Konae-ri Shrine and the Sambyŏlch’o Rebellion (1270-1273)

Introduction

While much of Cheju’s early history remains shrouded in mystery due to the ravages of history, notably the loss of historical records to a fire in 1435, as well as mainland disregard for the island, a few of Cheju’s myths clearly refer to actual events. The patron deity at Konae-ri’s 고내리 (Aewŏl-ŭp 애월읍) village main shrine on volcanic sea-facing hill Konaebong 고내봉 is Wŏlgungnyŏ Sŏnnyŏ 월궁녀 선녀 (literally Moon Palace Lady Immortal), the third daughter of the Yowang 요왕, the Dragon King, but the story of how she ended up in Cheju, like so many other exiled gods and goddesses, is linked to a surprising chain of events. Wŏlgungnyŏ, who is also called “Pyŏlgungjŏ Ttŏnim” 별궁저 따님 (Lady Star Palace Princess), was brought to Konaebong by the Samjangsu 삼장수 (the Three Generals) after they fell in love with her. In the Konae-ri myth, it was the Three Generals – Hwangsŏnim 황서님, Ŭlsŏnim 을서님, and Kuksŏnim 국서님 – who ultimately defeated the villainous General Chim T’ongjŏng (Kr.: Kim T’ongjŏng). Kim T’ongjŏng was the very leader who led the Sambyŏlch’o 삼별초 (Three Special Units) in their last stand against the combined Mongol and Koryŏ 고려 Korean forces at the upland regions of present-day Aewŏl-ŭp.

The myths of Kim T’ongjŏng in the Konae-ri shrine ponp’uri 본풀이 (deity origin myth) is hardly an accurate retelling of historical events of the Sambyŏlch’o Rebellion and focuses the narrative purely on a handful of characters, but they offer some interesting details that would otherwise not be found elsewhere. The Sambyŏlch’o was originally an elite military force of the Ch’oe military family (Shultz 2000). Amidst the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth-century, the Ch’oe family stubbornly refused to capitulate to the Mongols as they as they maintained their base of operations on Kanghwa Island all while Mongol forces of Ogedei Khan ravaged the peninsula. The Ch’oe house ultimately lost power and the Koryŏ court decided to submit to the Mongol Empire, but the Sambyŏlch’o sought to install another member of the Koryŏ Wang royal family as their puppet. They rebelled against the Mongol-Koryŏ union as they moved their base of operations. Kim T’ongjŏng first led his forces to Chindo island from where he raided the coast of the Korean Peninsula. As the situation on Chindo deteriorated, the Sambyŏlch’o relocated to Cheju Island where they established Hangp’aduri Fortesss 항파두리 in present-day Kosŏng-ri (Aewŏl), made their last stand, and ultimately fell to a joint Mongol-Koryŏ invasion force in 1273. Though nowadays memorialized (and exaggerated) as nationalist heroes, especially under the re-invented traditions of the Park Chung Hee regime (1961-1979), the Sambyŏlch’o were not ideal heroes as their intentions were more complex and at times opportunistic. The present-day memorial at the Hangp’aduri Fortress ruins was hastily built with rushed scholarly inquiry and thus a product of the Park regime’s desires to instill nationalist fervor, a matter that Cheju scholars have sharply criticized. Cheju local historians such as Yi Yŏngkwŏn opined that rather than a heroic last stand, the rebellion was likely an absolute disaster for Cheju islanders as they were dragged into a conflict that was not theirs (2004: 6). The Konae-ri myth also suggests that Kim T’ongjŏng’s presence was not a welcome thing.

In the Konae-ri myth, Kim T’ongjŏng is described as being sent by “Ch’ŏnjŏguk” 천자국 (Kr.: Ch’ŏnjaguk), the Heavenly Empire (or Heavenly Emperor), even though islanders were hardly unaware of the peninsular state. Though the title literally means “Country of the Son of Heaven” (which would, in other contexts refer to ancient China), sometimes names of places and people are conflated in Cheju mythology. “Ch’ŏnjŏguk” seems to refer to both a kingdom and a person. Given the context of the 13th century, “Ch’ŏnjŏguk” would be the Yuan Empire or Kublai Khan. The name is at once specific and vague (possibly referring to either China, especially when called “Kangnam Ch’ŏnjaguk” 강남 천자국 or the celestial realm), but one also may wonder if it also refers to continental Asia in general. Kim T’ongjŏng was not Chinese or Mongol, but a Koryŏ Korean. At the time of the Sambyŏlch’o Rebellion, much of continental Eurasia from Eastern Europe to Manchuria was under Mongol rule. The Three Generals seem to be references to officers of the joint Mongol and Koryŏ army sent to destroy the Sambyŏlch’o. In any case, given that Kim T’ongjŏng was actually a person of Koryŏ and an opponent of the Yuan Empire, it is plausible that Cheju islanders considered mainland Koreans like Kim T’ongjŏng as foreigners just as much as the Mongols even after their annexation during mid-Koryŏ Dynasty times.

