Jeju's Sea Women Keep Tradition Afloat

When Jeju is mentioned, people usually think about Jeju Island and the green tea fields that are a major attraction to many; but also dwelling in the providence of Jeju is a tradition going back to the seventeenth century.

The diving tradition of Jeju was originally performed only by men, but soon the number of female divers, known as Haenyeo, was far greater. There may have been a number of reasons for why this happened, such as a large number of men who had lost their lives in war or fishing accidents, which left the job of diving to the women during this time.

Many families came to rely on the income that the Haenyeo produced, and eventually, more men began staying home to take care of the children, shop, and clean while the women worked. Another unique thing about this society was that men started to pay a dowry to the family of the bride, which was the opposite of what was usually done, and the birth of a girl was celebrated more so than a boy.

If a girl chooses to become Haenyeo, the training process usually starts at eleven years old. They must first become accustomed to diving in less challenging waters before taking on greater depths. Training can last around seven years before a girl is considered Haenyeo, and they may live as one up until their eighties.

Diving as deep as thirty meters, the Haenyeo are trained to hold their breath for over three minutes to have the time to harvest abalone, conch, sea squirt, octopus, oysters and other sea creatures.

The number of divers is dwindling, but Jeju Sea Women are keeping this tradition alive!

If you found this article interesting, make sure to check out I'm Not Squidding: A Snack Straight from the Sea and Taking the Scenic View of Korea's National Parks!

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