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Korean Traditional Folk Games have Special Meanings for Women

By Woo, Jin-a, reporter 기자2006.10.01 00:00:26

 
Ganggangsuwolae 
ⓒ photo by naver
Have you ever seen women playing Ganggangsuwolae on Chuseok each year (Korean Thanksgiving Day according to the lunar calendar)? Ganggangsuwolae is one of many famous Korean traditional folk games, and it has been played since early times; no one knows exactly when Ganggangsuwolae began, but experts guess the origin as being in ancient times. Under the moonlight of Chuseok, scores of hand-in-hand women wearing elegant Hanboks, which are Korean traditional clothes, quickly turn round and round making circles and singing songs. This is a scene of Ganggangsuwolae.

I if you have even a basic knowledge of what Korean women’s status was in traditional society such as during the Joseon dynasty, you may have a question about this type play. In the past, Korean women were strictly restricted not only in their social life but also in their daily life. They were basically not allowed to leave their houses for public life. How then were they allowed to play Ganggangsuwolae outdoors?

The main reason is because Korean women who were ordinarily stuck indoors were allowed to enjoy traditional folk games, as exception, during the days of Myeongjeol which are big holidays such as; Seolnal, Daeboreumnal, Dano, Chuseok, and etc. For a brief time they could free themselves from bondage, and play traditional folk games with neighboring women during the days of Myeongjeol. In addition to the Ganggangsuwolae, there were many other traditional folk games in Korea in the past, and women especially played some of them, including the Neolttwigi, Hwajeonnori, and Geunetagi. Well, don’t you want to know more about these Korean traditional folk games?


 
Neolttwigi 
ⓒ photo by daejonilbo
Neolttwigi.

Korean women used the Neolttwigi, which is similar to a seesaw, for a long time. Putting a bundle of straw or a straw bag underneath a Neol, which is a narrow and long wooden board, two women stand on each end, and the woman in the higher position initiates pushing down the end of the Neol by her feet using all her weight and power to toss high up in the air the lower woman at the other end. Then, the woman tossed high up pushes down the end of the Neol with her feet and with all her gravity-added-weight and uses the power to toss high up in the air the now-lower woman at the other end. While repeating these motions alternately, if one woman fails to stand properly by loss of her balance, she becomes the loser. The Neolttwigi has long been played with on Seolnal, which is the Korean New Year"s Day by the lunar calendar, and on Daeboreumnal, which is the 15th of January of the lunar calendar. We can see the year’s first full moon on this day. It is said that women who hardly had a chance of going out could enjoy seeing the outside world over the wall by playing on a Neolttwigi. Also, the Neolttwigi promoted women’s health by improving the pushing down power and their sense of proportion.

 
Hwajeon 
ⓒ photo by naver
Hwajeonnori.

Hwajeonnori is another famous Korean traditional folk game played by women. It is also called "flower viewing." A Hwajeonnori is a women’s spring picnic. They fried and ate pancakes attached with petals of the Azalea, danced and played on a hill or by the riverside with their friends. A Hwajeon is a piece of pancake having flowers in it and/or on its surface. During Hwajeonnori"s, in the past, some women prayed to God for a year of abundance, so they could unburden themselves of all the household duties and enjoy the lovely scenery of spring.
Geunetagi.

Korean women also enjoyed the Geunetagi, which is identical to a swing, during the Dano festival on the 5th of May according to the lunar calendar. Before the day of the Dano festival, the village people put up a swing on a high branch of a big tree, like a Zelkova or Jujube, located near the entrance to the village. The swing rope is always about 9 to 10 meters long. On a Geunetagi, the woman who reaches the highest altitude by rocking the swing back and forth becomes the winner of the game. Especially during the Choseon Dynasty, the lives of women were very depressing, so a Geunetagi, played on in an open space with many female friends and relatives, had a special meaning to the women. Also, as one of the oldest traditional folk games, the Geunetagi even served as the momentum behind a fateful meeting in the classic literature ‘Chunhyangjeon’ . In ‘Chunhyangjeon’, Leedoryeong, the hero, fell in love with Chunhyang, the heroine, at his first sight of her playing on a Geunetagi. Like this story, a Geunetagi was a popular amusement providing good chances and venues for finding love and improving friendships between Korean women.


 
Geunetagi 
ⓒ phoyo by empas

In addition to the traditional folk games discussed above, there are many other folk games for women that have been handed down, and you can see and participate in those games on big holidays or festivals. As in most traditional male-dominated society, these games must have been a way to escape for women under such impersonal restrictions. