- Activists are visiting Jeju villages to document local shrines at risk of damage and removal
|▲ Photo by Giuseppe Rositano|
Hundreds of shamanic shrines are dotted across Jeju, and many are some of the oldest structures on the island.
Yet, only a handful of these traditional places of worship, and some associated
The issue came to the fore in the winter of 2013 with the destruction of the Seolsaemitdang shrine, a natural sanctuary in Jukseong Village where islanders have worshipped for hundreds of years.
More recently, campaigners seeking to preserve the ancient religious sites learned that a shrine in Seongsan, home to Sunrise Peak in the east of the island, had been destroyed to make way for two car park spaces.
The loss has spurred shrine supporters into action with the aim of preserving what is seen as a vital part of island heritage before it is too late.
|▲ Tommy Tran looks within one Ojo-ri shrine.
Photo by Joey Rositano
Two such campaigners
According to Rositano, at least seven of the island’s 400 shrines have been either disturbed or destroyed in the past three years alone.
“It’s an issue that’s going to continue,” he warned.
“These shrines are some of the oldest structures on the island. There’s not much that’s been left after the war and the April 3 massacre. One of the things that
On the morning of Oct 27, Rositano, Tran and I drove to the Seongsan area where, Rositano informs me, shamanic shrine worship is stronger than anywhere else on the island.
“Probably 80 percent of the island’s shamans live in this
Four years ago in Seongsan, an
Like the vast majority of the island’s shrines, the religious site, frequented by local haenyeo women divers, fell on privately owned land.
Seongsan’s harbormaster, Hong Yun Pyo, told us how the local authority had tried for 20 years to have the shrine designated as a cultural property.
|▲ Rositano talks to a local villager about the threat to local shrines.
Photo by Matthew Collison
He said there was no more land available to build a replacement shrine as all the coastal land is privately owned. Any public land, he told us, is reclaimed land that has been reserved for roads.
The next nearest shrine is in Ojo-ri village, just north of Seongsan. Rositano, Tran and I were guided to the site of the
We found the shrine built within a container in the Ojo-ri wetlands, a protected site. However, to get to it worshippers, typically elderly women, have to traverse a wet, rocky path.
One resilient worshipper, Kim
Later she tells us the landowner agreed to replace the
She said: “He didn’t want it [the shrine] on the property, so they built the container building.
“It’s a little uncomfortable to get over there when it used to be here, and it’s a little strange that it’s in a different place.”
Despite the changes, many dedicated worshippers have learnt to adapt as long as the sacred shrines remain.
Kim said: “When you worship your ancestor gods, you don’t have a choice. You have to deal with it.”
Matthew Collison email@example.com