T’amna in the History of the Koryŏ Dynasty

The Koryŏsa 高麗史 was a history of the Koryŏ Dynasty (918-1392) compiled in the 15th century after the Koryŏ had fallen. A common custom across East Asia was for the historians of succeeding dynasties to compile histories of their dynastic predecessors as a means to demonstrate legitimacy. The Koryŏsa itself was based on earlier documents and sillok (veritable records) produced during the Koryŏ period, but these are no longer extant. Compounding to the difficulties of reading and interpreting the history is that many of the early Koryŏ documents had been destroyed in accidental fires or invasions, a factor that also adds to the complications in reconstructing Cheju’s earlier history. As one might recall in the previous posting on Yi Wŏnjin’s T’amnaji (The Record of T’amna 耽羅志) compiled in 1653, documents that might have gone as far back to the end of the T’amna period were destroyed in a storehouse fire. Whatever official exchanges between T’amna and the early Koryŏ court may have occurred prior to the island’s annexation is unfortunately out of reach to us and one can only speculate based on the very sparse and terse notes scattered across various texts written some time after the fact.

The translated selection from the Koryŏsa that follows here is from the 57th volume, which includes the second “Geography” section of the histories. As a hyŏn (county 縣), Cheju Island was a part of Chŏlla Province but was nevertheless substantial enough that it merited its own rather distinct account. In looking at this passage, one might notice the same general content as Yi’s T’amnaji at least up to the end of Koryŏ period, but one can also spot some details that differ. The Koryŏsa account includes some interesting and puzzling details that have been subject to debate and disagreement among scholars even from as far back as the Chosŏn period. Some details seem to be errors in transcription (such as the use of different characters for the title tonae, which was given to the third of the Ko brothers who visited Silla possibly in the 4th century) while others could give differing interpretations of ancient Cheju history depending on how one interprets the phrasing.

Perhaps the most striking differences compared to other histories of Cheju are that the order of the three divine ancestors’ is noted to be Yang, Ko, and Pu rather than Ko, Yang, and Pu and that the story implies that there was an age difference between the three despite a common view that the three appeared all at the same time. As contemporary Cheju historian Yi Yŏngkwŏn (2005) suggests, however, that even while the order probably had no meaning originally, the discrepancy nevertheless became a subject of a legal dispute between the Ko and Yang clans during the late Chosŏn period when primogeniture was an established norm; the Ko clan, being the more influential historically, won the case. Michael Pettid (2000) considers the puzzling emphasis on primogeniture, which was not a key issue even in earlier Koryŏ, may have been a later Confucian embellishment to the story. Whether the surnames themselves had any meaning in the T’amna period is also subject to question as Pak Chongsŏng (1999) suggests a possibility that “Ko” and “Pu,” apparently Koguryŏ- and Puyŏ- (ancient states of present-day northern Korea) derived surnames may have been imported into T’amna as the island established trade with the Koguryŏ kingdom; “Yang” possibly is Sinographic rendition of a native surname. It is also in the Koryŏsa account that the country of origin for the three princesses is regarded as Japan; other versions of the Three Clans Myth refer instead to a mythical country such as Pyŏngnangguk.

Another odd detail is that this account, unlike that of Yi’s compilation, mentions that the three Ko brothers’ first visit to Silla happened to coincide with a kaeksŏng (“guest star,” in reference to a nova or supernova) event and thus the T’amna king’s title was made “Sŏngju,” which is literally “Master of the Stars.” A quick online search in regard to Chinese observations (since earlier Korean sources are no longer extant) of such events during Silla times bring up the years 383 and 386. One also might wonder if this early journey may have some relation to the grand adventure of Songgoksŏng (also known as Mungoksŏng) in Kimnyŏng village’s Kwaenaegit Shrine myth in which the son of the divine ancestress Paekchutto and the hunter-gatherer god Soch’ŏn’guk ends up in the palace of the Dragon King and military campaigns in imperial China, a story that literary scholar Cho Tong’il (1997) suggests may be the second part of the T’amna founding myth.

The Koryŏsa account further adds some speculation to the origin of the name “T’amna” itself. In this account, the compilers suggest that the name was bestowed by the Silla king on the matter that the Ko brothers who visited Silla arrived via the port of T’amjin (in the present-day Chŏlla region). Yet, as O Ch’angmyŏng (2013) notes, even in the Chosŏn period, this etymology has been disputed as other accounts (many of which again, unfortunately are lost to us) that Chosŏn scholars referenced suggest that T’amjin was so named because T’amna people arrived there. In the late 18th century, the scholar Han Ch’iyun offers a different suggestion that T’amna is perhaps a Sinographic transcription of an old Korean word meaning “the island country.” Whatever is the case, the Koryŏsa history, even with its puzzling contradictions, offers some rare snippets of information for alternative interpretations of Cheju’s distant past.

As in the previous translations, the text as follows was translated from the original Sinographic script into English rather than through the Korean translation as an intermediary. Given the terse nature of the text at some points, additional phrasing is included in parentheses to make the text more clear while comments for further clarification are in brackets. The specific reign years have been converted for clarity.

T’amna County 耽羅縣 (Koryŏsa Volume 57, Records Book 11, Geographies 2, Chŏlla Province)

T’amna County is in the sea south of Chŏlla Province. It is said in the old records, “In the beginning, there were no people. Three divinities sprung out from the earth – this is at the foot of the north side of the mountain where there are holes called ‘Mohŭng’ 毛興. The eldest was called Yang Ŭlla 良乙那, next was Ko Ŭlla 高乙那, and the third was Pu Ŭlla 夫乙那. The three went about hunting (for a living) in coarse and secluded (conditions), wore animal skins, and ate meat. One day, they saw a wooden chest covered with purplish mud. It floated to the eastern shore and they went out to open it. Inside the chest was a stone box. An emissary in a red sash and purple robe came. He opened the stone box and out appeared three maidens in blue dresses as well as foals, calves, and the seeds of the five grains [rice, millet, beans, wheat, and barley]. He said, ‘I am the emissary of the Kingdom of Japan. Our king produced three daughters. He had said that in the sea to the west, there were three divinities who came down a mountain with desires to establish a country but are without consorts. And so His Majesty ordered me to attend to his three daughters to come with them to you. They are a proper match to make as consorts. Through them you shall accomplish your great tasks.’ The emissary suddenly rode on a cloud and left. The three [the divinities] married them [the three maidens] by order of their age. They went to where the spring water was sweet and the earth fertile and shot arrows to determine their lands. Where Yang Ŭlla resided was called the ‘First Capital’ 一都 [Ildo]. Where Ko Ŭlla resided was called the ‘Second Capital’ 二都 [Ido]. Where Pu Ŭlla resided was called the ‘Third Capital’ 三都 [Samdo]. First they sowed the five grains and then raised the foals and calves. Day by day, they became prosperous and had offspring.”

By the 15th generation, Ko Hu 高厚, Ko Ch’ŏng 高靑, and their youngest brother built a boat and crossed the sea to T’amjin 耽津. It was a time when the Silla kingdom was flourishing. At that time, a “guest star” 客星 [a nova or supernova, possibly in 383 or 386?] was seen in the south. The chief historian (of Silla) reported that it was a portent that people of a foreign land would come to seek an audience at the court. When the three finally came to the Silla court, the king thought them praiseworthy. He proclaimed the eldest to be the Sŏngju 星主 – Master of the Stars, so named because of the movement of the astral sign -, the second as the Wangja 王子 – Prince, so named because he esteemed him as his own child [text literally says, ‘because he told him that he loved him as if he were his own child who had come from his loins’], and the last was made the Tonae 都內 [Retainer]. The king called their town “T’amna” because when they came, the first place they stopped was at T’amjin. Each were given treasures and robes and sashes [of Silla nobility] and then sent back (to T’amna). Their descendants hence prospered and managed their country with sincerity.

The Ko Clan was then made the Sŏngju, the Yang Clan made the Princes, and the Pu Clan were made the Retainers [there is a discrepancy in the text here as the title is rendered “Chongsang” 從上, meaning “Chieftain”]. Later the [Sinographic character] for Yang 良 was changed to “Yang” 梁. In the Record of An Hong of the Eastern Country included in the Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, it is also noted that “T’angna” 乇羅 [another rendering of T’amna] is the fourth of the “Nine Han” 九韓 [the nine states within or in the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula] enumerated.

