Mar 7, 2016

Protecting Haenyeo: Ritual and Spiritual Practices of Jeju Haenyeo

Jeju Provincial Self-governing Haenyeo Museum

Haesindang Shrine and Gut: a Shamanic Rite
An old haenyeo saying goes: “Earn from Heavens, spend on Earth.” It implies that haenyeo’s diving work is very dangerous. Accordingly, haenyeo always depend on the dragon god, who controls the sea. Haenyeo often visit Haesindang Shrine located on the seaside and hold rituals to pray for safety and an abundant harvest for their diving. In the second month of the lunar calendar, haenyeo hold Yeongdeunggut, a shamanic rite to honor Yeongdeung God. Haenyeo believe that Yeongdeung God provides safety and abundant fish to haenyeo and fishermen, and that the god visits Jeju Island on the first day of the second lunar month. Yeongdeung God sows seeds, including seaweed, abalone, and conch to make the haenyeo’s life abundant, then returns to her home after passing through Udo Island on the 15th of the second lunar month. 
Haesindang (Shrine of the Sea God)
The Haesindang is a place that was created to overcome all the difficulties in life by the haenyeos so that they can believe and depend on the shamanistic faith. As such, there are all sorts of stories surrounding it. The ceremonies that are held at the Haesindang are sometimes carried out as a community like the Yeongdeug Gut (exorcism rite) but there are also ceremonies carried out from an individual request. A good example of this is the January Full Moon Exorcism Rite which combines the Singwasaejae ceremony and the ceremony to wish for safe passages on the sea. In the Haesindang (Shrine of the Sea God), there usually are two gods positioned there for worship. Haesindang is also called Donjitdang or Gaedang. In Wu-do's Ha-wu Cow Herd Shrine, three gods are worshipped to pray for the plentiful harvest as well as the safety of the haenyeos and fishermen while they are out to sea. 

The Yeongdeung god is an outside god who comes during the changing of the season between winter and spring. It is believed that he goes out of the island during the full moon in February through Wu-do. In the Hawumokdong of Wu-do, they also hold a massive Yeongdeung gut. The photo is by Seo Jae-chul who took the scene of the Yeongdeung sending off ceremony that was held back in 1975.

At the Gujwa-eup Hado-li Gaksidang, they also execute a Yeongdeung gut bringing in the Yowang god ceremony to pray for safe sea voyages along with a plentiful catch on February 13th of the lunar calendar. To ward off the evil spirit, they sacrifice a chicken to protect the whole village.

The Rice Fortune-telling at the Hado-ri Gaksidang

The welcoming ceremony to greet and praise the Yeongdeung God and the farewell ceremony to bid goodbye to the Yeongdeung God is called the Yeongdeunggut. The Yeongdeung God is a god who brings about safe passage on the sea as well as a plentiful sea harvest. He is believed to come on the first day of February of the lunar calendar and leaves after the Yeongdeung Farewell Ceremony on February 14th. The Yeongdeunggut ceremony which is held in the Chilmeoridang which is located in Geonip-dong of Jeju City is designated and preserved as intangible national cultural asset number. (The Shaman that carries out the Yeongdeunggut Ceremony) 

Wu-do lies on the way of the path that the Yeongdeung God takes to leave. Every February 15th of the lunar calendar, the Farewell Ceremony to bid goodbye to the Yeongdeung God is held. The Yeongdeung Gut was held at Dongcheonjindong, Seocheonjindong, and the Ha-wu Cow Herd Mokjidang. On this day, no boats were allowed to set out on the sea. They would hold a ceremony to invite the original god of the shrine to come and tell the fortune of a good or bad harvest by carrying out a 'ssideurim' (giving of the seeds to the god) which is an act of scattering millet seeds onto the sea. It also symbolizes the act of welcoming the dragon sea god. After paying their respect to the sea, they would send the boat made of straw out to sea in sending away the Yeongdeung God.

The Bukchon Garitdang Yeongdeung gut is held on February 13th of the lunar calendar. The 12 gates of the Yowang is made and the yowangjilchim is performed. They then carry out the injeong-geolki and ward off the evil spirits by plucking off the bamboo sticks which symbolizes the bridge.

This is a shaman who is setting fire to the bamboo stick after warding off the evil spirit. Taken by Seo Jae-chul in 1989.

