Lava Rocks, Abalones, Tangerines, Mushrooms and Ponies, on Jeju Island, South Korea
All over this rocky island, you find figures craved from porous lava Basalt rock.
A few of these volcanic rock carvings depict the women divers of the island, who dive for abalone, sea cucumbers and other sea shells.
The majority of these rock figures depict a large Mushroom- Lingam- Phallic like grandfather figure.
It is called “Dol Hareubangs” (also called “Tol Harubangs,” “Hareubangs,” or “Harubangs”).
The “Dol Hareubangs” have faces that feature grinning expressions, bulging eyes without pupils, a long, broad nose, a slight smile, and their hands rest on their bellies, one slightly above the other.
The hat they are wearing is made to resemble the tip of the penis or the cap of the mushroom.
The name “Dol Hareubang” is derived from the Korean word for “Stone” (Dol), plus the Jeju dialect word “Hareubang” which means a “Grandfather” or ” A Senior.”
These grandfather figures are usually placed outside of gates for protection.
There were a few other, earlier names for these statues.
Generally the names meant: “A Shaman’s Head.”
The grandfather figures are considered gods, and said to have a shamanistic function, like preventing epidemics in the region, helping women to become fertile, and to provide protection against demons, believed to be traveling between realities.
A common local belief is that eating the ground powder of the nose of the Dolhareubang will ensure the birth of a boy.
In earlier times, people believed that those who died of starvation or epidemics on the island became evil spirits that could harm those who survived.
To ward off these evil spirits, people put up Dolhareubangs outside of their homes and villages.
Another use was served as a totem and a signpost, designating the boundaries of a village.
Life on rocky, wind swept Jeju Island was tough in earlier days.
This island was once an active volcano, and it stands in the path of a few typhoon systems, making this island very windy for most of the year (expect for the summer months of July and August).
Those who made Jeju island their home had to deal with freezing cold winters, harsh windy conditions and a soil that was full of rocks.
The sea was rich with seafood, but the stormy weather and rocky coastline meant that many of the fishermen who ventured out were lost at sea.
This is why the island was well known all over, as the “Island Of Women.”
The women were left to cultivate the land, and to dive for seashells on the seashore.
This was also the reason that a matriarchal society developed on Jeju island.
The island has a rich folk song tradition, lamenting the hardships of life, the sadness of the black shores, and the beauty of the green mountains.
They developed ‘Farming Songs’ about plowing and breaking up lumpy rocky soil, about fertilizing barley fields, and laying stone walls from all the extra rocks, to prevent wind erosion.
The farming folk songs talked about weeding, threshing, cutting barley, and driving the cattle or horses around the dry fields.
They sang songs about stone mills, treadmills, and about cutting down trees.
They sang about timber and logs, sawing timber into boards, splitting wood, shaving wood and unloading wood.
There were songs about installing thatch roofs, and roof ropes over the thatch to prevent it from flying away in the harsh winds.
Songs about beating straw, working clay for the walls of the houses, about tramping down a house site, and about making yarn.
There were songs about the lives of the fishermen, making nets, working the oars, rowing a boat, launching a new boat, fishing for hair-tails…
There were songs about the life of women divers, who sang as they propelled down the cliffs or rowed a makeshift raft or a small boat, to dive along the Jeju coast.
Songs about swimming with a “Taewak” (a ball-shaped floating device) to or from the dive site.
The powerful and dynamic songs, and the choice of words, reflect their beliefs and attitudes toward the hardship and joys of living on the island.
The folk songs are a way of asking for protection, and at the same time channelling energy towards the tasks they were doing.
Folk songs are used to uplift the workers’ spirits, as they are doing repetitive or dangerous jobs.
To assist them to gather energy from a communal task, or to align their collective Spirit.
Jeju Island is called Jeju Samdado: for its “Three abundances,”
Which are the Seokda (Rocks),
The Pungda (Wind),
and Yeoda (Women).
The Rocks (Seokda) came from Mt. Halla and its volcanic activity in the past.
People had to cultivate the land by a strenuous process of clearing away the numerous rocks covering the land, and then forming inlets for irrigation.
Seokda tell of the harsh surroundings of Jeju which is located in the path of typhoons. The islanders had to fight against the harsh winds.
Thatched roofs needed to be tied down with straw ropes and they constructed long lava rock walls around their fields and villages, for protection against wind and soil erosion.
Yeoda originated from the fact that most men of Jeju island were lost at sea, which made women larger in number.
The harsh environment required women to work diligently, doing everything from working the land, to building homes, to gathering food and cooking.
The famous women-divers who fight against wild waves in all weather to collect shellfish or to catch fish, became the very symbol of Jeju Island.
