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.


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.

“Paths of the Lost Kingdom” Walking Tour: Part 2

5. Old city light tower replica 옛 등대 복원지

The two replica light towers that sit atop the hill overlooking the lowland river valley where the old city is situated are based on those that existed at Hallim’s Kosan 한림 고산 and Sŏgwip’o’s Taep’o 서귀포 대포 harbors. Light towers of the like were built at other harbors around Cheju and they were all of varied forms. One existed at the harbor of Yongdam-dong 용담동 where a village emerged around a coastal spring some 400 years ago. During the medieval and Chosŏn Dynasty periods, a small harbor existed at the mouth of Sanjich’ŏn 산지천, but the more important harbor that served the old city was actually at Hwabuk 화북. Cheju lacks significant major natural harbors and it actually was not until the twentieth century that any truly major port existed here. Even when the Chosŏn Dynasty, during its last-ditch attempt at self-strengthening, commissioned its first steamship to sail to Cheju at the end of the 19th century, the ship had no suitable place to anchor at Cheju. Cheju was likely never a major maritime power as some might imagine (with exaggeration), and yet at the same time Cheju was not completely isolated.

Cheju depended much on the sea and hence major ancient settlements such as Samyang 삼양 and Yongdam 용담 tended to be close to the coast. Although historical records on ancient T’amna activities are very scarce, the “Accounts of the Eastern Barbarians” 東夷傳 section of the Chinese Sanguozhi 三國志 completed sometime after 280, notes the existence of an island south of Mahan 마한 called “Zhouhu” 洲胡 (Kr: Chuho 주호). Mahan refers to the precursor of the Korean Paekche 백제 kingdom, which was concentrated in the Ch’ungch’ŏng 충청 and Chŏlla 전라 regions, and so Chuho theoretically refers to ancient Cheju. From this record, one can conclude that as early as the Han Dynasty, Cheju islanders had engaged in trade with mainland Korea as well as Han Dynasty China. These early contacts have also further been confirmed with the 1928 discovery of Han coins at the old port of Sanjich’ŏn. From the Japanese Nihon Shoki 日本書紀 and the Chinese Jiu Tangshu 舊唐書, we also know that T’amna dispatched representatives to the Japanese Asuka 飛鳥 and Chinese Tang 唐朝 courts in 645 and 662. American geographer David J. Nemeth, who wrote his dissertation on Cheju’s geomancy culture in 1984, also noted that Cheju Island’s geographical features make it a strong candidate for the mythical island of immortality in ancient Chinese folklore and indeed one of Cheju’s many names include “Yingzhou” 瀛洲 (Yŏngju 영주), the blessed land. While many historical records have been lost to us, the numerous instances of castaways, historical attestations of T’amna’s visits to other lands, and archeological evidence of a relatively active ancient maritime trade suggest that there Cheju’s myths and legends may reflect more about Cheju’s history than at first glance.

The theme of deities coming from beyond the seas recurs in Cheju’s complex mythology. Two major myths featuring this theme are the Three Clans Myth (Samsŏng Sinhwa 삼성신화) and the epic narrative of Paekchu Halmang 백주 할망. In both myths, goddesses represent agriculture, sophistication, and civilization in contrast to their hunter-gatherer male counterparts. In Samsŏng Sinhwa, the king of Pyŏngnang 병랑, which is often interpreted to be Japan, sent his three daughters along with livestock and grain seeds westward over to the land of T’amna after seeing shafts of light flash over the horizon. The story of a foreign-origin agricultural goddess is more defined in the epic myth of Paekchu Halmang, the high patron goddess of Songdang’s 송당 main shrine and ancestress to many of Cheju’s deities. Paekchu Halmang is known to her worshipers as a great goddess of purity and prosperity. She married the hunter-gather Soch’ŏn’guk, but divorced him after he ate not only their oxen but also the oxen of neighbors. The story of Paekchu Halmang’s and Soch’ŏn’guk’s son Songgoksŏng, which literary scholar Cho Tong’il (1997) suggests may actually be the myth of T’amna’s first king, relates a grand epic adventure in which he becomes a conquering hero while in exile abroad. T’amna in prehistoric times likely consisted of different groups that entered the island in different waves of migration via the sea or via a land bridge that once connected Cheju to continental Asia. In the Ch’ilsŏng Ponp’uri, the seven snake spirits born from the foreign goddess Ch’ilsŏng’agi can bring disaster if not attended to but can also bring great wealth. Common features in all these narratives are that foreign deities, often goddesses, not only bestow prosperity but also bring the means to make it possible. Considering the difficulties that Cheju people had to endure in order to successfully farm, the matter that agricultural goddesses are given such high esteem comes as no surprise. Another feature of these myths are the similarities they share with the spread of beliefs via maritime trade in East Asia – the goddess Ma Tsu 媽祖 in Taiwan, for example, is worshipped as a deity of protection for seafarers but appears to have been a popularization of Guan Yin 觀音菩薩 (Kwan Ŭm; Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara – bodhisattva of compassion and protection) worship carried by sailors. That many of Cheju’s deities have a backstory of being from abroad seems to follow this pattern.

6. Sanjich’ŏn 산지천

Sanjich’ŏn was once a stream that flowed from Hallasan. It brought water to ancient Jeju City and served as a communal laundry place. It was mostly dry and little more than a creek for much of the year as water often seeped through quickly in Cheju’s rocky and volcanic earth. Like Seoul’s Ch’ŏnggyech’ŏn 청계천, Sanjich’ŏn became heavily polluted as Cheju City grew and was actually covered up for development some decades ago. It was restored recently and now again is subject to redevelopment, which could become a flood hazard as the stream is now perpetually full of water. Though this stream is hardly impressive, its importance to early Cheju City cannot be overstated. The mouth of Sanjich’ŏn served as a port and, along with Pyŏngmunch’ŏn 병문천 on the west side of the old walls, a water source.

Until as late as the twentieth century, fresh water was a scare resource and so Cheju people depended heavily on what they could get from freshwater creeks and springs. Though Cheju is infamous for its fickle weather and its frequent rains, its soil does not retain water very well – most of the rainwater is lost as runoff. Dry half for half of the year, Cheju’s streams tend to be natural flood control channels rather than actual rivers. Though freshwater springs can be found in inland areas such as Hoech’ŏn 회천, the Goldilocks zone for early settlements had to fit three requirements: 1) a freshwater source; 2) land suitable for basic horticulture; and 3) access to the sea. For these reasons, from the 6th century to the Chosŏn Dynasty, settlement patterns in Cheju were consistent. Because of Cheju’s geographical constraints, even today’s Cheju City had remained consistent throughout much of its history. The district names of Ildo 일도, Ido 이도, and Samdo 삼도 all refer to three domains of the Tamna’s three founders and these three domains were noted in Chosŏn Dynasty records.

