Sunday, June 5, 2016

Daraengi Village Festival 2016

Daraengi terraced rice fields of Gacheon village is on the southern edge of Namhae Island. It is mostly an agricultural village growing garlic in the spring and of course rice through the summer. Supposedly 108 levels of field exists to accommodate farming to the natural curves of the land. While the origin of the village is uncertain, the village is thought to go back to the Silla Dynasty according to documents of both the Kimhae Kim family and the Haman Cho family who have been in the village for generations.

The village gained attention after being featured in a popular commercial, and now it is particularly well-known for its 108 terraced fields of rock and soil as well as the shaman Gacheon Amsu rock, the guardian rock for the village. The rocks are supposed to give fortune in fishing, and fortune in conceiving. For centuries the phallus-labia Amsu stone has been an object of prayer for prosperity and sons. The jutting male genitalia is surrounded by female genitalia and so, according to legend, a sterile woman can give birth after making wishes on the rock. The locals call the phallus rock the male Maitreya and the labia rock the female Maitreya.

In 1751, the Namhae county magistrate, Jo Gwangjin, had a dream where an old man appeared and said to him, "I am buried in Gacheon but cannot rest comfortably because horses and oxen pass on the road above me. If you disinter my body and move my grave, you will be eternally blessed with good fortune." The magistrate therefore excavated these boulders and placed them on the slope of Gacheon. Then he enshrined them as the Maitreya buddha and, offering plenty of rice, held a ceremony to the stones. The 23rd day of the 10th lunar month was the day these rocks were uncovered. Locals to this day still conduct ceremonies on the anniversary and pray for tranquil shipping routes and plentiful catches of fish. (This seems rather ironic as the village now relies on an agricultural economy.) These stones were originally used to pray for abundant harvests and prosperity; however, over the course of years, this role expanded to include prayers to protective deities of the sea as well as the village and has even been elevated to include prayers to the Maitreya buddha. Prayers for conception are still made here as well.

The biggest day of the festival is today, but virtually no one was here before noon. It was the a.m. hours (perhaps 11-ish) and just before people started coming that the "real" festival happened. Before the festivities could kick off, locals (probably the leading officials or maybe the heads of clans) offered food and drinks to the spirits and made ceremonial bows. I'm not sure who they were making wishes and prayers to, but I assume that the Dragon King who is said to control the well-being of all individuals and villages along waterways and ocean fronts, is one of the primary recipients for wishes for prosperity, health, and longevity. The table was set up on a sharp hill to face the ocean. Fewer than 20 people stood around, which included one photographer with a mega-huge camera that seemed really out of place in this quaint village with basic conveniences. The prayers lasted a mere 10-15 minutes and then the tables and food offerings almost instantly were packaged up and hauled away ... and yet, this was one of the most momentous "performances" of the entire festival for the festival could not begin until this small wish for blessings took place. Lucky me to be passing at the beginning of the first bows.

Whenever the spirits are invited, drinks to entertain them appear along with copious amounts of specialty foods.
A very unique display of fish on this table. And lots of red foods too, since the red is supposed to be for dispelling misfortune.
Ah that smiling pig head. If it's smiling, fair fortune will be all the more.
With wishes for fortune made to the proper deities, the samulnori performance kicked off. The folk dancing, rituals and musical performance are traditional in rice farming villages and are supposed to ensure and augur good harvests. The performers started in front of the village meeting hall and then made their way to various points in the village to pour out libations to the deities, pour some down their own throats too, and finally circle around and back to meeting hall, which in the meantime, held the opening ceremony for the festival. The festival has officially started!

I'm not sure if the performers made offerings in front of the Amsu stone but they did in front of the village rice grave. The rice grave is where the villagers pay respects to the village spirit with a ceremony on the full-moon day (15th) of the 10th lunar month. The principle feature of the ceremony is the burial of cooked rice at three spots within the village—center (possibly this rice grave or possibly the Amsu stones just a few meters away), eastern and western. The ceremony takes place at the center location around 8pm. In the a.m. on the day of the ceremony, the soil where the newly cooked rice will be buried has to replaced with fresh, unpolluted soil collected from the mountains.

In the ceremony itself, the village spirits are offered various foods prepared from newly harvested crops, fruits and fish—the provender of the village. People then make wishes for good harvest in the coming seasons and for fortune and the well-being of villagers. Much importance is placed on the cleanness (both mental and physical) of the Master of Ceremony. To be nominated as a Master of Ceremony, the person should refrain from traveling far lest he come across undesirable events like a funeral or lavish parties, etc. Even within the household there should not be a pregnant woman. To warn unclean people away from a house with a designated Master of Ceremony, a special warning string is attached to the house gate.

The performers encircled the Rice Grave and three times they collectively bow. 
Libations of alcohol are poured over the Rice Grave. The spirits must drink and enjoy. 
And of course the participants must drink and enjoy along with the spirits—glug, glug.
Once ceremonies for blessings have been performed at key spots in the village, the performers return up the hill to the meeting hall where the beginning ceremonies for the festival have begun.
Daraengi is known for its picturesque rice terraces, and it is also getting known as a place where plowing the old traditional way with a cow can be experienced. Tourism companies are starting to make a big deal of this.

In the early afternoon in time for the bigger part of the festival, a busload of foreigners touring with Adventure Korea showed up. They had reservations to stay in the village and had a very nice agenda—first and foremost, to plant a couple of rice paddies. They were given thigh-high boots and straw hats and taught the method—basically, go forth and plant in straight rows following the plumb line and planting one rice plant at every red tape marking on the line. No education needed—Go forth! Their backs were killing them by the time they collectively planted two fields, and the rows were definitely not straight, but they were having a great time and the villagers were too while watching them.

Of course before they started planting they had to drink together for companionship and strong teamwork—everyone drank together, even the alcohol-bearer was tipped a cup so he could participate with fervor and strength.
By this time the local farmer was tired from plowing. He and another man had been switching turns at the plow, so now the foreigners were encouraged to have a turn—all part of their Daraengi agricultural village experience.

A 4.5 kilometer rather rough trail connects Daraengi Village and Seongju, a nearby fishing and agricultural village that is also quaintly beautiful and certainly less touristy. Though a steep, rocky tough climb, the views of Hallyeo Haesang Maritime National Park along the route are supposed to be spectacular.

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