In 476, when the T’amna emissary came to show obeisance, (the court of the Paekche kingdom) bestowed the title of “Ŭnsol” 恩率. Then in 498, because T’amna did not provide tribute, (the Paekche kingdom) was about to set out to conquer them. News of this reached T’amna and they sent an emissary to plead for forgiveness. (The campaign) was thus halted. That record notes that “T’amna is also known as ‘T’ammora’ 耽毛羅.”

(After) Paekche had already fallen in 661, the beginning of the reign of King Munmu of Silla, the lord of T’amna, once having had the Pakeche title of “Chwap’yŏng” 佐平, came to surrender (to Silla) at Todongŭmnyul 徒冬音律.

In 938, during the 21st year of King T’aejo 太祖王 (of Koryŏ), the T’amna crown prince Mallo 末老 came to have an audience at the royal court. The titles of Sŏngju and Wangja were bestowed.

“T’angna” 乇羅 was made into “T’amna Prefecture” 耽羅郡 in 1105. During the reign of King Ŭijong, it was made into a county 縣 with a magistrate. The village of Sŏkch’on 石淺 was made into the (main town of) Kwidŏk County 歸悳縣 in 1211.

The rebel Kim T’ongjŏng 金通精 led the Three Special Units  三別抄 to the island to raise an insurrection in 1270. Four years later, the king ordered Kim Panggyŏng 金方慶 to suppress them.

The Mongol Yuan Empire 元 established horse ranches in 1277. King Ch’ungnyŏl 忠烈王 had an audience at the Yuan imperial court in 1294 to request the return of T’amna. Secretariat Director Wan Ze 丞相 完澤 of Yuan and others presented a memorial (to the emperor) and T’amna was then returned to our country. In the next year, (T’amna’s) name was changed to Cheju 濟州. The first prefect was Chief Archivist Ch’oe Sŏ 判批書省事 崔瑞. Then in 1300, the Dowager Empress (of Yuan) sent horses (to use Cheju as) pasture land. (Cheju) was returned to us in 1305.

The bandits Sayong 士用 and Ŏmbok 嚴卜 raised an army for insurrection in 1336. The (Cheju) native Mun Kongje 文公濟 raised an army to crush them. This matter reached the Yuan court and they again dispatched administrators (to govern Cheju).

King Kongmin 恭愍王 sought to request the Yuan court (to return Cheju) in 1362. The Yuan court (instead) made Deputy Commissioner Munadanburhwa 副樞 文阿但不花 the Myriarch 萬戶 of T’amna. When he arrived (in Cheju) together with a Korean slave Kim Changno 金長老, he flogged the then-Myriarch Pak Toson 朴都孫 and threw him into the sea.

Cheju returned to (Koryŏ) rule in 1367, but at the time the (Mongol) ranchers were strong. They killed many prefects and myriarchs sent by the state. Kim Yu 金庾 then suppressed them. The ranchers appealed to the Yuan court to establish a myriarchy (of the empire). The king (of Koryŏ) requested to the emperor for Koryŏ to be allowed rule (over Cheju) and (offered) to select horses raised by the ranchers to be sent as tribute to the empire as per previous custom. The emperor assented.

In 1369, the Mongol Darughachis 哈赤 [Overseers, specifically for pasture lands, but also doubled as enforcers of Mongol rule] were rampant and they slaughtered the (Koryŏ) officials. Then, six years later in the 8th month, the Koryŏ king sent the Commissioner of General Command Ch’oe Yŏng 都統使 崔瑩. (General Ch’oe) eliminated the Darughachis and an administration was established.

[Geographical Notes]

The guardian mountain 鎭山 is Halla 漢拏, which is south of the county seat. One name (of this mountain) is Tumuak 頭無岳 and another is Wŏnsan 圓山. On the summit is a large pond.

There are also the Ch’uja Islands 楸子島. In general, T’amna people (in returning to T’amna) depart from Naju 羅州 [in Chŏlla], then cross over to Muan’s Taegulp’o harbor 務安 大堀浦 (to go to) Hwamujiwa Island in Yŏngam 靈岩 火無只瓦島, to Ŏrannyang in Haenam 海南 於蘭梁, and get to Ch’uja in usually seven days and nights. If departing from Haenam, then one goes to Samch’onp’o 三寸浦, crosses over to Kŏyoryang 巨要梁 and Samnae Island 三內島. If going via T’amjin, one goes to Kunyŏngp’o 군용포, crosses over to Koja 高子, Hwang’i 黃伊, and Nosŭl Islands 露瑟島, then to Samnae Island, and reaches Ch’uja in three days and nights. Passage through these three places are all by way of ships and one passes Sasŏ Island 斜鼠島, Greater and Lesser Hwat’al Island 大小火脫島, and reaches Choch’ŏn’gwan at Aewŏlp’o 涯月浦 朝天舘. Between Greater and Lesser Hwat’al Islands, there are two oceanic currents, making the waves treacherous. It is generally difficult for people coming and going (to T’amna).



Cho Tong’il. 1997. Tong’asia kubisŏsasi-ŭi yangsang-kwa pyŏnch’ŏn. Seoul: Munhakkwajisŏngsa.

Chŏn Kyŏngsu, O Ch’angmyŏng, Kim Ch’anghyŏn, et al. 2013. T’amnasa chaehaesŏk. Cheju: Cheju palchŏn yŏn’guwŏn.

Pak Chongsŏng. 1999. “Cheju chiyŏk ‘Sam Ŭlla chŏnsŭng’-kwa ‘Ch’ŏnjiwang ponp’uri,” Chŏngsin munhwa yŏn’gu, 22(2): 121-149.

Pettid, Michael J. 2000. “Reshaping history: the creation of the myth of the three surnames, the foundation myth of the T’amna kingdom,” The review of Korean studies 3(1): 157-177.

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


“Customs” in the Record of T’amna (1653)

Though titled “Customs” (風俗), this section in the T’amnaji is far from an ethnographic study of Cheju Island in the Chosŏn Dynasty. As is the case of most of the world until at least the later 18th century, details of non-elite and non-literate life was for the most part kept at the margins, if at all. Where commoners – or one might in this case say indigenous people – appear in past record tended to more often than not be either in incidental observations, legal decisions, economic exchanges, or related to wider moralistic concerns. “Customs” and similar sections in records compiled elsewhere in Chosŏn Korea were likely never intended to give a clear description other than highlight things the official class found peculiar. Such writings give a partial – and often filtered – glimpse and hints of life for people far outside the walls of Seoul and the small circles of the literati world. In form, the “Customs” section is simply a collection of mainland officials’ observations, hearsay, and descriptions from previous exiles (notably Kim Chŏng who was exiled there in the 16th century) organized under simple aphorisms made about Cheju in that era. Whether or not they accurately represent Cheju life is difficult to assess and some claims may be exaggerations (such as a claim that a single enlightened magistrate taught Cheju people how to build the stone walls that characterize the island countryside), but ironically thanks to these observers’ tendency to exoticize Cheju islanders these terse accounts nevertheless do offer some insights on life outside the walls of the governing compound. They also reveal, particularly in their language choice and what they considered remarkable about Cheju islanders, as much about elite mainland Koreans’ ambivalence toward Cheju as they do about the people they governed.

At a glance, the “Customs” section is a striking reverse echo of Japanese (and Korean) colonial accounts nearly three centuries later. From the outset, Cheju islanders’ practices are at once praised for being “frugal” (儉) while also denigrated as “silly” (癡) or even “perverse” (淫). European and North American missionaries and Japanese colonial officials would later use similar descriptions for rural Koreans at the beginning of the twentieth century. An additional irony here is that mainland Koreans would continue to use similar exoticizing language for Cheju islanders even after colonial annexation in 1910 and arguably into the present. A mainland and elitist bias directed toward Cheju Islanders is overt. Aside from mentioning notable distinct features of Cheju island culture, the “Customs” section emphasizes the island as an exotic locale. The degree to which such differences are highlighted gives some hints that even by the middle of the 17th century, more than two hundred years after Cheju’s official reorganization in the Chosŏn Dynasty system and six hundred years after the island’s annexation into the Korean kingdom, elite mainland Koreans still appeared to almost consider Cheju islanders as a distinct people.