There are three “Sammu” known on Jeju. (three good ‘Fortunes’ or ‘Lacks’)
There are no thieves,
The earlier days on Jeju, which were hard on an island with a harsh environment, meant that people needed to recognize their interdependence.
They needed one another to survive.
People needed to be diligent at everything they did, which promoted a society of hard working people who always had food and shelter, and thus no beggars nor thieves existed.
Since everyone worked hard and therefore had what they needed, nobody stole or begged, which made the use of gates unnecessary.
Almost all households on the island were the descendants of thinkers and scholars (called Tamna) who were banished from the mainland or chose to move to this remote island, to live a life not bound by society, but according to their own vision.
They were people of good principles who valued their honor.
These independent, self-reliant, and honorable islanders lived a diligent, thrifty, and interdependent life.
They did not need gates.
If you wanted to let a friend who might come visiting know that you were not at home, you would leave a long piece of a wooden log at the entrance to your house, to let the others know that you were out. (This log is called a “Jeongnang.”)
We have spent more than a week on Jeju island.
If you plan to visit Jeju island, I wish to share with you that today, the island is no longer a remote rural place with only idealistic hard working individuals.
Jeju island has two big cities, Jeju City, which is very populated and busy, and Seogwipo, which is spread out and thus seems less populated.
Beside the big cities and tons of cars on the road, nowadays the island is a major tourist destination, popular with honeymooners, hikers, and endless tour buses.
There are theme parks after theme parks spread across the whole island, offering children and the child at heart, all sorts of kitschy and cutesy man made entertainments.
There are a few chocolate museums, Teddy bear museums, Teddy bear safaris, dinosaur theme parks, sex museums, sex and health museums, automobile museums, submarine rides to see the sea life without getting cold, and the list goes on and on….
It feels like a big Disney world for honeymooners who married too young.
Not being fans of theme parks and silly museums, we opted to spend our time exploring the coast, the natural lava cave that is one of a kind in the world and a world heritage site, the lava cliffs, lava tubes and of course to hike Mount Hallasan, which was an active volcano, forming much of this island between 25,000 and 14,000 years ago.
There have been great efforts made to preserve and allow nature lovers to enjoy this island.
They have created a large network of coastal hikes, circumventing the whole island.
Each hike has a name and a number, and they are very well signed and posted.
They call this network of connecting and continual hikes the Jeju Olle Trails.
These coastal walks run through private property at times, and turn into the interior of the island as well.
They are not hard mountain hikes, but they are very enjoyable and a great way to see and feel the spirit of the island, away from the crowds.
We chose to walk two of the Olle trails on the weekend, when every other part of the island was full of tourist busses.
One morning as we were sitting in bed, we heard fighter jets boom across the blue sky of Jeju island (the full name is ‘Jeju Special Self-Governing Province’).
Hearing fighter jet planes fly so close to the houses made me nervous.
Did North Korea finally decide to attack?…. was the first thought that came to my mind.
We got out of bed and went into the garden to look into the sky.
The fighter jets flew in perfect formation, which immediately put my mind at ease.
What seems like a hundred lifetimes ago, I served in the Israeli air force, and I know that fighter jets do not attack in perfect formation, that would allow the enemy to shoot them down easily; they would fly in all directions to confuse the anti aircraft missiles.
Then the jets started spewing white, blue and red engine smoke, the colors of the Korean flag.
They made heart shapes in the sky, and I understood that it was just an air show.
Too bad they flew so close to the houses that all the windows and doors shook, and a frightened neighbor ran into her house and closed her doors.
This show-off demonstration of power seemed so foolish to me, and it reminded me of the Tao Te Ching, in which Lao Tse said:
“…..A fish should not be taken away from water, and a great country should not display its weapons to the people…..
When a country is in harmony with the Tao, it makes trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao, weapons are stockpiled outside cities.
There is no greater illusion than fear.
No greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself.
No greater misfortune than having an enemy.
Whoever can see through all fear, will always be safe.”
On the weekend, we decided to tour the island ‘defensively,’ meaning that we chose to go to places where we would not have to walk heel to toe with masses of people.
We went to see the Chunjiyeon waterfalls, which is an area with three waterfalls.
The parking lot had somewhat less cars.
I would like to add that the Korean people I have encountered while hiking or sightseeing, were nothing like the quiet, sweet and orderly Japanese people, despite the fact that Japan occupied Korea for a long time.
Many of the Korean kids that I have encountered screamed all the time, and their parents rarely asked them to quiet down, or attempted to teach them that they were disrupting the peace and the enjoyment of others, like parents constantly do in Japan.
Many of the people I have passed in public places were rowdy and often pushy.