In 1211, T’amna had two counties – T’amna-hyŏn 탐라현 and Kwidŏk-hyŏn 귀덕현. These were further subdivided as subordinate counties (sokhyŏn 속현) into the many of the village and town names we now recognize in Cheju – Kwiil 귀일 (today’s Hagwi 하귀 and Sanggwi 상귀), Gonae 고내, Aewol 애월, Kwakji 곽지, Myŏngwŏl 명월, Sinchon 신촌, Hamdŏk 함덕, Kimnyŏng 김녕, Ch’agwi 차귀 (today’s Kosan 고산), Hoch’on 호촌 (today’s Sillye 신례 and Harye 하례), Hongno 홍로 (today’s Tonghong-tong 동홍동), T’osan 토산, Yerae 예래, and Sanbang 산방 (Kim 2004:12). Depending on size, each village had one to four managing officials. Aside from T’amnasŏng and Kwidŏk, T’amna’s residents – roughly up to 30,000 during medieval times – were largely concentrated within these villages. Some of these villages, however, had their beginnings far earlier than medieval times as archeological remains can attest. By the 6th to 10th century, Cheju’s settlements tended to concentrate closer to the coastal lowlands and by estuaries where streams open into the sea. Until agriculture was better developed in the Chosŏn Dynasty, medieval Cheju settlements were typically concentrated in the north and in the vicinity of today’s Cheju City, facing the peninsular mainland and the Northeast Asian trade routes.

While Cheju is nowadays known for its abundant mandarin orange orchards and barley fields, in antiquity and during the medieval period, most of the island was unsuitable for farming. To get an idea of how rocky and difficult Cheju’s terrain was (and still is), one can take into consideration that it literally took centuries for walled fields to appear across the island – the earliest detailed accounts of what we take for granted as Cheju-style farming comes only from the Chosŏn Dynasty and yet from as early as the Koryŏ period Cheju Island is noted for its oceanic products. Even today, rice only grows in specific parts of the island such as Hanon 하논 Crater. For most of its history, Cheju was a very tough environment and hence we see this reflected in Cheju’s traditionally strong shamanistic culture and recurrent themes of struggle and abject poverty in its oral literature.

7. Ko Family House 고 씨 가옥

This house was a residence of a branch of the larger Ko clan. Though this particular house actually dates from the twentieth century, it is nonetheless an important part of old Cheju City’s history. This house, first constructed in 1922, perfectly fuses both Japanese and Korean architectural elements. While the layout of the house follows that of a typical Korean home – absent of a central corridor more typical in Japanese homes – it used shoji-style sliding doors and once had tatami mat coverings over its Korean ondol flooring. The building material was all imported from Japan and thus the house is made of hinoki 檜 (Japanese cypress) rather than wood native to Cheju or the Korean peninsula. Thanks to JICEA’s (Jeju International Culture Exchange Association 제주국제교류협회) grassroots citizen activism, this house, as well as four other structures significant to modern historical memory in the immediate area, was spared destruction in the current “T’amna Culture Plaza” project. While one explores old Cheju City and sees the ceaseless content-less redevelopment in the area, it is pertinent to ask what exactly “T’amna” and “Culture” means.

Cheju “culture” has to be explained in the legacy of “T’amna” and that legacy is still present with us today so long as there are people seeking to keep it alive. It also has to be considered in terms of contemporary memory and how people have experienced the island’s tumultuous history. In the flesh, the Ko clan exists here and now but their story is also an indelible part of the greater story of T’amna. Descendants of the Ko clan have maintained prominence not only from the colonial period but from as far back as the T’amna period. The surnames Ko 고, Yang 양, and Pu 부 are particularly important to ancient Cheju Island. As noted in the “Samsŏng Sinhwa,” these three clans were the island’s traditional elites.

During the Koryŏ dynasty, two figures of the Ko clan earned their place in the official royal histories: Ko Yu 고유 and his son Ko Chogi 고조기. The stories of Ko Yu 高維 and Ko Chogi 高兆基 are examples of T’amna’s ambiguous relationship with the Koryŏ kingdom. Ko Yu was the first T’amna person to take the Koryŏ civil service examination and receive an official court position, but his ascent into the inner circles of Kaegyŏng was via an exam specifically for foreigners and it took some time before he managed to attain a high rank (Ko 2007: 58). Ko Chogi, following his father’s success, however, took an exam that was reserved for Koryŏ subjects. Ko Chogi’s story in the 98th volume of the Koryŏsa 고려사 is as follows:

“Ko Chogi, whose first name was “Tang’yu,” was a person of T’amna. His father was (Ko) Yu, a man of Ubok rank in the Sangsŏsŏng, (Department of State Affairs 尙書省).[1] Chogi had a generous nature, was widely read in literature and histories, and he especially labored over five-character style verse poetry. At the beginning of the time of King Yejong, he succeeded in the examinations, and went out as the magistrate (守) of Namju to serve with integrity. During King Injong’s reign, he was appointed as Censor (侍御史). While Yi Chagyŏm 李資謙 repaired Honggyŏngwŏn temple 弘慶院, Chief Rectifier of Monks 僧正 Cha Pu and the Chisujusa 知水州事 Pong U were entrusted with the task and had able-bodied young men of the provinces and prefectures forcibly conscripted for the task, causing much disruption. After Yi Chagyŏm was defeated following his failed insurrection[2], Cha Pu was found complicit in the conspiracy and exiled to an island. But Pong U, thanks to his collusion with common palace eunuchs, was spared and able to be reinstated. Chogi thrice spoke up. Having aroused the anger of the king for acting insubordinate, he was demoted to the office of Wŏnwirang (Supernumerary Senior Recorder) but afterwards again became a Censor official. At the time of Yi Chagyŏm’s rebellion, all officials were threatened with danger and while in pursuit they lost their integrity and there were many, even the prime minister, of those who depended upon their connections to avoid punishment. Chogi, intending to defeat them, again and again raised his pen in protest, saying, ‘Even if their faults are covered over because of the generosity of those higher up, with what face do they stand in court when they look upon the sun and moon ?” Though the king considered Chogi’s words correct, he could not bear to do away with the great ministers. Chogi was appointed and selected as the Yebunangjung (Director of the Bureau of Rites), but in reality the high offices were usurped. As soon as King Ŭijong 毅宗 ascended the throne, he was appointed a Chŏngdangmunhak of the Chancellery 拜政堂文學 and as he was moved up to the rank of Chamjijŏngsa he achieved the rank of the Chungsŏsirang Pyeongjangsa 中書侍郞平章事 (Manager of Affairs with the Secretariat and Chancellery). When Kim Chonjung abused his authority, Chogi was criticized for bending over to him. He was impeached by the Kan’gwan (Remonstrance Official) and then was demoted to a Sangsŏjwabogya 降爲尙書左僕射. He turned to Kim Chonjung’s help and not many months later he again returned to office. He served for some time and finally died in the 11th year (1157) without heirs. Meetings at the court were suspended for three days and the concerned authorities ordered mourning rites and the granting of a posthumous title.”

Ko Chogi’s tomb today is located near Jeju Girls’ Middle School in Ara-dong.

[1] “Ubokya” was not an actual office position even while it was a title of second rank, but seemed to be reserved for those who earned their merit but could not find an appropriate office.

[2] Yi Chagyŏm is notorious in Koryŏ history for his excesses and having led an insurrection to usurp Koryŏ court power in 1126.

“Paths of the Lost Kingdom” Walking Tour: Part I

This is a summary of the historical events and sites mentioned in the April 26th “Paths of the Lost Kingdom” tour, the first English-language tour of Jeju International Culture Exchange Association’s (JICEA) Wŏndosim Yet’gil T’amhŏm (Jeju City Old Town Survey Excursion). “Paths of the Lost Kingdom” was a tour of Cheju Island under the ancient T’amna civilization and encompassed history – with a few digressions – from the 3rd century to 1404. This course focuses on Jeju’s mythological and historical past of the T’amna civilization in the space of modern Cheju City. Participants will be invited to envision ancient Cheju’s past while they explore the legacy of its millennia-old history. A chronological presentation is impossible as sites are scattered all around the city. The purpose is instead to show the continued presence of Cheju tradition. For this course, the “T’amna Kingdom” and “T’amna civilization” are differentiated – the former refers to the autonomous T’amna state, which lasted from sometime in the 3rd century until it’s official 1105 annexation, while the latter refers to Cheju’s native culture, which was not fully absorbed until the first few decades of the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910).