Customs 風俗

Their customs are silly and frugal, but they maintain rites and deference 俗癡儉有禮讓:

The customs [of Cheju islanders] are silly and frugal. Many houses are thatched and men and women like to wear straw shoes. They have no tread mill and women only pound grains with a wooden pestle by hand in a mortar. They carry their wooden water containers on their backs. No one carries things on the head [as in the mainland[. When men and women encounter an official on the road, the [women] flee and hide while men must lie prostrate on the road.

The local language is difficult to understand 俚語艱澁:

The local peoples’ language is difficult to understand. When they speak, they have a high [intonation] first and then after that, a low one. Kim Chŏng said in the P’ungt’orok, “The sound of natives’ speech is fine and high-pitched, thus it is piercing as a needle and cuts [as a knife]. There is much that one cannot clearly hear.”

In the Chugi, it is said, “The language has many sounds that differ: the capital Seoul is called Sŏna, forest is called kotcha, hill is called orŭm, fingernail is called kup, mouth is called kulle, horse bridle is called noktae, and the iron bit for a horse is called kadal. Their language is like this.”

Tombs rise at the head of fields 田頭起墳:

[The people] hold funerary rites for a hundred days and then they take off their mourning garb to go plow and dig out part of the head of their field for a tomb. Sometimes there are occasions where they have funerary rites for three years. Their customs do not use geomantic divination nor do they use Buddhist burial methods.

They revere perverse rituals 尙淫祀:

By custom, they reveir perverse rituals. Hence they [enshrine] deities in mountains, forests, rivers, ponds, hills, hillsides, trees, and rocks.

Every year, from the new year to the middle of the month, they gather at female and male shamans to get their divinations, host exorcisms, and put on merrymaking as they play the gong and barrel drum while they line up at the front of the road to the village entrance. They compete with one another over putting up ritual offerings and grain. Also, up into the first day of the second month, in Kwidŏk, Kimyŏng, etc., they set up twelve wood poles to welcome the gods and perform rituals.

People who live in Aewŏl gather wood, make them into a horse’s head shape, and decorate it with silk to put on the “Yangmahŭi” [literally “galloping horse festival,” but this is a derivative of an older Cheju term that refers to sending offerings off in miniature boats] to entertain the gods. These rituals go up to the middle of the month. It is called “Yŏngdŭng.” In this month people are forbidden to sail.

In spring and autumn, men and women all gather at Kwangyang Shrine and Ch’agwi Shrine to offer alcohol and meat to the gods. In this land there are many snakes, vipers, and centipedes. If one sees a grey snake, then that is the deity of Ch’agwi Shrine and one cannot kill it.

The P’ungt’orok says, “[The people] hold spirits and ghosts in extremely high regard. Male shamans are very many. Threatening people with disaster, they steal offerings like collecting dirt. Important holidays are on the first day of the month, the fiftenth day, and days with sevens (7th, 17th, 27th). On these days, they hunt animals and offer them at shrines.”

Many people live long 人多壽考:

Few natives are afflicted with disease and there are no people who die too early. There are many people who reach ages of 80 or 90.

Thinking about this now, in this region, even though it is called a warm place, at the north face of Hallasan, the mountain blocks the hot humid air of the southern ocean. Even if there is much strong wind coming from the north, it is also driven and scattered when it mixes and meets the hot air. This is what makes people live long. But this is not so much the case at the south side of the mountain than the north.

The weather is always warm 天氣常暖:

In the spring and summer it is cloudy [to the point that] it is dark. By the autumn and winter it is clear. The grass, trees, and insects pass through winter and do not die off.

There are no fierce predators on the mountain 山無惡獸:

There are no tigers, bears, wild dogs, wolves, or any beasts that may harm humans. Furthermore, there are no foxes, rabbits, eagle-owls, magpies, or such animals.

They do not use fowling or fishing nets 不用網罟:

The mountain and sea are rough and so they do not use fowling or fishing nets. They directly catch fish and shoot animals [with bows and arrows].

The Tug-of-War Festival 照里戱:

Every year on 8/15, men and women come together to sing and dance. They divide themselves into two teams and pull each end of a large tug-of-war rope to best the other side. If the rope breaks while it is being tugged, both teams fall to the ground and the audience gives out a great laugh. This day is also a festival for swinging contests and cockfights.

By the peculiarities of their customs, their soldiers are fierce but the commoners are foolish 風殊俗別卒悍民嚚:

In a preface sent to the Prefect Yi Wŏnhang, Kwŏn Kŭn wrote, “T’amna is in the middle of the sea. From the age when our country was Silla, they dispatched tributary as our dependents. This continued into Koryŏ times. It was established [at that time] as the [district of] Chejumok. When the state [of Chosŏn] came to be, they did likewise. [The state] had a need to choose among the assets of the court’s civil and military people one who had dignity and grace to make as a Prefect. But [as you are] sailing to a far off [place], going across an endless hundreds of li, [you will encounter] the danger of hazardous, unpredictable waves until you arrive there. Then [you shall see] that the customs are peculiar – their soldiers are fierce but their commoners are absurd. If happy, they are like humans. If in rage, they become beasts and keeping them at bay would be difficult.”

The land is barren and the people are poor 地瘠民貧:

The following was reported to the chancellor in the 12th year of King Munjong of Koryŏ [1058]: “The land of T’amna is barren and its people are poor. They can only carry on their lives by sailing.”

The Chugi says, “The soil quality is light and dry [and hence prone to erosion]. Reclaiming the fields require steering oxen or horses to trample [the soil]. They continuously plow for two to three years and should they not get even an ear of grain, they reclaim a new field. They double their efforts, but acquire a meager harvest. This is what causes many people to be poor.”

Their customs are barbaric and their land is remote 俗獠地遠:

Chŏng I-o sent to Pak Tŏkkong the following as a preface for Pak’s new post: “The customs are barbaric and the land is remote. Adding to this, the Sŏngju and Wangja as well as the native nobility and strongmen compete with one another to control their people, using them as corvee labor. They are abusive to their people and use them as they please. I have heard that they are difficult to control.”

They pile stones to make walls 石築垣:

The Tongmungam says, “The land is littered with many rocks. Originally there were no wet rice paddies. Only barely, beans, and millet could grow there. In the past, the fields were without defined boundaries. Strong and fierce families would encroach on them daily and eat off of them. The people were in distress. When Kim Ku was made Administrative Assistant [1234-1239], he inquired about the people’s pains and troubles. He had them gather stones and pile them to make walls as boundaries. This was of great convenience to the people.”

Women are many yet men are few 女多男少:

Those who seek marriage must prepare alcohol and meat. Presents for the wedding are likewise. On the wedding night, they prepare alcohol and meat and visit their wives’ parents. After getting drunk, they go into a room.

Women are many and men are few. Monks all make a house beside their temples for wives and children. Even beggars have wives and children.

Transport ships carrying tribute and private goods go and come endlessly. The oceanic routes are dangerous and long. It is often the case that sailors end up shipwrecked or drowned. Thus here in this district, people consider having daughters important.

The people do not prize royal posts from the capital 不貴京職:

The Chugi says, “As the capital is far off, obtaining titles and ranks is difficult. Natives with talent and favor of the people are honored only with the affairs of the administrative compound. They do not know how to prize royal ranks.”

The P’ungt’orok says, “From those below titled ranks to those with titles, people exchange favors with high officials appointed by the court. They are made local army commanders. This is so with the company commander, the district clerk, the official seal keeper, and the tribute student. Each and every one is involved in getting benefits for himself. Even the most trivial things have bribes involved. They know neither shame nor righteousness. In any matter they use the strong to oppress the weak with callousness and refuse to observe benevolence. They do not disseminate His Majesty’s teachings to the people. The officials lust for land like the disgraced Yukhan [Kim Ryul, who was Prefect for six months in 1506] yet people do not see this as unusual. If there is someone upright and righteous, the commoners regard his grace, but the corrupt groups mock him as a fool.”

They bind arundinella and eulalia grasses and do not cover roofs [with tile] 茅茨不編:

The P’ungt’orok says, “People all reside in houses that are thatched but not covered with tile. Or they live in hovels topped with long wood bound and pressed. Tile-roof houses are extremely few. Aside from titled officials, people are without ondol heating. They dig holes in the earth floor and cover them with stones. These are topped with dirt and mud. Once they dry, the people settle on them.”

The people use a lot of soju 多用燒酒:

The P’ungt’orok says, “Rice is extremely scarce. The local elite trades for it with the mainland to eat. But those without means eat coarse grains from the fields. Pure alcohol is extremely prized.”

The sound of songs sung while working the mortar is painful 杵歌聲苦:

In native custom, all labor is actually done by women. Two or three, or three or four people pound together on one mortar. They must sing a song to each other while pounding it. The pitch is extremely distressing. It is like the turning and grinding of the mortar itself.

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


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)


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.

A Chronology in the Record of T’amna (1653)


The T’amnaji (“The Record of T’amna”) was a compilation done at the hand of the official Yi Wŏnjin 이원진 鎭 (1594-1665) during his time as Cheju’s prefect 목사 牧使 in 1653. Yi also has the unusual distinction of being one of the first Chosŏn Korean officials depicted in European literature as the benevolent and dedicated governor in Hendrik Hamel’s account of his captivity in Korea (Ledyard 1971). Aside from his merits as a skilled administrator, an important accomplishment during his time in office was to produce an annotated record of the island that continues to be of crucial importance to any student of Cheju seeking a window, however confined, into the island’s pre-twentieth-century past.

When one peruses through the T’amnaji one might notice the terse nature of its language – using the general format of Classical Chinese style official histories – and that its descriptions are often vague, leaving many more questions than answers. As is the case in most of the world including Europe until as late as the 18th and 19th centuries, most historical accounts are often elite-centered and it was often the case that non-elite people were depicted by sheer accident or coincidence. The most conspicuous feature of the “Chronicle” section itself is largely a political history with terse statements about new administrative offices placed, reorganized, or abolished. For the casual reader, this would be a dry history though for one interested in Korean political history, one may note a time lag between the development of local offices in the peninsula and their application to Cheju, a factor that runs contrary to some perspectives that Korean kingdoms were necessarily much involved in micromanaging Cheju. While there is no doubt that mainland rule did become oppressive to the point that rebellions were frequent on Cheju, the island’s relationship to the mainland rather seems ambiguous given that its native titles as well as the Mongol titles of “East and West Amak” appeared to have survived until as late as the early fifteenth century. In some instances, specific names of Cheju’s native leaders appear. The bare-bones nature of the history provided is also due to a fire in 1435 that destroyed most of Cheju’s earlier records. Yi suggests in an annotation that the duties and acts of previous mainland administrators as well as the Sŏngju 성주 星主 (T’amna’s ancient kings) had, until that tragic fire, their governing affairs recorded for “more or less a thousand years.” One might wonder if the T’amnaji, despite its obvious limitations, was an attempt to make up for this severe loss.

Nevertheless, given the dire lack of extant historical sources on early Cheju, the T’amnaji is indispensable. Its very short sections on Cheju history and local customs, despite an obvious mainland bias, do provide some clues about life in Cheju. Yi’s descriptions in the section on local customs that come some sections after the chronicle mention the pervasiveness of shamanic practice among Cheju men and women – including a note that male shamans were remarkably common (in contrast to the mainland where shamanism tends to be associated, however erroneously, as feminine) – as well as some of the earliest confirmed references to the worship of the Yŏngdŭng deity. Furthermore, the T’amnaji is an invaluable text for finding the earlier place names, historical sites now long-lost, notable figures that came out of Cheju’s elite such as the descendants of T’amna’s ancient “Sŏngju” Ko clan royalty, and miscellaneous details about the local economy.

The following is only a translation of the “Kŏnch’i yŏnhyŏk” (organizational chronology), which I have rendered as “Chronicle,” the short first section of the book. Typical of official histories, the “Kŏnch’i yŏnhyŏk” follows the basic style of dynastic chronologies and therefore draws from the Chosŏn dynasty histories, the Koryŏsa (The History of the Koryŏ Dynasty), and the Koryŏsa Chŏllyo (Essentials of the Koryŏ Dynasty History). Though Yi compiled this text in 1653, the chronology section ends only at 1469. The translation I provide below is an independent effort and thus there may be some awkward renderings.

The language of the chronicle is mostly straightforward, but I did encounter several difficulties in translating this otherwise terse document in handwritten Classical Chinese into English: 1) the terse nature of the original document; 2) a few parts of the original document were damaged by age and thus occasionally unreadable; and 3) the Sino-Korean official titles and ranks were not easily translatable into English. As a result, my translation is admittedly coarse. To address these issues, I cross-checked the handwritten characters in Yi Wŏnjo’s (1792-1871) Chŭngbo T’amnaji (Supplemental Record of T’amna) compiled during his term as Cheju prefect in 1841, and the KoryŏsaChosŏn wangjo sillok (Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty). On some occasions, Yi Wŏnjo’s document possessed some erroneous transcriptions. The source document I used is actually the complete photocopy of the book included as an addendum to the Yŏkchu T’amnaji (The Translated and Annotated Record of T’amna) edited and published by Cheju scholars Kim Ch’anhŭp, Ko Ch’angsŏk, Kim Hye-u, Kim Sangok, Cho Sŏng’yun, Kang Ch’angnyong, O Ch’angmyŏng, and O Sujŏng in 2002. The Yŏkchu T’amnaji was a translation into Korean and included glosses for certain terms and titles that the original source document did not explain. Although I occasionally referred to this Korean translation for more puzzling points of the document, I mostly translated directly from Classical Chinese into English as the grammatical structure of Chinese is more readily transferable to English than Korean. Since the aforementioned scholars and I appear to have parsed the document differently, my translation has some subtle differences though the content is generally the same. On the matter of official titles, I used John B. Duncan’s renderings in The Origins of the Chosŏn Dynasty (2000) when applicable and sometimes resorted to Charles Hucker’s Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China (1985). Where translations for titles were absent, particularly in regard to Cheju-specific titles, I attempted to supply my own translations.

The original document is written in long paragraphs, but I have chosen to re-represent it as a chronicle in part to mitigate the repetition. Entries are written with the year of the reigning king of the event as well as the sexagenary year (a system of defining years based on astrological concepts in 60-year intervals from classical Chinese time-keeping) after a comma. Yi Wŏnjin’s annotations are enclosed in parentheses under each entry while my annotations for clarity are in brackets.


The Record of T’amna

From the east side of Cheju 제주 濟州 [Cheju-ŭpsŏng, present-day Cheju City] to the boundaries of Chŏngŭi-hyŏn 정의현 定義縣 [present-day Sŏng-ŭp], [the land stretches] 80 li [1 li is approximately 1/3 mile]. From the west side to Taejŏng-hyŏn 대정현 大淨縣 it is 81 li. To the south to the sea it is 120 li while to the north [from the wall] it is 1 li. From Kwanduryang in Haenam [in present-day South Chŏlla Province] via the sea route, it is 970 li.


[Origin]: [This land] was originally one of the Nine Han. It was called T’angna 탁라 乇羅 (the Account of An Hong 안홍기 安弘記 lists it as the fourth of the Nine Han) or it was also called T’ammora 탐모라 耽牟羅. [The island] is in the middle of the sea to the south of Chŏlla Province and encompasses some 400 li.

In the beginning, there were the three brothers Ko Ŭlla 고을나 高乙那, Yang Ŭlla 양을나 良乙那, and Pu Ŭlla 부을나 夫乙那. They divided in succession their lands and made them their domains, calling them to 도 徒 [groups or tribes] (in the Augmented Geographic Survey 여지승람 輿地勝覽, it is rendered as “capital” 도 都).

During Silla times, Ko Hu 고후 高厚, Ko Ch’ŏng 고청 高淸, and their younger brother (his name is lost to us, therefore he is called “the younger brother”), crossed the sea on a ship and paid tribute to the court for the first time. [Ko] Hu was called the “Sŏngju” 성주 星主, [Ko] Ch’ŏng was called the “Wangja” 왕자 王子 [literally “prince,” but this seems to have meant chieftain for this case], and the youngest was called the “Tonae” 도내 徒內 [Retainer]. They were bestowed the country name of “T’amna” 탐라 耽羅. [Whether these titles were originally T’amna titles given Sino-Korean renderings and recognized by the Silla king or if they were actually given by the Silla court is unclear, but it seems that “Sŏngju” at least referred to the ruler of T’amna.]

2nd year of King Munju of Paekche, Pyŏngjin 百濟 文周王 二年 丙辰 [476]: After the previous events, they [T’amna] came to serve the Kingdom of Paekche. The emissary of T’amna [when he arrived at the Paekche court] was given the title “Ŭnsol” [title function unknown].

20th year of King Tongsŏng of Paekche, Kyŏngsin 百濟 東城王 二十年 庚申 [498]: [The Paekche kingdom] sent a punitive force was sent because T’amna did not arrange for tribute. The army went as far as Mujinju (present-day Kwangju, Chŏlla Province) when the lord [of T’amna] heard of this. The [T’amna lord] sent an emissary to beg for forgiveness and the campaign was stopped.

1st year of King Munmu of Silla, Imsul 新羅 文武王 元年 壬戌 [662]: T’amna’s lord, then the Chwap’yŏng of Paekche (Ŭnsol and Chwap’yŏng are Paekche titles and when Paekche granted investiture to the T’amna lord he was made Chwap’yŏng [the functions and meanings of these titles are unknown], came to Todongŭmnyul and submitted [to Silla suzerainty].

20th [21st] year of King T’aejo of Koryŏ, Musul 高麗 太祖王 二十年 戊戌 [938; the original text erroneously puts this as the 20th year when Musul is actually the 21st year]: The lord of the T’amna kingdom dispatched his Crown Prince Mallo 말노 末老 to the Koryŏ court. As was the case previously [in Silla], titles Sŏngju and Wangja were again bestowed [and recognized].

10th year of King Sukong of Koryŏ, Ŭryu 高麗 肅宗王 十年 乙酉 [1105]: T’angna (another name for T’amna) was changed to T’amna Prefecture 탐라군 耽羅郡.

Reign of King Ŭijong of Koryŏ 高麗 毅宗 [1146-1170]: The prefecture title was abolished and [T’amna] was made into a county 현 縣. A magistrate 령 令 was dispatched.

Reign of King Kojong of Koryŏ 高麗 高宗 [1213-1259]: A Deputy Commissioner 부사 副使 was dispatched.

8th year of King Wŏnjong of Koryŏ, Chŏngmyo 高麗 元宗王 八年 丁卯 [1267]: The petty criminal Mun Haengno 문행노 文幸奴 raised a rebellion. Deputy Commissioner Ch’oe T’ak 최탁 崔托 mustered an army to strike them down.

11th year of King Wŏnjong of Koryŏ, Kyŏngo 高麗 元宗王 十一年 庚午 [1270]: The rebel Kim T’ongjŏng 김통정 金通精 lead the Three Special Units [Sambyŏlch’o 삼별초 三別抄] to relocate to Chindo Island.

12th year of King Wŏnjong of Koryŏ, Sinmi 高麗 元宗王 十二年 辛未 [1271]: The Three Special Units invaded and plundered [Cheju]. The Sŏngju Ko Injo 고인조 高仁朝, Wangja Mun Ch’angu 王子 文昌祐, and some others came over to inform [the Koryŏ court of this matter.]

14th year of King Wŏnjong of Koryŏ, Kyeyu 高麗 元宗王 十四年 癸酉 [1273]: The king ordered Kim Panggyŏng 김방경  and others to join with the Yuan (Mongol) imperial army to crush the rebels.

15th year of King Wŏnjong of Koryŏ, Kapsul 高麗 元宗王 十五年 甲戌 [1274]: An overseer (Ch’ot’osa 초토사 使 [also known as the Darughachi 達魯花赤]) from the Yuan Empire was assigned [in Cheju].

1st year of King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Ŭrhae 高麗 忠烈王 元年 乙亥 [1275]: The Yuan restored the name “T’amna” [the Koryŏ court had previously renamed the island with the pejorative name “Cheju,” the “district over the water”; this is not mentioned in Yi’s account nor is there any explanation on the circumstances though the name first appears in Korean records in 1223].

2nd year of King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Pyŏngja 高麗 忠烈王 二年 丙子[1276]: The Yuan Empire established [in Cheju] a General Military and Civil Office 군민총관부 府.

3rd year of King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Chŏngch’uk 高麗 忠烈王 三年 丁丑 [1277]: The Yuan assigned East and West Amaks 아막 阿幕 [technically Pasture Attendants, but also de facto strongmen to maintain Mongol rule] to manage the cattle, horses, donkeys, and sheep pastures. A Darughachi 다루가치  [Overseer] was also sent to direct them.

10th year of King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Kapsin 高麗 忠烈王 十年 甲申 [1284]: The Yuan dismantled the general administrative office in order to install the Military and Civil Pacification Commissioner 군민안무사 軍民按撫使.

20th year of King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Kabo 高麗 忠烈王 二十年 甲午 [1294]: King [Ch’ungnyŏl] requested at the court to the Emperor that T’amna be returned [to Koryŏ rule]. The Secretariat Director 丞相 of the Yuan Empire Wan Ze and some others informed the Emperor. The Emperor granted his approval and [T’amna] was returned to our country.

21st year of King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Ŭlmi  高麗 忠烈王 二十一年 乙未 [1295]: [The name T’amna] was changed to “Cheju” 제주 濟州 and [the court] dispatched a Prefect 목사 牧使 and Administrative Assistant 판관 判官.

26th year of King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Kyŏngja 高麗 忠烈王 二十六年 庚子 [1300]: [Cheju] was divided into east and west counties 동서도현 東西道縣. (County villages were listed as follows: Kwiil, 귀일 歸日, Konae 고내 高內, Aewŏl 애월 涯月, Kwakchi 곽지 郭支, Kwidŏk 귀덕 歸德, Myŏngwŏl 명월 明月, Sinch’on 신촌 新村, Hamdŏk 함덕 咸德, Kimnyŏng 김령 金寧, Hoch’on 호촌 弧村, Hongno 홍로 洪爐, Yerae 예래 猊來, Sanbang 산방 山房, Ch’agwi 차귀 遮歸, and so on. Large villages had three headmen 호장 戶長 and one fortress steward 성상 城上, medium villages had three headmen, and small villages had one [headman]. Thinking about it, it was previously established that in Silla times when Ko Hu was given investiture, the villages were established [as administrative units]. During the reign of King Ŭijong of Koryŏ, they were further divided amongst counties. When the Three Special Units were crushed during King Wŏnjong’s time [the island] was merged into a single district. Up to this time, county towns were further established. Whether this logically corresponds to the era [in which the villages were established as such] is unclear.)

In the same year, Dowager Empress Ki 기황후 奇皇后 of the Yuan Empire sent imperial horses to [Cheju’s] pasture.

28th year of King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Imin 高麗 忠烈王 二十八年 壬寅 [1302]: The Yuan dispatched a Myriarch 군민만호부 軍民萬戶府 to Cheju.

31st year of  King Ch’ungnyŏl of Koryŏ, Ŭlsa 高麗 忠烈王 三十一年 乙巳 [1305]: Cheju was returned to our country.

5th year of King Ch’ungsuk of Koryŏ 高麗 忠肅王 五年 戊午[1318]: Petty criminals Sayong 사용 士用, Ŏmbok 엄복 嚴卜, and others raised an army to rebel. The Wangja of Cheju Mun Kongje  王子 文公濟 along with others mobilized an army to crush them. This matter came to the Yuan court’s attention and they again dispatched administrators.

11th year of King Kongmin of Koryŏ, Imin 高麗 恭愍王 十一年 壬寅 [1362]: The Yuan stables manager 목자 牧子 appealed to the Yuan imperial court to request that a Myriarch be again dispatched [to Cheju]. The empire made Deputy Commissioner Mun Adanburhwa 문아단불화 文 阿但不花 the administrator 정치사 整治事. (Adanburhwa came to Cheju with a Korean bound servant, Kim Changno 김장노 金長老, to flog the previous Myriarch Pak Toson 朴都孫 and toss him into the sea.)

