Jeju women skin divers to become UNESCO heritage items

The society and community surrounding the female haenyeo skin divers (??) of Jeju Island are likely to be added to the UNESCO list of humanity's intangible cultural heritage items.

The evaluation body at UNESCO recommended that the Jeju haenyeo divers be added to the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity items, the government's Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) announced on Oct. 31.

UNESCO's evaluation body determines the results of the nomination to the list and gives advice to the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The cultural heritage authorities predicted with optimism that the evaluation body's recommendation will have a positive effect on the final decision of the 11th annual meeting in Addis Ababa from Nov. 26 to Dec. 2. so that then the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage can make a final decision.

In the nomination file, the CHA highlighted the significance of the female skin divers of Jeju Island, saying that their muljil (??), or their diving to catch seafood without using any breathing apparatus, and their jamsugut (???), a shamanic ritual they practice onboard the boat before diving (muljil), praying to the goddess of the sea in a hope of safety, are both worthy of being enshrined on UNESCO's list. The applicants also spoke about the haenyeo norae (????), the songs the female divers sing while rowing their boats out to the sea, the role that women on the island play across the generations, and the divers' strong sense of identity, which is formed in each local community on the island.

Currently, Korea is home to 18 intangible cultural heritage items. This list includes the Jongmyo Jerye, or Royal Ancestral Rite (????), the Jongmyo Jeryeak, or Ritual Music at Jongmyo Shrine (?????), the process of kimjang (??), or the making and sharing of kimchi, nongak, or community farming music (??), pansori, a form of musical story telling (???), and namsadang nori, or traditional folk performance by male vagabond clowns (?????). If the traditions and community of Jeju's haenyeo divers are added to the list, it will be Korea's 19th intangible cultural heritage item registered by UNESCO.


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