Each section below is divided in accord to the April 26 itinerary noted in parentheses next to the associated theme. As the content is as long as the course (the entire course took 3 hours!), the itinerary and the information will be posted in three parts. Following standard American academic conventions, all Korean names are Romanized in the McCune-Reischauer system. I include the Korean script beside names.

What was the Tamna civilization?

Due to the absence and loss of historical records, Tamna’s past remains shrouded in mystery. There is no definite agreement on when T’amna began. In the Korean Samguksagi, “T’amnaguk” appears in the year 476 in the records of King Munju of the Paekche kingdom. While the earliest possible references to Tamna appear in the Chinese Sanguozhi, which was compiled sometime after 280, and the legend of Qin Shi Huang’s (r.220-210 BCE) emissary Xu Fu, little is certain. T’amna’s annexation to the Korean mainland kingdom is also a topic of debate as there are three main suggested possibilities: at the beginning of the Koryŏ Dynasty (918-1392), in the year 1105 when it was officially designated a Koryŏ prefecture, or even in the 4th year of King T’aejong (1404) of Chosŏn when Cheju’s native titles were abolished. In any case, when we speak of “civilization” we also have to take into account that contrary to the recent tendency to exaggerate T’amna’s clout in Northeast Asia as an alleged “maritime” kingdom or excessively grandiose presentations of its pantheon, Cheju Island’s T’amna culture was never a major regional power and frequently found itself at the mercy of the peninsular kingdoms. On the other hand, Cheju truly does have unique traditions and historical experiences that are worth examining. As local folklorist Mun Mubyŏng (2012) observed, Cheju historically was at the intersection between cultural flows from the northern Altaic regions via continental Northeast Asia and the southern Southeast Asian and Buddhist regions via the oceanic southwest-to-northeast Kuroshio Current. Despite its semi-colonial relationship with the Korean mainland, Cheju managed to maintain a distinctive culture and worldview that still remains relevant to the present.

Although Cheju was considered a desolate island of exile during the Chosŏn Dynasty, many followers of the island’s native spiritual practices saw themselves as being an indelible part of a vast universe of some thousands of deities. Cheju possesses a complete epic myth of creation, connecting the human world as experienced in Cheju with the universe beyond. What we call “shamanism” is deeply embedded in Cheju’s culture and worldviews even to the present. Though Cheju City’s urbanization has been drastically transforming the landscape and lifestyles of the island, some traditions continue to survive and have become representative of Cheju Island’s heritage. Narratives are inscribed into Cheju’s landscapes and cityscapes. What has now become “Cheju shamanism” perhaps served as the guiding principles for people of the ancient indigenous T’amna civilization. Given the lack or loss of historical records, however, the “beginning” of T’amna is told only in mythology.

1. Cheju Cosmology (Chilmeoridang 칠머리당 / Sarabong 사라봉)

Understanding Cheju’s traditional cosmology is a first step in attempting to acquire an understanding of the island’s ancient civilization. Cheju mythology begins with Ch’ŏnjiwang Ponp’uri 천지왕 본풀이(the “Origin Epic of the King of Heaven and Earth”), which is the creation myth recited at the opening Ch’ogamje rite in all shrines across Cheju Island including Ch’ilmŏridang. Connecting the human world with that of the celestial, shamans begin the genealogy of the local gods with the beginning of time itself. “Ponp’uri” literally means “unravelling the origins.” It brings together the other world of the gods and this world so that people can situate themselves as part of a greater universe.

Ch’ŏnjiwang Ponp’uri narrates the creation of the universe as we know it. Several variations of the same myth exists all across Jeju and so the version used here is a summary provided in Hyŏn Yongjun’s Cheju Sinhwa (1996). In the beginning, there was pure Chaos. The cosmos opened its head at the direction of the Ox and Time began. From this Chaos emerged Ch’ŏnjiwang, the King of Heaven and Earth.  Ch’ŏnjiwang sought to bring Order out of Chaos and so he went down to Earth to propose a marriage with the Lady of the Earth, Ch’ongmaeng Puin 총맹부인. Ch’ongmaeng Puin was unfortunately so impoverished that she had nothing proper to offer and so she went to her neighbor Sumyŏngjangja 수명장자 for a loan of rice. Sumyŏngjangja was notoriously greedy and cheated Ch’ongmaeng Puin by secretly mixing the rice with sand. When Ch’ŏnjiwang discovered Sumyŏngjangja’s deed, he became furious and unleashed the wrath of all the heavens upon Sumyŏngjangja’s household. But because Ch’ŏnjiwang unleashed such furious power, he had to bring some semblance of peace by performing the universe’s first kut 굿, a shamanic ritual. Ch’ŏnjiwang and Ch’ongmaeng Puin consummated their marriage and had two sons, Taebyŏl 대별 (“Great Star”) and Sobyŏl 소별 (“Little Star”). His part of the story done, Ch’ŏnjiwang returned to heaven while Ch’ongmaeng Puin raised their sons.

While Ch’ŏnjiwang Ponp’uri shares much with Abrahamic traditions, a particular feature of Cheju’s story of creation is that it gives a humanistic view of cosmology in which the universe is not only imperfect from the beginning but the gods themselves are also flawed characters. The universe in the beginning was truly chaos – there were two suns and two moons, there was no real distinction between the living and the dead, and animals could speak. Even though Ch’ŏnjiwang fulfilled his cosmic obligation to join Ch’ongmaeng Puin in marriage, the universe did not achieve a perfect order. This task was left to Taebyŏl and Sobyŏl. Taebyŏl was tasked with managing this world 이승 while Sobyŏl was tasked with managing the underworld 저승. Sobyŏl, however, was jealous of his older brother and so challenged him to a flower-raising contest. Sobyŏl cheated but Taebyŏl nonetheless accepted the result and took up stewardship of the underworld. But Sobyŏl was unable to manage this world and so he called his older brother to help. Taebyŏl shot down one of the suns and one of the moons, hardened the tongues of animals so that they would not speak, and firmly separated the worlds of the living and the underworld. But because Taebyŏl had to return to the underworld and because Sobyŏl was incompetent, the underworld became a paradise while this world experiences suffering. As people of an island that was historically plagued with extreme hardship, mythology appears to reflect Cheju inhabitants’ traditional attitude of perseverance with uncertainty.

Cosmology is also reflected in the name of Cheju’s most important geological feature – Hallasan. The three Classical Chinese characters that comprise “Hallasan” translate to “the peak (山) that pulls (拏) the Milky Way galaxy (漢).” In many cultures and civilizations around the world, the Milky Way galaxy is the central axis from around which the universe turns. Astral symbolism repeats also in deity names such as Taebyŏl and Sobyŏl, Ch’ilsŏng (Seven Stars) worship in household ritual, and even the form of ancient Cheju City around the Ch’ilsŏngdae complex of seven altars.

