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The Hawk Eye

The Student News Site of Charlotte Latin School

The Hawk Eye

The Student News Site of Charlotte Latin School

The Hawk Eye

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The Seas of Courage: A Wonderful Story of Culture

The Haenyeo Divers get ready for a dangerous and tricky dive. They carry all of their equipment with them.

On a small island called Jeju in South Korea, a fascinating tradition has given the women of this place a rich culture. These incredible women are called the “Haenyeo”, which translates directly to “sea women”. According to Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), since the 17th century, the women of Jeju Island dive about 33 feet underwater without oxygen masks to collect seaweed and shellfish for their families. This task is exclusively done by the women of the island and they continue to do it with pride throughout their elder years if they’re able to complete the journey. The task is not easy either as the temperature of the waters can hit the low 20s and it takes incredible physical effort to successfully dive over 33 feet underwater.

The Haenyeo Divers head to sea to complete a dive around the 1970s. Most of these women shown are still diving to this day.

This rich tradition dates back to the 17th century and played a crucial role in the economy of Jeju Island. As noted on Dive O’Clock, they explain that although the women of the island today are now straying away from this way of life, the Jeju culture used to solely rely and thrive on this practice that mothers would pass down to their daughters. The divers would (and some still do) bring home food for their families, acting as the chief breadwinners, an outlying system in Korea’s patriarchal society. The tradition was placed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016. 

The Haenyeo divers, all living in the same village, have unique traditions that solidify a bond between them and emphasize their importance to Jeju culture. The UNESCO Courier explains how the lead divers are expected to accurately predict the weather by listening to the sound of waves to determine the hours for diving that day. Also, before every dive, the women pray to Jamsugut, goddess of the sea, for a safe and successful catch. The Haenyeo women also enjoy learning about each other’s personal life as they gather around a Bulteok, which are stones formed by the tide in a circular shape, to share their personal stories and talk about the latest gossip in between big dives. The Haenyeo are a prominent symbol of the strength and independence that women have.

Unfortunately the Haenyeo diving practice has been going out of style in recent years. New jobs in the cities are now more appealing for younger women in Jeju Island, and the divers need new recruits in order to keep their tradition. Many of the existing divers are elderly and soon will be unable to continue. The complete lack of safety equipment also makes the job very difficult and perilous. Over forty lives of the Haenyeo women have been lost in the sea.

The Haenyeo Divers gather in a circle to discuss their recent lives in between big dives in the sea.

Jeju Island will always be remembered and admired for their tradition of the Haenyeo divers, even if they are dying out. The extreme efforts and resilience of the Jeju Island Women is a true testament to their hard work.

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