There is a group of special women here in Jeju called the Haenyeo. Haenyeo literally means “sea women”. They are the female divers in Jeju who dives into the ocean to gather various shellfish without using any diving equipment. They have their special diving suit with weights they tie on a belt and they only carry a pair of goggles, a round ball-like tube to keep their balance and a basket to put their harvests in. They can dive up to 30 metres deep and hold their breath for over three minutes. Their harvests consists of sea urchins, abalone, octopus, oysters, etc. You can find out more about these superwomen here at the Haenyeo Museum.
This museum showcases their history, lifestyle and traditions. You can also see displays of the equipment they use and other related items. These women are known for their independent spirit and determination.
The museum consists of a basement where the Children’s Haenyeo Museum is and three levels. The first level is where you can find the information desk, theater & exhibition hall, the second level is another exhibitions hall and the third level is the observation tower where you can have an great view of the Hado-ri area.
I have seen a documentary about these women and am truly impressed. I didn’t get to see one when I was in Jeju. Maybe because the weather is too cold for diving or my timing just isn’t right.
Diving was exclusively a male profession in the beginning but somehow it became common for women to dive and the number of women divers outnumbered the men. There are several explanations that exist for this shift. A significant number of men died at sea either in a war or accident and physiologically, women have more subcutaneous fat and a higher shivering threshold than men, making them more able to withstand cold waters. There could be many more reasons but somehow, it became a female-dominated industry.
As these women bring in the majority of the income for the family, they soon became the breadwinner of the family while the husbands stay home to take care of the children. Therefore, they became a unique society. Families celebrate the birth of girls over the birth of boys.
However, things have changed nowadays. Their numbers are declining due to industrialization. It is also not an easy job and with miserable conditions, most women abandon this job. There could be times where they cannot dive due to dangerous weather or other conditions. With women education on the rise and easier jobs compared to diving, many young women choose other job opportunities. Therefore, now, over 98% of haenyeo are over the age of 50. They are considered one of Jeju’s most valued treasure.
We also get to see a short video documentary about these women at the theater. You can see for yourself the lives of these superwomen. It had been an eye-opening experience for me to know about these women. It is a bit heartbreaking but also impressive what these women had to go through. I salute them! Come here to learn more about them.
The Haenyeo Museum (해녀박물관)
Address: 26, Haenyeobangmulgwan-gil, Gujwa-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do
제주특별자치도 제주시 구좌읍 해녀박물관길 26 (구좌읍)
No. to input in GPS: 782 9898
- 9.00am to 6.00pm (Last admission at 5.00pm)
- Closed on New Year’s Day, Chuseok and the first and third Monday every month.
- 1,100 Won for Adults ages 24 to 64
- 500 Won for Youth ages 13 to 24
Parking Fee: Free
This is sadly my last stop in Jeju. It had been a long day today from waking up at 3am to see the sunrise and ending the day learning more about these special women in Jeju.
I’m flying back to Seoul the next day. It had been a great few days in Jeju. There are still more things to see and do here. Jeju is beautiful. The slower pace makes me relaxed. I really enjoyed my days there and hopefully I’ll come back for more.
Seoul is so much different from Jeju. Find out more about it in the next blog. See you!