Sarabong 沙羅, too, figures into the narrative of T’amna’s history. In “Tamna Yŏlchŏn” section of the late 18th century Tongsa written by Yi Chonghwi (1731-1797), Sarabong is mentioned to be the hill from which Ko, Yang, and Pu shot their arrows to determine their respective domains. Sarabong’s name refers to the glow of the sunset over its ridge, which appears like yellow silk (sa 沙 – sand, light silk) wrapped (ra 羅) over the hill (pong 峰).

One should be aware that the original site of Ch’ilmŏridang was actually closer to the harbor. Due to development, the shrine was twice moved. The present shrine is the third site. In 2009 at the Abu Dhabi convention, Ch’ilmŏridang Yŏngdŭng-kut was awarded UNESCO World Heritage designation. Though originally a rural tradition, Ch’ilmŏridang Yŏngdŭng-kut has become a part of Cheju City’s urban heritage and remains relevant as a crucial part of the city’s cultural identity.

2. Yŏngdŭng-kut 영등굿 (former Ch’ilmŏridang site 옛 칠머리당 터)

The original Ch’ilmŏridang was at a position much closer to the sea since the shrine rituals here were important to fishermen and women divers. Ch’ilmŏridang being moved more than once is not an unusual event as coastal development has either demolished shrines or forced their relocation. The construction of the coastal roads that people now take for granted was particularly devastating for heritage sites. Yet Yŏngdŭng-kut has managed to persist to the present. How long this will remain an actual practice of spiritual significance rather than simply preserved “heritage,” however, is the question.

“Yŏngdŭng” is the deity of the wind. Yŏngdŭng in the Ch’ilmŏridang tradition is female, but Yŏngdŭng is also sometimes considered male in parts of eastern Cheju (particularly Chongdal 종달, Sinch’ang 신창, Sinyang 신양, and Sinch’ŏn 신천). This deity is said to reside far beyond Cheju across the seas and comes in the second lunar month of every year to be entertained by inhabitants of seaside villages all across the island for two weeks. During this festival-like period, women divers and fishermen traditionally abstained from work. Weather conditions on the day of Yŏngdŭng Maji 영등 맞이, which is the first day of the second lunar month when Yŏngdŭng arrives, also have a particular interpretation – should the day of Yŏngdŭng Maji be foggy or rainy it means that Yŏngdŭng came with his or her daughter-in-law and that the two are quarrelling but should the weather be fine it means that his or her daughter has come on a pleasure visit. Yŏngdŭng departs from Cheju after making a full clockwise circuit and stops by the island of Udo 우도 before returning to the land beyond on the fourteenth day of the second lunar month.

Cheju people are all too aware of the potential dangers of the sea, even as they had traditionally depended upon it. While often regarded as “superstition,” traditional practices such as the two-week Yŏngdŭng-kut cycle reflects actual natural phenomena that Cheju islanders have noticed for centuries. In interviews with women divers regarding this cycle, which is tied to both the lunar and seasonal phases in the second lunar month, waters around Cheju tend to become rough and weather makes aquatic activity difficult. The Yŏngdŭng-kut period is also observed in rural Cheju Buddhist tradition in the form of the Dragon King Rite 용왕제. Though Cheju Buddhists emphasize the Dragon King, the sovereign god of the sea and another deity celebrated in Yŏngdŭng-kut, in some cases Yŏngdŭng is acknowledged.

3. T’amna Buddhism (Tongjabok 동자복 / Mansusa temple site 만수사)

Tongjabok’s precise age is unknown, but scholars generally agree that it is a product of the Koryŏ Dynasty 고려왕조 (918-1392) period of medieval Korea. Tongjabok presided at a temple at the eastern side of ancient Cheju City, serving as the counterpart of Sŏjabok 서자복, was situated in the west. Chosŏn Dynasty 조선왕조 governor Yi Wŏnjin’s 이원진 T’amnaji 탐라지 composed in 1653 noted the existence of a temple at Tongjabok’s site. Tongjabok is a representation of Mirŭk 미륵, the Maitreya Buddha. Conceptions of Maitreya Buddha as a quasi-deity of abundance and protection is widespread across East Asia in the form of the Chinese and Japanese “laughing Buddhas” that adorn shops and practices of Mirŭk worship in rural Korea. While its purpose is contrary to scholastic Buddhism even for the Koryŏ Dynasty, Tongjabok nonetheless is a clear indicator of Buddhism’s presence on Cheju Island during medieval times.

Most scholarship agree that Buddhism entered Cheju during the Koryŏ Dynasty. This is attested in archeological findings of known temple sites. Some insist, however, that Buddhism may have been introduced as early as seventh and eighth centuries via T’amna’s contacts with Tang China, Asuka Japan, and the Korean Three Kingdoms; even though T’amna was a tiny country (its population was possibly somewhere around 30,000 during the Koryŏ period) both the Japanese Nihon Shoki and the Chinese Jiu Tangshu nonetheless attest to T’amna representatives’ visit to their respective courts. One legend in the south side of the island even claims that one of Gautama Buddha’s disciples, the Arhat Bhadra 발타라 나한, came to T’amna with a host of followers some 2,500 years ago! If one were to visit Bŏphwasa, one would also find a statue representing the Silla 신라 mariner Chang Pogo 장보고 (787-846) as some also posit that he may have also brought the religion over to T’amna during his maritime exploits. In any case, there are no extant records or artifacts to prove a significant Buddhist presence on the island before the Koryŏ Dynasty period. As the Koryŏ Dynasty declined, since Cheju lacked significant natural resources, monastic Buddhism’s fortunes on the island depended on the Koryŏ kingdom and so once Koryŏ court support diminished, so did Cheju’s major monasteries.

A brief description of the Koryŏ kingdom is necessary. While our understanding of Korean culture today is shaped largely by our perceptions of Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910) Korea, Koryŏ Dynasty Korea was significantly different. Koryŏ was an aristocratic dynasty, but it also was far less centralized than the succeeding Chosŏn. Koryŏ tolerated a greater degree of autonomy among local officials known as “hyangni” 향리 and appeared to have regarded other peoples in its sphere of influence as vassals or dependencies. Historian John Duncan (2000) suggested that because Koryŏ was established via an allied coalition in which its founder Wang Kŏn was at best a first among equals, Koryŏ had to carefully balance power among the various local chieftains and warlords within the Korean peninsula. Koryŏ also tended to favor Buddhism to the point that it sponsored exchanges and cultural activities to promote Buddhist propagation such as its elaborate P’algwanhoe 팔관회 state rituals, to which foreign dignitaries including T’amna representatives were invited.

Buddhism was officially suppressed in Cheju during the mid-Chosŏn Dynasty from 1701 until the end of the 19th century. Mansusa temple was one of the many shrines and temples deliberately destroyed by Governor Yi Hyŏngsang 이형상 as he described to his satisfaction in his account Namhwan Pangmul 남환박물. Aspects of Buddhism merged with local Cheju shamanic practices such as the worship of Mirŭk, the Maitreya Buddha, for protection and fertility.

