Jeju Folk Songs Embody Island Life
Since time immemorial, Jeju Island has been known as “Samdado,” referring to its wealth of wind, rocks, and women, but the island is also rich in one other treasure: folk songs. Jeju is awash with songs that reflect the vocational peculiarities and sentiment of the islanders, wholly distinct from those of the mainland.
Such folk songs are usually sung by the island’s women while they work. As the verses sung in the unique Jeju dialect narrate the singers’ feelings like a sad story, the songs sound more sorrowful than their counterparts in regions such as Gyeonggi-do. To punctuate their vocals, Jeju women sometimes beat a heobeog, an earthen water container, or a taewak, a traditional buoy, creating a sound unique to the island.
Among the many farm workers’ songs?often called Jeju Nongyo?that have been passed down from generation to generation, three songs are considered to be the most representative of the genre: “Bat Bulineun Sori” (Field treading song), “Jinsadae Sori” (weeding in the field song), and “Tajakjil Sori” (Grain threshing song). “Bat Bulineun Sori” is a primitive song peculiar to the island that expresses the feelings shared between the farmers and their livestock. Jeju farmers used to sing this song in the fields each June after harvesting barley, but such spectacular scenes are becoming increasingly rare.
As Jeju is an island, it has many songs sung by the workers of the sea. Particularly famous is “Haenyeo No Jeonneun Sori” (Sea divers’ rowing song), which haenyeo divers sang while heading out to sea. Because of the song’s refrain of “I-oe-do-sa-na,” it is often called “Ioedosana Sori.” It carries both the joys and sorrows of Jeju women in a candid and dramatic portrayal of island life.
Also found on the island is “Maettol Norae” (Millstone song), sung by locals while grinding barley, millet, and other grains. By expressing how women suffered financial hardships and conflicts with in-laws and husbands, the song embodies the rich tapestry of Jeju life, as well as the sentiments of Jeju women.
Jeju Island’s folk songs memorialize the history of Jeju and its residents, yet these intrinsic assets of cultural value are not widely known. We hope that you will join us as we spread the word about the art of Jeju folk songs, preserving their memory and passing them down to the next generation.
Written by Park Shin-won