Many hikers hiked with loud radios or music CD’s, and at times a few people in the same group played different songs while hiking very close together, which made listening to the birds, the wind, the river and the sounds of nature, virtually impossible.
I also did not see much of the wonderful attention given to details and quality that I have seen in Japan.
I have noticed that there is less of the feeling of pride and honor for menial jobs and of respect for others, and instead, a stronger desire for education, to be number one, and to get ahead at all cost.
As a result, the country has many less fabulous artists and poetic thinkers, small places to leisurely pass your time, less surfers and less flower girls, less crazy artistic people who do things because they love to do them, with less consideration for profit and gain.
With an attitude of wanting more and more and less focus on quality, also comes insecurities, and in Korea, there are more young people getting plastic surgery than in all of Asia.
Young and beautiful men and women go under the knife to shape their Asian eyes to look more like European eyes, enlarge their breasts and change the shapes of their bodies.
It is so futile and foolish to seek for joy, for approval and to hope for a better life, based on the shape of your body and to hope to look similar to the current beauty trends.
So many women in this culture, seem overly insecure about their looks.
In bathrooms, I saw dozens of women putting on make up as if they were practicing religious rites and holy rituals.
They seemed so sincere and so serious about their hair and makeup, as they fought for a spot in front of the mirror…. It almost seemed humorous to me.
In cafes, I often saw a group of woman friends, sit together and chat, while each one of them was holding up a hand held mirror, gazing into it, or putting on layers of makeup, moisturizing her face or adjusting invisible lines.
When they put their mirrors aside, they all texted and worked on their smartphones, as they ceaselessly talked in concert, while no one seems to listen to the other.
Anyway…… Allow me to go back to the waterfalls.
I have packed a picnic lunch for us, and I thought that we would dine in front of the waterfalls, and enjoy the energy of the water in the forest.
I felt like an idiot when the scenic place that I imagined for our picnic, turned out to be just another tourist spot, where we walked and climbed behind masses of people who blocked the view, alternating photographing themselves with their smartphones, in front of the falls.
There was no peaceful place to sit, and many loud and noisy people.
A small group of four or six people sounded more like dozens of people, all screaming and talking loudly at the same time.
I kept wondering to myself about this “concert talking” behavior……… if they all talk at the same time, who was ever listening to what the others had to say?…….. and if nobody listens to you, what is the use of talking so loud?….wouldn’t it be better to just think inside your own mind?….
A wave of love for my fellow humans, engulfed my mind, and I realized that for them, the sound of their voices was like chirping birds, they felt that they were alive and happy, chattering and chirping, being playful and being together.
I suddenly also realized that the love that they have for hiking heels to toe in large groups, come from the warmth that they feel in being with many others.
They experience a sense of camaraderie, as if they were conquering the mountain TOGETHER.
One of the waterfalls, was a seasonal waterfall and it had no water running down it.
At first, I thought (like most people) that it was not worth the effort to climb up and down many steps, just to see a waterfall that did not flow…… but luckily, we did go to see it.
We had left most of the crowd behind.
This waterfall had a fabulous rock formation and we found a quiet bench with almost nobody around, to enjoy our picnic lunch.
In the area above the falls, there is a bridge with seven nymphs sculpted on it.
Local legends say that the forest’s nymphs come to bathe in the river by the waterfalls.
We walked on one of the Olle paths to see the Jusangjeolli cliffs, lava rock formations which spilled into the ocean, and created an interesting geometric patterns and honey comb designed rocks.
Bellow the rocks, women divers wearing diving suits usually dive to collect abalone, sea cucumbers, fish and sea snails.
A women had set up a makeshift restaurant in the nearby park, and she was doing brisk business cleaning the shellfish and cutting it into small pieces, to be eaten raw with some spicy ketchup.
Her hands were very experienced, and she pulled the little creatures out of their shells, removed the hard calcium parts and chopped it into pieces that kept on moving and convulsing.
Later on our walking path, we saw the same women riding her vespa to a place in the rocks, where she dumped the empty shells back into the ocean.
We then went to see the cave temple of Sanbang-Gul.
We climbed the many steps to the grotto carved into Mount Sanbangsan, and saw the many bodhisattvas of compassion and the Buddha overlooking this great temple.
Beautiful Temples and forest mushrooms,
Sweet Hallabong tangerines,
Rocky geometric cliffs,
Lava tubes and windy coasts,
Insecure women who came here to eat fresh Abalone,
Dug up from the cold sea
By hard working brave island women,
Who are not insecure about their looks…
Ponies and horses grazing in the uplands,
And a volcanic tall stunning mountain,
All make up Jeju island today.