4. The Story of Kim Mandŏk (Kim Mandŏk’s tavern 김만덕 객주터)

Kim Mandŏk’s was reconstructed earlier this year and is still in the process of being finished though the project had been proposed for some years. As part of the so-called “T’amna Culture Plaza” 탐라문화관장 project, the reconstructed tavern of Kim Mandŏk is probably the only thing vaguely “cultural” in the redevelopment scheme. On the other hand, while Kim Mandŏk is no doubt a figure worthy of remembrance and top honors, there are many problems with the current reconstruction and the hideously pretentious “Kim Mandŏk Memorial Hall” 만덕기념관 built at the side of Sanjich’ŏn 산지천. The architecture used for the reconstructed tavern is reminiscent of an exaggerated folk village style – and hence is not true to a Cheju-style ch’ogajip 초가집 – and the actual location of Kim Mandŏk’s tavern is a matter of debate as she may have based herself at the historically larger port of Hwabuk 화북. The “Tamna Culture Plaza” utterly fails to do appropriate honors to the memory of Kim Mandŏk and so it is important for people not only to have a critical perspective of things now done in her name but also to know the value of her story.

Kim Mandŏk (1739-1812) actually lived some centuries after the scope of this excursion, but her story is worth contemplating, especially as she remains a relevant figure. In official state record, merchant-philanthropist Kim Mandŏk appears only in a single statement during the history of King Chŏngjo. Yet even this one statement demonstrates how remarkable a character she was to have merited the reward she was given. For Kim Mandŏk’s virtuous work in spending her fortune to save Cheju people from famine, the Chosŏn court granted her an official title as well as her wish of bypassing official travel restrictions to visit the Diamond Mountains 금강산.

In a semi-caste and rigidly stratified society where women were seldom expected (and often discouraged) to act outside their proscribed social roles, Kim Mandŏk was in every way an exceptional figure in the Chosŏn Dynasty. Kim Mandŏk was born in 1739 and is a descendant of the Kimhae Kim clan. Her parents died when she and her siblings were young. Her brothers became livestock herders while Mandŏk became a kisaeng 기생. As a kisaeng, Kim Mandŏk was known for her exceptional artistic talent. She sought to regain her yangban 양반 status, but was initially rebuffed by the governor. She ultimately did persuade the governor by insisting that she would use her status to help people. Kim Mandŏk was approached by many suitors, but she refused all offers. She instead set up her own business based in her tavern, performing a variety of functions from dealing in goods brought in via mainland mercantile activity, warehousing products, providing finance services, as well as lodging merchants. Although she acquired significant wealth, she lived a very simple life and avoided luxury. Cheju was hit with terribly lean years from 1790 to 1794 and during 1794, the worst of those years, Kim Mandŏk expended her life’s fortune to purchase rice to save Cheju from starvation. Out of recognition for her philanthropy, King Chŏngjo granted her the title of Ŭnyŏbansu (醫女班首), the Head Lady Doctor, in 1796 and she was granted special permission to tour the Chosŏn capital of Hanyang (Seoul) as well as the fabled Diamond Mountains 금강산.

Kim Mandŏk’s story also reflects certain aspects about women in Cheju society. Historically Cheju women were expected to have a greater degree of economic independence, even though this did not necessarily translate to social clout. Due the particular geographic conditions on Cheju, all community members were expected to contribute to the shared survival of not only the family but also the village as a whole. Even during the eighteenth century, because of the high mortality rate of men and the greater economic value of women, it was commonly known in Cheju that to have a daughter was a treasured thing while having a son was simply to have “food for the whales.” Cheju having such a harsh environment curiously also meant that community security depended as much upon women as it did upon the labors of its men. As one can notice in women diver households, because of the volatile nature of Cheju’s geography towards agriculture, a family can manage to survive and eke out a living with a woman diver’s catch. Kim Mandŏk as an economically independent woman was exceptional for a masculine-centered Chosŏn Korea, but she also was very much a Cheju woman.

Self-sufficiency, Sustainability, and Interpreting Premodern Jeju [Part 2, Section B]

Self-sufficiency, Sustainability, and Interpreting Premodern Jeju [Part 2, Section B]

Although most recent discussions of Cheju Island during the T’amna (4th/5th centuries-1105?) and Koryŏ Dynasty (918-1392) periods note that Cheju Islanders established contact and some forms of exchange via oceanic trade routes (Kim Iru 2001; O Sŏng, et al. 2006; Hyŏn Yongjun 2009; Song Hwasŏp 2011) by virtue of being an island and one positioned near the Kuroshio Current that flows from the near the east coast of Taiwan to the Japanese island of Kyushu, but little is actually known of the nature of these exchanges other than the apparent fact that they occurred. That many people from as far as Southeast Asia (not to mention a few Dutch sailors such as Hendrik Hamel) wound up as castaways on Cheju Island as late as the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910) is well documented as the Chŏng Un’gyŏng’s 18th century T’amna mun’gyŏllok reveals. But accounts of isitations from T’amna to other lands remains murky in large part because of the absence of extant records. The general hypotheses among Cheju studies scholars and historians of pre-modern Korean history posit Cheju Island range from conjecturing that Cheju Island was an important early trade center in Northeast Asia until as late as the mid-Koryŏ Dynasty to simply suggesting that Cheju Island was a stopover point for cargo vessels traveling between continental China, the Korean peninsular mainland, and the Japanese archipelago. In any case there is a curious apparent contradiction between the relatively simple material culture of early T’amna itself and the archeological discoveries of imported metalwork goods in the former Sanjich’ŏn harbor. Were T’amna people active mariners or was Cheju Island little more than a chance encounter for mariners en route to more lucrative destinations?

Historian No Myŏngho noted that the Koryŏsa records give the impression that T’amna sent tribute missions to the Koryŏ royal court approximately once every 20 years or so, although it is possible that the historical record compilers may have omitted many other instances due to their routine nature. But in considering a particular line in the early Chosŏn document the Sŏngju Ko-ssi kajŏn (biographical records of the Ko clan, the “Sŏngju” lords of Cheju Island), it is also very possible that the indigenous rulers of Cheju Island – the Sŏngju, Wangja, and Donae – dispatched a tribute mission right at the time when a new Sŏngju would come to power and that the visitations to the Koryŏ court at Kaegyŏng served as a means to acquire recognition. During the first century of the Koryŏ Dynasty, arguing against Kim Iru’s assumption that T’amna was simply yet another district of Koryŏ right from the beginning, No Myŏngho suggests that T’amna functioned as a vassal state that was a dependency of the Koryŏ kingdom, which domestically considered itself a miniature empire (a “soch’ŏnha”) equal to that of Song China and the Khitan Liao, and maintained a significant degree of autonomy that set it apart from other peripheral regions affiliated with Koryŏ. Speckled throughout the Koryŏsa, we can find brief passages that simply say “the country of T’amna presented tribute,” but what is more interesting about these records as that at some instances they also note that representatives from T’amna attended royal functions such as state-sponsored festivals or the religious P’algwanhoe ceremony as foreign dignitaries.

Given the frequency of T’amna representatives visiting Kaegyŏng, one can easily guess that maritime exchanges between Koryŏ and T’amna was constant and continued even after the island’s official incorporation into the Koryŏ state. The tribute goods of T’amna remained fairly consistent throughout Koryŏ – sea salt, sea products such as shellfish, and later horses. T’amna meanwhile imported valuable metal crafts. It was also during this time that the Koryŏ state – and later the Mongol Yuan empire in the 13th century – sponsored major Buddhist monasteries such as Wŏndangsa, Sujŏngsa, Pŏphwasa, etc. During the hegemony of the Mongol Yuan empire, Hyŏn Yongjun theorizes that it was due to exchanges with Mongols that Mongol forms of Buddhism merged with Cheju’s local religion, that the form of shamanism that we now consider “Cheju shamanism” took shape, and the now-iconic pangsat’ap stone mounds were developed. Song Hwasŏp also considers the maritime exchanges during the Koryŏ Dynasty period as the period in which the current form of Yŏngdŭng Halmang / Yŏngdŭng Harŭbang began to appear via importation of foreign merchant sailors’ devotional worship of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s incarnations. While discussions of cultural importations and adaptations remain for the most part theoretical given the dearth of actual historical records, instances of visits or dispatches of goods to the Korean peninsular mainland from T’amna are conspicuous in the Koryŏsa.

