new ones.

Since 2012, the use of orange-colored rubber clothes has spread in order to see haenyeoes working in the sea easier.

The wangnun referred to underwater goggles that were used to see under the water. They started to be used around the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

After the 1960's, the monocle 'swaenun' which was the more rounded and bigger version of the copper rimmed 'wangnun' was used. From the 1970's, a bigger monocle made of rubber was used.

It is thought the first goggles were used at the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th. At first, they were separated into a lens that covered each eye, but from the 1960s onward a single-lensed diving mask was in use. Double lenses were called jogeun noon or jokswae noon, while single lenses were called either keun noon or wang noon. The edges of the single-lensed masks were first made of brass, but with the introduction of wetsuits in the 1970s, they also began to be made out of rubber. They were then called gomu noon.

Swimming goggles (Haenyeo Museum Collection)
joksaenun (before the 1960's)  
swaenun (1960's~1970's)  
Wangnun (after the 1970's)
A haenyeo prepares to dive by wiping her goggles with mugwort.  
Haenyeo prevent goggle fogging by cleaning with mugwort

* Taewak: The word taewak is derived from the gourd from which they are made. A round hole was made in a ripened gourd through which the seeds were removed. The hole was then plugged again in such a way that water could not penetrate. From the mid-1960s onward, Styrofoam taewak have been used.

* Nets: Different types of nets are used. The close-woven heotmool net was used to hold creatures like abalones, conches, and sea urchins, while the more loosely-woven seaweed nets were used for marine plants. Another small net was used to hold blue abalone and other very small creatures.

*Taewak anchor: A stone was fixed as an anchor in the net to keep it from being swept away by the waves.

*Bonjogaengi: If a diver found abalone but then had to return to the surface for air, she would mark the area with a small abalone shell called a bonjobaengi.

Taewak nets (Haenyeo Museum Collection)
Floating net made with gourd and net ('mangsari') into water basket ('mulgudeok'). 
Haenyeo cleaning floating net before going diving  
Floating net with Taegeukgi pattern  
Floating net

Haenyeo's tools for diving

 Tools used by haenyeoes to pick sea food: Bitchang, Homaeng-i (hand hoe for picking sea food), Jaksal(stick for spearing fish), and Jeonggehomi(sickle for collecting seaweed).

The Bitchang is used to detach abalones on rocks in the sea. A string is tied in a ring to the tip of it in order for haenyeoes not to miss it by putting their hands in the string to act as a lever when they are picking abalones.

The Kkakkuri, also referred to 'Golgakji', is used to collect blue abalones, sea urchins, and octopuses. The longer ones is for octopuses; the short sharp ones are for blue abalones. It is similar to hoe(Golgaeng-i) used to weed a field.

The Jaksal, also known as Sosal, is used to catch fish. The Jeonggehomi is a sickle-shaped hoe used to cut sea grapes, sea weed fusiformis, or sea weed.

The Mulgudeok, a bamboo basket used to carry haenyeo's tools and sea food collected, is also known as Jilgudeok. Women usually wear it on their back, but in order not to put stress on the back, they used cushions called 'Goaegi'

Bitchang (Haenyeo Museum Collection)
Kkakkuri (Haenyeo Museum Collection)
Bitchang is an important tool used to pick up abalones from the rock.
Catching the Octopus with Long Hoes  
The Jaksal, also known as Sosal, is used to catch fish.
The Jeonggehomi is a sickle-shaped hoe used to cut sea grapes, sea weed fusiformis, or sea weed.
Mother and daughter haenyeo after diving  
Pleasant burdens on haenyeo backs after work  
Haenyeo heading out to sea with Halla Mountain in background  
Modern Haenyeo are still using tools they used before, but the quality has improved
Credits: Story

by  — Kang
Kwon Yong, Kwon Mi Seon

Photos from  — Jeju
Photo Members, Haenyeo Museum,
Jae Chul, Kang Man Bo

Planning  — Haenyeo

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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