Greeting the Yowang (Dragon Sea God)

There is another ceremony which welcomes the Dragon Sea God who governs the sea as the master of the ceremony along with the Yeongdeung God. After consoling the dead souls who had died while working on the water by serving them some wine, an act called the 'Yowangjilchim' is carried out. This is a kind of entertainment banquet to greet the Yowang and prepare the way for him. They weed and tidy up the roads, dig up the road with a plow, flatten the road with their feet, remove the dirt with baskets, and build bridges. After all these things are done, they tell the fortune to confirm that the doorway for the Yowang to come has been opened up. Then, the white cotton and the bamboo branches which had symbolized the Yowang's path are set afire.

Praying to the Yowang

After carrying out the 'bangwangchim' which prays for the year's plentiful catch and safety, a dagger fortune telling dance is performed to confirm the coming of the Yowang god.

Opening of the Yowang Gate

The Yowang gate opens, the descendants bow and take heed of the oracle message.


The Yeongdeung god is also the god of agriculture so he has control over the sea 'fields'. After scattering the grains, the fate of that year's catch is foretold through the ceremony of fortune telling.

Jideurim (Giving the 'ji', a tribute)

After the haenyeos hold a group ceremony or an individual ceremony such as the Yeongdeung Gut or the Jamsu Gut, they make a 'ji' of their own accord. The 'ji' is a tribute to the sea made out of the small portions of rice, cooked rice and eggs that had been used in the ceremony into sizes of small fists wrapped up in paper.
The jideurim is an act of actually throwing the jis that they have specially made into the sea of the Yowang God to pray for the safety and health of their dead ancestors, family members and the hanyeos themselves.

Haenyeo offering food to Dragon King after ritual

The Baebangseon Process

The Yeongdeung God is sent away on a straw boat full of tributes to the god along with the welcoming of the Yowang and ssideurim to tell the fortune of a good or a bad harvest. During the ceremony of sending off the god, a straw boat about 1m long is woven together. The prepared tributes are put on the boat and sent off on the sea. This process is called the 'baebangseon'.

After the gut is completed, the food that had been offered to the god is put on a boat to be sent off to see to send the god off. The grass boat is carried by the men folk to the sea shores.


A shape of a boat is made with straw, equipped with mast and rudder. This boat is then loaded with offerings to be sent off to sea.

Jamsugut (a shamanic rite to pray for the safety of haenyeo)
This shamanic ritual is held in Gujwa-eup, Donggimnyeongri, Jeju-si on the eighth day of the third lunar month. Considered a representative ritual and festival of Jeju haenyeo, it is held separately from Yeongdeunggut. Haenyeo save money and prepare for the ritual for the whole year, as if considering their livelihood and the ritual to be connected. During the ritual, the segment “Welcoming the Dragon King” is a ritual for receiving the dragon god and wishing for an abundant harvest and safety. The segment “Ssideurim” is a ritual of sowing seeds of abalone, conch, agar, and hijiki in the sea to wish for an abundant harvest.

The Initial Ceremony at the Jamsugut of Kimnyeong-ri (Exorcism Rite)

All the cost to carry out the ceremony or the necessary materials for the rite is paid for by the 'Jamsu Association' which is the women diver's association. This is a gut to pray for the safety during their work and for a plentiful catch. The date of the ceremony is March 8th of the lunar calendar and the main shaman is Seo Soon-sil.

Greeting the Yowang (Dragon Sea God)

The segment “Welcoming the Dragon King” is a ritual for receiving the dragon god and wishing for an abundant harvest and safety.

Yowangjilchim(Preparing the Road) at the Jamsugut of Kimnyeong-ri

Ssideurim at the Jamsu Gut of Kimnyeong-ri

The segment “Ssideurim” is a ritual of sowing seeds of abalone, conch, agar, and hijiki in the sea to wish for an abundant harvest.

Ssideurim at the Jamsugut of Kimnyeong-ri

Ssijeom at the Jamsugut of Kimnyeong-ri

After scattering the grains, the fate of that year's catch is foretold through the ceremony of fortune telling.

Jideurim at the Jamsugut of Kimnyeong-ri

When the gut comes to an end, the women sea divers offer their own personal offering to the Yowang. This is called They distribute the offering which had been offered, wrap it up in paper and throw them into the sea.

Haenyeo Museum
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