The roughly 100-year period of Mongol domination is unanimously considered a period of heavy repressive measures on the islanders as Cheju Island peoples were required to rear tribute horses for the Mongol Yuan imperial court while also continuing their own obligations to the Koryŏ court, but as noted above, Mongol rule also had a profound influence on Cheju culture and society. During the first years of Mongol rule following the bloody suppression of the Sambyŏlch’o rebels – the elite “Three Patrol Units” of Koryŏ that refused to accept the court’s capitulation to Mongol demands – the Mongol Yuan empire considered Cheju Island as a staging point for invasions of Japan. The establishment of horse ranches or “mokjang” for rearing and maintaining potential warhorses is well-known, but according to Hyŏn Yongjun, Cheju islanders were also tasked with building ships strong enough to transport these horses to as far as the shores of the island of Tsushima (Hyŏn, 2009: 129). In other words, Cheju islanders not only reared horses to supply the Mongol invasion force but also were conscripted to build some of the warships for the fleet. These ships called “tŏkp’anbae” were constructed by islander hands from the timbers of Hallasan. Although the Mongols ultimately gave up their ambitious to conquer Japan following two disastrous typhoons that sunk the majority of the Mongol expeditionary fleets, Cheju Island continued to produce and dispatch tribute horses for the Yuan imperial court.

For the most part it would seem that Cheju Island’s maritime exchanges were mostly limited to the Korean peninsular mainland and later the Mongol empire from the mid-Koryŏ Dynasty due to the changed nature of the geopolitical environment, but what of speculations about much earlier periods? Volume 30 of the “Wei shu” (the Book of the Cao-Wei kingdom) in the 3rd century Chinese Sanguozhi (Records of the Three Kingdoms) briefly notes of an island called “Zhouhu” 州胡 (“Chuho” in Korean) inhabited by people who reared livestock and traded with Mahan, which was considered the precursor of what would become the Paekche kingdom situated in the southwest portion of the Korean peninsula. The Korean Samguk sagi also suggest that T’amna (written as “Sŏmna” in the “Paekche pon’gi”) entered tributary relations with Paekche in 476 and then later turned its allegiance to the Silla kingdom; whether or not T’amna contacted Paekche or Silla first is not exactly established as other histories such as the T’amnaji (Records of T’amna) compiled in the 17th century claims that the first time the titles of the three rulers of T’amna – Sŏngju, Wangja, and Donae – appear was when T’amna representatives had an audience with the Silla court. Given the closer geographic proximity, T’amna’s initial official relations were likely with Mahan and then Paekche. The extent of trade relations with the peninsula in the Three Kingdoms and the Silla period are unclear given the sparse accounts, but T’amna is said to have paid tribute to Paekche’s King Munju in 476 – an instance in which King Munju reciprocated with the high Paekche titles of ŭnsol and chwap’yŏng – and then to Koguryŏ and Silla in the 7th century. According to the Cheju Buddhist History Research Association, T’amna representatives also visited Asuka Japan (538-710) in 661 and attended a state ceremony of the Chinese Tang empire (618-907) in 665. Buddhist legends on Cheju also suggest other instances of contact, with some claiming that Buddhists visited Cheju Island from as far back as the first years of Buddhism itself (the legend of Chonja’am temple and the Arhat Bhadra) or with the famed Silla mariner Chang Pogo in the 9th century. Although Cheju’s legends and epics likely have changed significantly over time, it is interesting to note that they also prominently feature themes of visitors from abroad (such as in the Samsŏng sinhwa and myths of the origin of Yongdŭng-kut) or heroes who venture to far off lands (such as the myth of Chach’ŏngbi and the myths of Songdang shrine). The nature of T’amna’s early oceanic exchanges remain ambiguous, but it is nonetheless possible that further archeological examinations and reassessments of both the Chinese and Japanese classical records could hold additional clues that have yet to be decoded.



Hyŏn Yongchun. Chejudo saramdŭl ŭi sam. Sŏul T’ŭkbyŏlsi: Minsogwŏn, 2009.

Kim Iru. Koryŏ sidae T’amnasa yŏn’gu, Sŏul Tʻŭkpyŏlsi: Sin Sŏwŏn, 2000.

No Myŏngho, “10-12 segi T’amna wa Koryŏ kukka,” Chejudo yŏn’gu Vol.28 (December 2005), pp.173-214.

O Sŏng, et al. Cheju ŭi sachʻal kwa Pulgyo munhwa. Sŏul Tʻŭkpyŏlsi: Sachʻal Munhwa Yŏnʼguwŏn, 2006.

Pak Chongki. Ssaero ssŭnŭn obaengnyŏn Koryŏsa, Sŏul-si: Pʻurŭn Yŏksa, 2008.

Song Hwasŏp. “Tong Asia haeyang sinang gwa Chejudo ŭi Yŏngdŭng Halmang-Sŏlmundae Halmang,” T’amna munhwa, 37, August 2010, 183-222.

Self-sufficiency, Sustainability, and Interpreting Premodern Jeju [Part 2, Section A]

Self-sufficiency, Sustainability, and Interpreting Premodern Jeju [Part 2, Section 1]

A: Assessing T’amna’s Place in the Early Koryŏ Period – 918-1105

Historians Kim Iru (2000) and Yi Yŏnggwŏn (2004) argued against scholarship that suggested that T’amna enjoyed considerable autonomy if not independence at least up to 1105 when the island was officially designated a “kun,” or prefecture, of Koryŏ. The basis of their arguments refers to the entry for Musul of the 21st year of T’aejo (938) in the 2nd volume of the “T’aejo sega” of the Koryŏsa: “冬十二月 耽羅國太子末老來朝賜星主王子爵” (translation: “In winter, in the 12th month, Crown Prince Mallo of the country of T’amna came to have an audience with the Koryŏ court and was given the ranks of Sŏngju and Wangja.”)

This suggests, Kim Iru argued, that T’amna had already submitted to the authority of King T’aejo (Wang Kŏn) of Koryŏ and since the titles were granted to the native rulers of T’amna, the country operated in the same manner – and hence considered in the same manner – as other regions of the Koryŏ polity. Since Koryŏ’s system of provincial rule depended on recognition of local elites, these elites, by virtue of being cooperative with Wang Kŏn, were thus incorporated into the larger ruling class of the Koryŏ polity. Thus in this argument, even if local rule and a semblance of local autonomy persisted throughout the Koryŏ period, they nonetheless were operating under the auspices of the central command of the Koryŏ system.

There nonetheless are two fundamental problems with this interpretation.

