Wishing Abundance to the Goddess of Wind: Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut

Jeju Island shamanic ritual to Yeongdeung, god of wind, which became a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. © Korea Open Government License Type 1, Source

In traditional society, Jeju has blossomed an original and attractive culture based on its natural feature of being a volcanic island located between the Korean Peninsula and the South Sea. Every year in February of the lunar calendar, “Gut,” one of Korea’s seasonal customs, is held throughout Jeju to pray for the peace, good harvest, and good catch of the sea. Haenyeo (local female divers) and shipowners prepare food offering for the gods, and shamans serve as a bridge between gods and people, offering ancestral rites to the spirits of nature, such as the wind goddess, sea god, and mountain god. “Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut” is Jeju’s representative intangible cultural heritage that captures what the sea meant to the lives of the former islanders.

Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut is based on the myth of Yeongdeung God, the goddess of wind (otherwise called the “yeongdeung halmang,” meaning Grandmother Yeongdeung), along with various guardian deities of the village, the dragon king and ancestrial gods. Yeongdeung God is a foreign goddess that appears in a myth in Jeju. She returns on the first day of the second lunar month and controls the weather while staying in Jeju, she sprays seeds of grain to be harvested the next year on the ground and seeds of seaweed and seafood on the sea. The goddess is also a threat to people’s lives by stirring the sea, but also a god of abundance that helps seaweed grow well by circulating seawater. This myth reflects the islanders’ perception of the sea, which is both a source of life and a dangerous place.

Records of Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut can be found in “Shinjeung Dongguk Yeoji Seungram”, “Tamraji”, and “Dongguk Sesigi”. Above all, however, the reason Yeongdeunggut could be transmitted for a long time was that the residents were the true owners of the heritage. While preparing food for rituals with marine resources collected from the sea, which is part of their lives, haenyeo and shipowners inherited the tradition as a subject of Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut along with a shaman leading the gut. The ritual was passed down in the lives of Jeju residents for a long time. Shaman Ahn Sa-in was designated as the ICH holder in 1980, allowing more people to learn the value and importance of the heritage.

Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut is a unique tradition that can only be seen in Jeju Island, where rituals for mountain gods and rituals for Yeongdeung are combined with one shamanic ritual called Yeongdeunggut. On every February 1st of the lunar calendar, Chilmeoridang in the village, where Yeongdeung-gut is held, welcomes Yeongdeungsin with a welcoming festival. The villagers offer offerings to the god of Yeongdeung, the guardian deity of the village, and the sea god to pray for the abundant year and the well-being of the village, and on February 14, they hold a farewell ceremony to send back various gods safely. Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut, which has been handed down as a folk ritual that reflects the natural view and belief of Jeju people over many years, has been recognized for its academic value as the only haenyeo-gut in Korea that shows a unique combination of haenyeo beliefs and folk beliefs. In 2009, it was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Despite the development of negative views on folk beliefs due to modernization, Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut has become an important cultural festival that fosters unity and bond among community members and a ritual that captures the lives of ancestors who shared the flow of nature. Surrounded by the sea on all sides and in the wind blowing rapidly, Jeju Islanders did not simply fear and fight the winds, but recognized them as beings that brought the blessing of abundant resources. As the voices about the environment are increasing, it is believed that this view of nature of Jeju Islanders can be a guide to living a “sustainable life” in a modern society.