- Jeju’s grave guardians were loyal in their service to us, but we failed to reciprocate
|▲ A "dongjaseok," or stone guardian traditionally found on Jeju graves. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province|
These grave guardians (“dongjaseok”) are modest, standing the same height as the stone walls which enclose Jeju grave mounds. They are also carved somewhat crudely, with simplified features and childlike expressions, indicating purity of thought for the deceased they protect.
Many were sent to Japan over the years, and many were stolen, to end up alone, perhaps as garden ornaments, missing their Jeju hometown. They would have once stood in pairs guarding Jeju graves, or for district governmental officials to signify their power.
|▲ Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province|
Our neglect of these charming carved basalt statues contributed to their loss. Although they stayed with us longer than the now ubiquitous Stone Grandfathers (Dolhareubang), they were never designated as cultural heritage. Their small size also encouraged theft, as, like a young child, they were easily removed and hidden.
Many of these stolen rare artifacts, hundreds of years old and extremely valuable, have still not been recovered. Even today, we do not know their true value as they were abandoned in mountain fields, and people wishing to continue the tradition choose cheaper granite imports from China.
There are now few stone guardians left on Jeju graves, although those that remain steadfastly guard the souls of the departed. It is with sorrow that I reflect on the 40 years that have passed since the tradition on Jeju died out; we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Kim Yu-jeong email@example.com