First, is the contradictions within the argument of incorporation. Koryŏ’s organization at least in the first two centuries appears to have been far less centralized as assumed. The first sections of the Koryŏsa note that the founding ruler Wang Kŏn ascended not purely by means of conquest but largely through political alliances with local rulers, whose local autonomy was consistently recognized throughout the early Koryŏ period. As Wang Kŏn fought his rivals in the Later Three Kingdoms period that followed the dissolution of Silla, one of his primary means of consolidating his position was as much through being a first among equals than a conqueror. To ensure the loyalty of his allies, Wang Kŏn granted titles and recognition of local sovereignty to local strongmen (hojok seryŏk) in return for their cooperation. Following the consolidation of his rule, rather than antagonize his allies, Wang Kŏn appeared to have continued to allow these local strongmen power and influence over their own respective domains. This practice was conspicuous in his multiple marriages to women of local chiefs all across the Korean Peninsula. In other words, Koryŏ cannot be interpreted as a genuine nation-state in which all domains identified absolutely with a singular idea of shared nationhood. Much unlike the Chosŏn Dynasty, the Koryŏ Dynasty tolerated a considerable degree of plurality and local autonomy.

Second, while the Koryŏsa entries are referred to in arguing for the incorporation of T’amna as simply one of other regions within Koryŏ “nation,” at least until the 12th century, there also exists evidence to the contrary. For example, the entry of Kimi in the 10th year of King Hyŏnjong (1019) mentions that representatives from T’amna along with people of the Chinese Song Empire and the Hŭksu peoples attended the festival of Chungyang. And a few decades later in Ŭlmi of the 9th year of King Munjong (1055), “chieftains of the country of T’amna” attended a feast along with ambassadors from the Chinese Song Empire. In both examples, why would representatives T’amna, which both Yi and Kim argued was the same as any other provincial area of Koryŏ, be regarded as ambassadors from a foreign state?

This is, however, not to say that we can consider T’amna in the Koryŏ period as being a truly “independent” country in the way we typically understand the concept of “national sovereignty” today. Speckled throughout the Koryŏsa, entries regarding T’amna typically note that its people paid tribute to the Koryŏ court. Exaction of tribute and local specialty goods was common practice in Koryŏ, but the more peripheral territories more often than not paid heavier prices. As a very peripheral region T’amna likely was treated as such even as there is little indication that the Koryŏ court had any particular interest in changing local culture and customs. In this case, we can perhaps consider T’amna has having been considered something akin to a vassal state (pŏn’guk) up to the beginning of the 12th century attempts on the part of the Koryŏ state to redefine the relationship.

Curiously, in parts of both Kim Iru’s and Yi Yŏnggwŏn’s works, their discussion of the activities of T’amna people during these time periods contradict their own point, especially in the area of maritime activity. From the beginning of the Koryŏsa in the accounts of Wang Kŏn himself, the historical records note that Wang Kŏn’s family, based in Song’ak (Kaegyŏng; today’s Kaesŏng) had not only emerged from the peripheries of the then-defunct Silla state but also accumulated their wealth and power through maritime trade. Part of Wang Kŏn’s successes against his rival Kyŏn Hwŏn of Later Paekche was due to his mastery of the seas, which enabled him to effectively blockade maritime trade to the Later Paekche state. One should also take into account that in the later part of the Silla period, the maritime warlord Chang Pogo dominated the seas of Northeast Asia to the extent that Japanese monks traveling to and from the Japanese archipelago rode on Silla vessels . Thus we can conclude that in the transition from Silla to the early part of the Koryŏ period, there already was active ocean-based trade and communication. Amidst this activity, settlements on Cheju Island became more heavily concentrated in areas that were in close proximity to both fresh water sources and access to ocean routes. T’amna’s dispatch of embassies to the Koryŏ capital at Kaegyŏng perhaps were not so much simply to offer tribute and elevate the prestige of both Koryŏ’s and T’amna’s rulers, but also for the exchange of goods. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as Kaegyŏng became a nexus of Northeast Asian trade serving as a stopping point for Khitan, Song Chinese, Japanese, Sushen, and even Arab merchants, the opportunity to participate in burgeoning cross-border and overseas exchange may have served as part of the motivation for T’amna ambassadors’ attendance of state functions and rituals of the Koryŏ court.



Kim Iru, Koryŏ sidae T’amnasa yŏn’gu. Sŏul: Sinsŏwon, 2000.


Pettid, Michael J, “Vengeful gods and shrewd men: responses to the loss of sovereignty on Cheju Island.” Geremie R. Barme, ed., East Asian History, 22 (December), 2001, p.171-186.

Yi Yŏnggwŏn, Saero ssŭnŭn Chejusa : chibangsa, yŏksa ilki ŭi saeroun sido. Sŏul: Hyumŏnisŭtʻŭ, 2005.

Self-sufficiency, Sustainability, and Interpreting Premodern Jeju [Part 1]

Part 1: T’amna Agriculture – “Traditional” Productive Technologies and Local Innovation

With the global crises of environmental degradation, sky-rocketing food prices, exacerbating problems of inequality of distribution, it should come as no surprise that sustainable economic activity and organic agriculture have become an integral part of not only the “green” activism, but also local movements whose goals are self-sufficiency coupled with re-assertion of local subjectivities through the revival or re-interpretation of allegedly traditional forms of production. While such trends have been gaining traction in peninsular Korea in the past few years, the question of sustainability has become a crucial issue in Cheju Island where the surge of interest in Cheju’s local-ness combined with the past few years of economic uncertainty has also brought an accompanying anxiety about the island’s complete dependency on an unstable global world system. So far, “green growth” has ranged from the superficial “greening” of developmental schemes in which urban development would simply be kept a certain distance from biosphere reserves to the more ambitious projects of “zero carbon emissions.” Beneath grandiose projects, however, are more modest yet no less significant re-examinations of Cheju’s past economic traditions. While on the one hand they are on the surface nostalgic yearnings for an idealized Tamna past, they also call to question contemporary development schemes and assert the possibility that perhaps the island’s ancestors had managed to survive in such an unforgiving environment because they truly had done something right. Popular attention – in this case, media spotlighting and commonly circulated discourse – has given much attention the haenyŏ women divers for good reason, but re-examinations of Cheju’s pre-industrial agricultural production systems have also acquired a following in the form of new community-based gardening such as Uri tŏtpat Cheju kongdongch’e u-yŏng 우리 텃밭 제주공동체 우영, an initiative of Cheju women community farmers. Modern revitalization movements and reinterpretations of the traditional may be loaded with primarily contemporary sensitivities and concerns, but they nonetheless highlight the need to re-examine the ways in which previous economic activity served the needs of earlier peoples as our own forms of industrial agriculture are in the midst of crisis and breakdown.

T’amna / Koryŏ Period Agricultural Practices

The dearth of written records before the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1912) makes any assessment of preceding periods such as Koryŏ (918-1392) or Silla (4th century – 935) extremely difficult, but what has been gleaned from the Koryŏsa and analysis of archeological finds provides some clues on how T’amna people may have made a living. Even as late as the 1960s, Cheju’s volcanic geography has been considered as an extremely difficult environment for major agricultural production. There are two seemingly contradictory yet prevalent issues that have come up time and again on Cheju’s productive capacities until the 20th century – frequent hardship on the one hand and relative independence on the other hand. How would one reconcile these two oppositional factors?