16th year  of King Kongmin of Koryŏ, Chŏngmi 高麗 恭愍王 十六年 丁未 [1367]: The Yuan Empire fell and the Ming Empire was established. Emperor Taizu 大明 太祖 restored [the rights to] Cheju to our country. At the time, the Yuan stable managers were strong and fierce and they rebelled against the several Myriarchs sent by the [Koryŏ] state. Kim Yu 김유 金瘐 suppressed them and informed the king. He requested that the horses be sent [as tribute goods] as in the past. The Ming Emperor accepted this.

18th year of King Kongmin of Koryŏ, Kiyu 高麗 恭愍王 十八年 己酉 [1369]: For the first time, Kim Sebong 김세봉 金世奉 was made a Pacification Commissioner 안무사 按撫使.

21st  year of King Kongmin of Koryŏ, Imja 高麗 恭愍王 二十一年 壬子 [1372]: Sŏkkaŭlbi 석가을비 , Ch’odobogae 초도보개 , and others declared themselves the East and West Overseers 동서하치 東西 and slew the [Koryŏ] administrators. The Wangja Mun Sinbo 왕자 문신보 王子 文臣輔 sent his brother Sinp’il 신필 臣弼 to inform the [Koryŏ] court of this matter.

23rd year of King Kongmin of Koryŏ, Kabin 高麗 恭愍王 二十三年 甲寅 [1374]: The King sent the Commissioner of General Command Ch’oe Yŏng 도통사 최영 都統使 崔瑩 to destroy the Overseers and made Kim Chunggwang 김중광 金仲光 both Myriarch 만호 萬戶 and Prefect 목사 牧使.

7th year of King U of Koryŏ, Sinyu 高麗 王 七年 辛酉 [1381]: For the first time, an Administrative Assistant 판관 判官 [of our country] was dispatched [to Cheju].

6th year of King T’aejo of Chosŏn, Chŏngch’uk 朝鮮 太祖王 六年 丁丑 [1397]: [The court] abolished the office of the Myriarch they established a Prefect 목사 牧使 and Garrison Commander 첨절제사 僉節制使 at the same time.

1st year of King T’aejong of Chosŏn, Sinsa 朝鮮 太宗王 元年 辛巳 [1401]: The Pacification Commissioner 안무사 按撫使 was placed along with a Prefect 목사 牧使.

2nd year of King T’aejong of Chosŏn, Imo 朝鮮 太宗王 二年 壬午 [1402]: Cheju’s Sŏngju Ko Pongnye 성주 고봉례 星主 高鳳禮 and Wangja Mun Ch’ungse 왕자 문충세 王子 文忠世 among others requested that their titles be changed. They felt that their ranks seemed excessive. The Sŏngju was named the Senior Regional Administrator 좌도지관 左道知管 while the Wangja was named the Junior Regional Administrator 우도지관 右道知管.

8th year of King T’aejong of Chosŏn, Muja 朝鮮 太宗王 八年 戊子 [1408]: The offices of the East and West Pasture Attendants (Amak) 동서아막 東西阿幕 were abolished. A Directorate of Pastures 감목관 監牧官 was set up [in their place].

13th year of King T’aejong of Chosŏn, Kyesa 朝鮮 太宗王 十三年 癸巳 [1413]: The court dispatched a separate Instructor 교수 敎授 [Instructor in Confucian governance and morality].

16th year of King T’aejong of Chosŏn, Pyŏngsin 朝鮮 太宗王 十六年 丙申 [1416]: Pacification Minister O Sik 안무사 오식 按撫使 吳湜 informed [the court] that the two [additional] counties of Chŏngŭi and Taejŏng were designated. [Because of Hallasan in the middle, dividing the island into three districts made governing more efficient.]

10th year of King Sejong of Chosŏn, Musin 朝鮮 世宗王 十年 戊申 [1428]: The Directorate of Pastures 감목관 監牧官 was abolished and combined with the [duties of] the Administrative Assistant 판관 判官.

20th year of King Sejong of Chosŏn, Kyehae 朝鮮 世宗王 二十年 癸亥 [1443]: The Pacification Commissioner 안무사 按撫使 served as both the Prefect 목사 牧使 and the Director of Pastures 지감목사 知監牧事.

27th year of King Sejong of Chosŏn, Ŭlch’uk 朝鮮 世宗王 二十七年 乙丑 [1445]: The titles of Senior and Junior Regional Administrators 좌우도지관 左右道知管 [the local leaders of Cheju] were abolished. (The titles of Sŏngju and Wangja were what they [Cheju leaders] used when they were granted investiture from the Silla king. These were customary titles for generations. This history carried on into Koryŏ times. As rebellions broke out, however, their generosities were divided and they sometimes obeyed or sometimes betrayed. At the same time, the [Korean] state dispatched Commissioners of Pacification 안무사 按撫使 / 선무사 宣撫使 / 순무사 巡撫使, Commissioners of Directives 지휘사 指揮使, Frontier Defense Commanders 방어사 防禦使, Deputy Commissioners 부사 副使, and Prefects 목사 牧使. The Yuan Empire likewise sent Bandit-Suppression Commissioners 초토사 招討使, Overseers 다루가치 赤, Judges 단사관 斷事官, and Myriarchs 만호 萬戶 as their Pacification Officers 초무사 招撫使. The Sŏngju and Wangja each had their own administrative centers set up and maintained their customs and devotion to contributing tribute goods [to the Korean kingdom and to the Mongols]. It is known that in the times of this dynasty [Chosŏn], to request a lesser title is worthy of praise. After [the Cheju leaders’ request to do so], the administrative titles were abolished. Only the knowledgeable  among townspeople were made High or Deputy Garrison Commanders 상진무 上鎭撫 / 부진무 副鎭撫 to take on matters of defense. For more or less a thousand years, the district administrators have recorded these matters. But in the seventeenth year of King Sejong [1435], during the time of the Pacification Minister Ch’oe Haesan 안무사 최해산 按撫使 崔海山, the government office was lost in a fire. All historical records were sadly lost in that disaster.)

2nd year of King Tanjong of Chosŏn, Kapsul 朝鮮 端宗王 二年 甲戌 [1454]: The Pacification Commissioner 안무사 按撫使 served as the Director of Pasture Land 감목사 監牧事.

12th year of King Sejo of Chosŏn, Pyŏngsul 朝鮮 世祖王 十二年 丙戌 [1466]: The Pacification Commissioner 안무사 按撫使 office was reformed to served as the Director of Pastures 감목사 監牧事 as garrisons 진 鎭 were established. The Army and Navy Commander 병마수군절제사 兵馬水軍節制使 doubled as the Commandant and Director of Pastures  감목절제사 監牧節制使.

1st year of King Yejong of Chosŏn, Kich’uk 朝鮮 睿宗王 元年 己丑 [1469]: A Prefect 목사 牧使 was again dispatched to double as the Army and Navy Commander 병마수군절제사 兵馬水軍節制使 while Administrative Assistant 판관 判官 doubled as the Commandant and Director of Pastures 절제도위감목관 節制都尉監牧官.


Duncan, John B. 2000. The origins of the Chosŏn dynasty. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Hucker, Charles O. 1985. A dictionary of official titles in imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Ledyard, Gari. 1971. The Dutch come to Korea. Seoul: Royal Asiatic Society, Korea branch.

Yi Wŏnjin. 2002/2007 (1653). Yŏkchu T’amnaji. Kim Ch’anhŭp, Ko Ch’angsŏk, Kim Hye-u, Kim Sangok, Cho Sŏng’yun, Kang Ch’angnyong, O Ch’angmyŏng, and O Sujŏng, translators. Seoul: P’urŭn yŏksa.

Yi Wŏnjo. 2007 (1841). T’amnaji ch’obon (sang-ha). Ko Ch’angsŏk, Kim Ch’anhŭp, O Munbok, Kim Hye-u, Kim Sangok, Kang Ch’angnyong, O Ch’angmyŏng, and O Sujŏng, translators. Cheju: Cheju National University.