What follows is a rough translation of  Yang T’aeok’s 양태옥 version of the myth collected by folklorist Chin Sŏnggi 진성기 in Sinŏm-ri 신엄리 (Chin 1991: 582-583). As a record of oral storytelling, certain details are not clearly established since storytelling performances in Cheju historically were directed to a community that already knew the circumstances. Thus one might notice some odd plot quirks. Though Chin included annotations to approximate standard Korean of the original performance in Cheju dialect, his record is written in short verses to reflect its oral narrative character. For clarity, my translation is in paragraph form and I added some additional phrasing in brackets.

Konae-ri Ponyhangdang Ponp’uri (Yang T’ae-ok’s Version, collected by Chin Sŏnggi in Sinŏm-ri)

The history of Konae village main shrine [begins] a long time ago when Cheju was the T’amna state. Horses, cattle, and all kinds of produce were plentiful then.

The Heavenly Empire sent General Chim T’ongjŏng [Kim T’ongjŏng] to make his rounds in T’amna. When General Chim saw that the livestock and produce grew bountifully, he became greedy. He had an extreme desire to indulge himself in T’amna.

In order to apprehend General Chim, the Heavenly Emperor sent the Three Generals. They were Hwangsŏnim (Lord Imperial Crown Prince), Ŭlsŏnim (Lord Second Imperial Prince), and Kuksŏnim (Lord Prince of the State). But when the Three Generals came to Cheju, General Chim built up an earthen fortress [that stretched] 10,000 li. And in order to avoid them, General Chim got from each commoner five toe 되 [a unit of weight] of ashes and one broom. He covered the earthen fortress with ashes, bound the brooms to a horse tail, mounted the steed, and rode atop and all along the walls.

The ash was thick and so the Three Generals could not determine [where General Chim was]. However, the Three Generals finally attacked the fortress. [Yet] the fortress was high and the cast-iron gate was secured. They listened to the words of a woman and so for three months and ten days, a span of a hundred days, they worked the bellows at the gate and the cast-iron gate melted.

When the Three Generals breached the fortress, General Chim escaped. Though he had to escape his wife was pregnant. He said [to his wife], “When I am gone, you will also die. I must eliminate you with my own hands.” He trampled her and tore her apart with his hands [and put her into an iron box]. General Chim cast the box at the crest of the waves by Ch’uja island. There he turned into the body of a bird and the cast-iron box settled.

After that, Hwangsŏnim turned into a swallow, took flight, and perched atop General Chim’s head. Ŭlsŏnim turned into a shrimp and seized the cast-iron box. Kuksŏnim got a ceremonial silver knife, shook General Chim’s head, and then in an instant scraped a little at his neck and slit his throat.

The Three Generals reported to the Heavenly Emperor’s high official. They looked to the north side of Konaebong. [At the time], the Dragon King had a third daughter, Wŏlgungnyŏ. The Three Generals fell for her and brought her to Konaebong where they are now enshrined.

This shrine’s ritual dates are as follows: in the lunar calendar 1/15 and 8/15. One or two rituals are done a year. If they are done well, they bring happiness. If not, they bring misfortune.

(As told by Yang T’aeok in Sinŏm-ri)


References

Chin Sŏnggi. 1991. Cheju-do muga ponp’uri sajŏn. Seoul: Minsogwŏn.

Shultz, Edward J. 2000. Generals and scholars: military rule in medieval Korea. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Pess.

Yi Yŏngkwŏn. 2005. Saero ssŭnŭn Chejusa : chibangsa, yŏksa ilki ŭi saeroun sido. Seoul: Hyumŏnisŭt’ŭ.

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