From the late Koryŏ and entirety of the  Chosŏn eras at least, there have been numerous documented famines and disasters that brought much hardship to the island populace. Though this situation is of course not the least due to the oppressively heavy exactions demanded by peninsular royal courts or Japanese incursions, it is also known that Cheju’s rocky and volcanic soil and historically very limited access to fresh water sources had presented immense challenges to island inhabitants. The fierce winds and high frequency of typhoons have also made it difficult for any mass production of grain crops. Even as late as the 1970s, not even 2 percent of Cheju’s arable land was utilized for wet paddy rice farming (Hyŏn, 2011: 416) given the sheer impracticality of such agricultural activity. One resolution for Cheju people, it has been noted, is the dependence on sea resources as an alternative source of food. Certain sea products such as abalone were sent as tribute goods to the metropoles of either Kaesŏng or Seoul up in the peninsula, but the rich biodiversity of Cheju’s seas during the pre-industrial periods allowed for fishing communities a wide variety of possible food sources. In addition, certain agricultural practices among inland inhabitants also allowed for some measure, however limited, of self-sufficiency. Necessity, it is sometimes said, is the mother of innovation, and this certainly was true for Cheju.

Agriculture began to be developed in earnest perhaps some time around the Kwakji 2-type pottery Period (around the 6th-7th centuries) though indications of some forms of horticulture appeared as early as the Kwakji 1-type pottery Period (1st century BCE – 5th century CE). The increase of oceanic trade from the Kwakji 2-type pottery Period brought about an influx of iron tools, which allowed for increased productivity. This was hardly enough to produce a significant surplus and so settlement patterns in which village centers were typically located within reach of fresh water sources and oceanic trade routes indicated that agriculture was merely supplementary. Agricultural production was barely at the subsistence level, but T’amna people nonetheless developed various creative means to maximize land use without needlessly exhausting soil fertility. A record from 1652 notes a particular practice in which Cheju farmers let farm animals loose so that they would trample and roam freely on soil within fields surrounded by rock walls (Kim, 2000: 104); such a practice was used for millet farming on Cheju as late as the 20th century. Although this was written quite some time after the end of the T’amna and Koryŏ periods, it is suggested that this practice had long been in use among islanders. In addition, Cheju farmers were also noted to have cycled between plots of land, allowing one plot to lie fallow for up to 2 or 3 years as a means of avoiding early soil exhaustion.

Domestic pig-rearing served not one but three purposes and had been one of the most conspicuous practices of Cheju Island farmers as a means of maximizing productive capacities. Pigs could easily serve as a source of meat, but they also were an important aspect in dispensing waste and maintaining soil fertility. In order to fertilize soil, Cheju farmers were known to have utilized the manure of domestic pigs. Domestic pigs would consume and processes food scraps and human fecal matter into nutrient-rich droppings that Cheju farmers would collect to revitalize fallow fields. The process of agricultural production and natural recycling of waste material was used both in larger-scale agriculture as well as small-scale domestic and community farms called “u-yŏng.”

Self-sustainability and the U-yŏng

Some have insisted that Cheju’s traditional forms of production were perhaps more efficient – if not superior – than modern modes as they were very specific to Cheju’s environment and maximized use of not only local natural resources but also existing social structures. Such assessments may be too idealistic and gloss over the history of immense challenges that islanders had to endure. There is a certain truth to these claims, however. In many ways, modern mechanized agriculture utilizing chemical fertilizers and machinery has decreased Cheju’s self-sufficiency even as it enabled a greater participation in the world economy. While modern modes of production and agricultural methods have enabled farming peoples to turn out a significant surplus, the overemphasis on cash crops has brought about a number of consequences. With more more attention to cash crops, the reallocation of land and labor from food production has ironically made Cheju islanders much more dependent on imports and contemporary chemical fertilizers are not only not as efficient as traditional organic fertilizers but also far more environmentally damaging. On the one hand it is certainly a stretch to argue that Cheju previously was economically independent, but on the other hand the practices and innovations that Cheju islanders developed in response to their challenging situation cannot be overlooked in any study of the island’s past or prospects for its future. Regardless of whether or not certain methods of agricultural production now characterized as Cheju’s traditional practices were byproducts of the Chosŏn period or derivations of T’amna’s economic culture, it is clear that they were devised to make as much use of limited resources as possible.

A simple case in point is the number of material traditionally used among islanders as food sources. The Chŏlla region of Korea prides itself as being the nation’s agricultural heartland, but according to researcher Oh Yŏngju, while the Chŏlla region has at least 250 varieties of edible material, Cheju has an amazing 450 (Oh cited in Hyŏn, 2011: 417). This is certainly due to the fact of Cheju’s diverse marine life and varied ecosystems, but the vast variety was also in large part due to islanders need to maintain as secure a means of food procurement as possible and thus the dependency on multiple sources as opposed to limited staples. At the macro-level, Cheju islanders coupled agricultural production with fishing activity. At the micro-level, individual households maintained their own vegetable plots called “u-yŏng” that also were collectively shared among neighboring households or extended family relations and within these “u-yŏng,” families could raise a variety of vegetable and fruit crops throughout the entirety of the year.

“U-yŏng” are similar to the mainland “tŏtpat” and at a glance may as well be indistinguishable from mainland counterparts. The key differences are the innovations that the U-yŏng utilize that are particular to Cheju Island, not the least of which is their symbiotic relationship with domestic pig-rearing mentioned in the preceding section. For the most part, u-yŏng are very small patches cultivated between the stone walls of the main structures of a compound and the surrounding walls that defined the household’s space. They made immediately available, however, an additional and supplementary means of production and livelihood as family members would only need to step outside their doors to tend to them, thus maximizing as much space possible. Just as larger fields were periodically left fallow and fertilized, u-yŏng likewise were given similar treatment and so they were a part of a tripartite food procurement structure involving primary fields and domestic pigs – while main farm fields produced important staple crops such as millet or grains or cash crops (or tribute crops in earlier periods) such as tangerines, the u-yŏng provided nutritional sustenance through vegetables, and the chaff and human waste from the consumption of both (in the form of human fecal matter) would be recycled by domestic pigs for readily-available natural fertilizers. The practices of recycling and leaving plots fallow allowed for u-yŏng to produce vegetables throughout an entire year. The cultivation of a wide variety of types of vegetables – cucumbers, kabocha squash, lettuce, leeks, green onions, taro, carrots, daikon radish, sweet potatoes, potatoes, etc. – as opposed to a handful of staple crops allowed for the possibility of at least two or more harvests per year.

Maintenance of u-yŏng also made full use of local social structures. Although u-yŏng plots are located within walled farmstead compounds, households would share their produce with neighbors or have relations from both a husband’s and wife’s families take part in cultivation and harvesting. Shared production would in turn be reciprocated and so even as u-yŏng were often within the walls of one family, they still took on a communal nature and served as a social safety net (Hyŏn, 2011). The u-yŏng were not absolute guarantees against famines or even abject poverty, especially considering the fact that taxation and exactions were in the form specific types of produce, but they were nonetheless Cheju islanders’ innovative responses to the challenges of their realities that can provide contemporary peoples crucial lessons.


Hyŏn Hyegyŏng. “Cheju chiyŏk ‘U-yŏng’-ŭi chŏntonggwa hyŏnjejŏk chipyŏng-e taehan yŏn’gu.” T’amna munhwa, 39. Yun Yongt’aek, ed. Cheju: T’amna munhwa yŏnguso. 2011.

Kim Il-u. Goryeo sidae Tamnasa yeongu. Seoul: Sinseowon. 2000.

Nemeth, David J. “The walking tractor: Trojan Horse in the Cheju Island landscape.” Korean Studies, 12. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. 1988

“Uri tŏtpat Cheju kongdongch’e u-yŏng.” http://cafe.daum.net/wpwndndud

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