“Mountain Gods” and “Lord Hallasan”

A common deity encountered across the various forms of spirituality practiced in Cheju and mainland Korea is the ubiquitous worship of an ambiguously-defined deity referred to as “sansin” (mountain god) 산신. Should one visit a temple or a private shrine in mainland Korea, one might notice a detached altar (or an entire prayer room) featuring the image of an elderly bearded sage accompanied with a tiger. Images may vary depending on the era of the painting or specific region in Korea, but the features are consistent all across the peninsula. As nearly three quarters of the Korean peninsula is mountainous, the mountain deity is among the most indispensable figures that appears in multiple forms of Korean spirituality from local variants of shamanic worship to Buddhism and from Confucian ritual to new religious movements. Not merely the refuge of shamans and Daoists, religious mystics of a variety of faiths, including early Protestant converts in the early 20th century, took to mountains in troubled times in hope of gaining spiritual insight directly from the divine. Aside from the aesthetic and spiritual import of mountains as the geographic point of contact between heaven and earth, mountains were also key refuge points during invasions; the multitude of fortifications on them such as Namhansansŏng, in which King Injo himself sought refuge during the early 17th century Manchu invasions, in the Greater Seoul area attests to their strategic value. In all cases, the presence of sansin is widely felt. In shamanic and Buddhist ritual, ritual practitioners perform specific devotional chants to the Sansin such as the Sansin’gyŏng for the deity’s protection as well as permission to build or maintain sacred spaces on mountain domains. To whom or what sansin refers is seldom explicit. The title tends to refer to an enigmatic caretaker deity of Korea’s wilderness. Some new religious movements in the Korean mainland associate sansin with Tan’gun, the purported ancestor of Korean civilization, as the tiger image is interpreted to represent the same tiger who failed to change to a human in the myth of ancient Chosŏn. Though often regarded as a particularly “Korean” feature, the mountain god is not unique to Korea per se. Many different spiritual traditions around the world identify mountains as points of access between this world and the supernatural realm such as Mount Olympus in ancient Greece or Mount Sumeru in South Asia. What sets apart Korean expressions of mountain veneration from neighboring traditions is the ubiquitous esteem given to the enigmatic guardians of these sacred geographies.

What of the sansin of Cheju Island where there is but one main mountain of reference, Hallasan? One may be surprised that the moniker can be equally vague in Cheju. If one were to follow popularized re-representations of island culture too closely, one may also be surprised that the mountain deity in Cheju is not actually related to the legendary titan-goddess Sŏlmundae, who, according to legend, crafted the mountain with her bare hands.  Even in the Cheju pantheon where deities are very much location-specific, the mountain deity’s identity is paradoxically defined yet also can be unclear. When Cheju islanders perform rites to sansin at Sanch’ŏndan 산천단 shrine in Ara-tong, the ponhyangdang 본향당 at Wahŭl 와흘, or the various Buddhist altars around the ruins of Pŏpjŏngsa 법정사 temple in upland Sŏgwip’o 서귀포, are people venerating a specific deity, a group of deities, or the abstract concept of nature guardian deity? Short answer: all of the above. An important characteristic of Cheju spirituality to keep in mind is that while it overlaps with the “universal” traditions (such as Confucianism and Buddhism) many practices are still very region-specific. Religion in Cheju has long related to immediate community or personal needs rather than abstract concepts. In forms of Buddhism in Cheju, how sansin are venerated are specific to particular congregations as local-born clergy may sometimes refer to an indigenous rather than generalized form. The “Confucian” Sanch’ŏndan rites likewise are directed at Hallasan as the original shrine itself was located further up the mountain side.

Across Cheju, one may find deities with the vague title sansin or the particular title “Harosantto” 하로산또 (“Hallasannim” 한라산님 in Standard Korean), or Lord Hallasan. Not to be mistaken with the smaller tree of the grandmother goddess Sŏjŏngsŭng Ttanim 서정승 따님, the main sinmok 신목 (god tree) at Wahŭl’s famed photogenic shrine, Han’gŏri Harosandang 한거리 하로산당, is a deity with the title of “Harosantto.” A deity with the same title also appears in other parts of Cheju such as Hogŭn-tong 호근동 and Sŏho-tong 서호동 in the Sŏgwip’o area. What differs in Cheju from the Korean mainland in the portrayal of Sansin and especially “Harosantto” is that instead of a wizened Daoist-like sage accompanied with a tiger, the mountain deities literally have a far more down-to-earth form. Cheju’s mountain deities tend to be represented as a fur-clad hunter-gatherers with a bow or rifle. The Sansin nori 산신 놀이(Mountain Deity’s Skit) portion of the May 1, 2015 Puldodang 불도당 ritual in Wasan 와산, which culminates in a chicken sacrifice, features shamans and somi 소미 (attendant shamans) playing the role of rifle-armed hunters who meander around the shrine grounds before the final sacrifice ritual. Their calls of “Mŏru mŏru mŏru, wŏri wŏri wŏri” 머루머루머루 월이월이월이 to one another mimic that of a hunter calling to a dog. In this case, one can observe that the animal that attends the mountain deity is not a tiger but perhaps a hunter’s dog. If sansin in the Korean mainland parallels Tan’gun, then sansin and Harosantto in Cheju likewise seem to parallel the ancestor demigods of T’amna: Ko, Yang, Pu were depicted as hunter-gatherers who sprung from the earth. The deity Soch’ŏn’guk 소천국, the consort to Songdang’s chief agricultural patron goddess Paekchu 백주, also is depicted as a hunter-gatherer. Not coincidentally, some of these “Harosantto” are related to the family of deities based at Songdang; Wahŭl’s Harosantto, for example, is the 11th son of Paekchu.

  • Fieldwork conducted on May 1, 2015 in Wasan; May 4, 2015 at Pŏpjŏngsa temple site; and February 21, 2016 in Wahŭl

The Significance of Yŏngdŭng-kut

In the second lunar month, which can be around February and March, one might notice in Old Town Cheju City banners celebrating a ritual called “Ch’ilmŏri-tang Yŏngdŭng-kut” 칠머리당 영등굿 (Chilmeori Shrine Yeongdeung-gut). This is the Cheju City version of an island-wide annual ritual sequence dedicated to the Yŏngdŭng 영등 deities and Yowang 요왕 (Kr.: Yongwang 용왕, the Dragon King of the Sea). Ch’ilmŏri Shrine 칠머리당, which is now on the city park of Sarabong 사라봉 hill after being thrice moved due to urban development, is the shrine of Kŏnip-tong 건입동, a historic part of the old city.

The ritual sequence referred to collectively as “Yŏngdŭng-kut” comprises are two major rituals – the yowang maji (sea god welcoming rite) by the harbor and the songbyŏlche (sendoff ceremony) at Ch’ilmŏri Shrine. According to tradition, the Yŏngdŭng deities arrive first at Cheju City on the lunar 2/1 and then villages across the island until they return to Cheju City on 2/13 and depart Cheju completely by way of Udo island on 2/14. The ritual coincides with specific weather phenomena that occur around the second lunar month in which the winds drastically change and hence the reason that Yŏngdŭng is considered a wind deity. Before the advent of motor boats, most women divers and fishermen observed prohibitions against diving or fishing work during this season. The weather conditions on the maji (welcoming) day also indicate who else accompanies Yŏngdŭng – pleasant weather indicates that the daughter has come while foggy or rainy conditions indicate that the daughter-in-law has come and that Yŏngdŭng is feeling rather irritated. The Yŏngdŭng deities and Yowang visit the island for two weeks and shamans and worshipers entertain them with the hope that they provide blessings and bounty for the year.

Until the drastic changes to Cheju’s demographics and environment in the past thirty years, most villages observed the Yŏngdŭng rituals. Though still performed in much of eastern and northeastern Cheju, what scholars consider the most complete form is ironically in Cheju City (though of course such an assertion is problematic given that traditions constantly change whether scholars like it or not). Shamanic practice faded rather early in western Cheju and Sŏgwip’o area due to a larger Christian and Confucian influence in the former and tourism development in the latter. Many villages that still hold strong belief in Yŏngdŭng and Yowang may no longer hold the full kut 굿(shamanic ritual) but may instead opt for a Yowangje 요왕제 (Kr.: Yongwangje 용왕제, the Dragon King Rites), a Buddhist-shamanic ritual, as is the case in Chongdal-ri 종달리 for practical reasons as many of the original village shamans have died out. In other cases, the ritual merged with Chamsu-kut 잠수굿, the women divers’ ritual. Due to the revived attention since 2010 and the organizing capacities of the Ch’ilmŏri Shrine Yŏngdŭng-kut Preservation Society, some attempts are being made to restore the practice to parts of western Cheju, though based on the Ch’ilmŏri Shrine version.

Who and what is “Yŏngdŭng” can be somewhat confusing if one has a look at the actual historical material and fieldwork research. The most commonly told version of Yŏngdŭng’s myth (and one that I collected in Sinch’ŏn-ri in southeast Cheju) is as follows in abridged form: a group of Cheju sailors found themselves suddenly blown far off course and arrive at a dangerous island of monsters. They encounter a deity called “Yŏngdŭng,” who instructs them to recite a chant to Kwanŭm Posal 관음 보살 (Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara) in order to leave the island’s waters and return to Cheju. When they are far out into sea and think they are safe, they stop their chanting and are blown back to the island. Yŏngdŭng, knowing that this would be the case, offers to directly assist them in returning, provided that Cheju islanders promise to throw an annual ritual feast.

Multiple versions of the myth exist and this is where things can get ambiguous. Although “Yŏngdŭng” is referred to specifically as “Yŏngdŭng Halmang” 영등할망 these days in public based on the Ch’ilmŏri Shrine version, different villages actually had different ways of addressing the deity. In some versions, as is the case in Sinch’ŏn 신천 and Chongdal 종달 where I conducted research as well as in Sinyang 신양 (Tangherlini and Park 1990), “Yŏngdŭng” is “Yŏngdŭng Harŭbang”  영등하르방 (Grandfather Yŏngdŭng). In other versions, Yŏngdŭng is a defied ancient Chinese figure from the Tang Dynasty, a grandmother-grandfather pair, or seven deities of seven divine imperial rankings (Mun MB 1996). Some versions also indicate Yŏngdŭng as being a deity of “Kangnam Ch’ŏnjaguk” (an old Cheju term referring to ancient China). What is consistent in all, however, is that Yŏngdŭng is a sort of wind deity and protector of sailors who comes from a foreign land. Taking into account the myth’s element’s one might notice striking parallels with the worship of Matsu (Mazu) in Fujian Province of China and Taiwan. And given that the old name for China in Cheju specifically refers to the Jiangnan region, which might reference Hangzhou, the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, one might hypothesize that Yŏngdŭng has its origins during the Koryŏ Dynasty (918-1392), a contemporary of Song and a period in which T’amna Cheju had engaged in some form of maritime trade. In any case, “Yŏngdŭng-kut” has a long history and a diverse array of practices. That Yŏngdŭng was historically celebrated across the island also served as an informal means to ritually re-articulate Cheju Island solidarity.


Mun Mubŏng. 1996. “Chejudo-ŭi Yŏngdŭng-kut,” Pigyo minsokhak 13, pp.241-258.

_________. 2005. Param-ŭi ch’ukje Ch’ilmŏri-tang Yŏngdŭng-kut. Seoul: Golden Egg Publishing.

Tangherlini, Timothy R. and So Yŏng Park. 1990. “The comings and goings of a Korean grandfather: the Yŏngdŭng-kut sequence of a Cheju Island village,” Korean studies 14: 84-97.

An Introduction to Cheju Island’s Shrine Shamanism

Cheju Island’s particular form of shamanism, which should be considered distinct from forms of mainland Korean shamanism, is focused on its hundreds of shrines scattered across the island. Shrines are usually built into the natural environment. Although some shrines in recent years have been moved, I would contend that this is not a normal practice in Cheju shamanism. On the contrary, that many of Cheju’s shrines were positioned deliberately at grottoes, promontories, or near natural springs or access to running water is evidence that some forms of geomantic thought had influenced their placement. A departure that I make from Cheju Studies in general is to clarify ‘Cheju shamanism’ in terms of a more communally-oriented village ‘shrine shamanism.’ Whereas private kuttang 굿당(shamanic ritual halls) have come to characterize mainland shamanism have been making headway in Cheju due to their advantages in urbanizing life, most of Cheju’s ‘shamanic’ activity is still anchored to specific shrines and communities. Community worship and shrines do exist in the mainland, but sacred geography maintains far stronger importance in Cheju Island. A clear example would be the fact that Nŭng 능당 and Tonomi 도노미당 Shrines in Cheju City or Sŏgwi Ponhyang 서귀본향당 Shrine in Sŏgwip’o are actively maintained despite the absence of a tang maen simbang 당맨심방 (shrine shaman) indicate that the notion of senjari 센지리 (sacred seat of power) remains crucial even in urban Cheju.

Cheju’s 346 shrines can be categorized as follows: ponhyangdang (village main shrines), ilrwedang (seventh-day shrines), yŏdŭredang (eighth-day shrines), and haesindang (sea deity shrines) (Yi YK: 2005: 236-237). Ponhyangdang 본향당 are of prime ritual importance for most communities while the haesindang 해신당 service seaside communities. Ilrwedang 일뤠당, visited on days with the number 7, are for individual worship, are among the most common types of shrines, do not require a full ritual, and are usually for women who pray for to Samsŭng Halmang 삼승할망 (Kr.: Samsin Halmŏni 삼신할머니) for childbirth, the health of children, or curing of children’s skin diseases. Even to the present ilrwedang remain important. Women typically leave hardboiled egg offerings with the intention of hoping that children’s skin would become as pure as the egg white, but prayers nowadays are for more general family welfare concerns. The yŏdŭredang 여드레당 are similar to ilrwedang in that they are for personal prayer, but as their name suggests they are visited on days with the number 8.

Ponhyangdang are the loci of community ritual and possess specific ponp’uri (origin epic myth) for the tutelary gods. Since each shrine historically had a ponp’uri, shrine origin myths historically numbered in the hundreds, but few remain in their totality, except for the most prominent shrines such as Songdang. Only the twelve ilban ponp’uri (general origin epic myths) of Cheju’s most important deities are known to all Cheju shamans. The Yŏngdŭng 영등 myth, the myth of the wind deity who visits Cheju every year in the Lunar 2/1 to 2/14, is a de facto must-know myth though several different versions exist in both oral and written literature (Mun MB 1996: 242-243). Probably due to a combination of pure accident and a passing curiosity, visiting mainland officials documented instances of the Yŏngdŭng-kut 영등굿 ritual during the early Chosŏn Dynasty. Samsŏnghyŏl 삼성혈, the ancestral shrine of Cheju’s three demigod ancestors, was said to have been a shamanic shrine until as late as the 15th century and the Samsŏng myth was probably related to Songdang’s and Kwaenaegit Shrine’s ponp’uri. The ilban ponp’uri, notably Segyŏng ponp’uri, the epic tale of the cross-dressing warrior goddess of agriculture Chŏch’ŏngbi 저청비 (Kr.: Chach’ŏngbi 자청비) and her lover Mun Toryŏng 문도령, became popularized stories as local and mainland émigré artists reproduce the story in musicals, manhwa (Jp.: manga), and various other performing and visual arts.

Some caveats come with defining ‘Cheju shamanism’ and it is necessary to note that overlaps with Confucianism and Buddhism are common. Where Buddhism, Confucianism, and shamanism begin and end can be ambiguous. A Buddhist monk in rural Hado noted that “when one goes to a temple, one goes to a shrine” (“신당도 가고 절도 가고”) a sentiment also echoed in the now-urban neighborhood of Chŏngsil 정실 in Cheju City where the people who pray at Tonomi Shrine are the same people who attend Wŏlchŏngsa 월정사 temple’s services. Annual male-led ‘Confucian’ maŭlje (village-wide ritual) sometimes take place not at a ‘Confucian’ altar, but rather at the village shrine to greet the tutelary shamanic gods, whom the local tang maein simbang later serenade in a kut.

Previous Older Entries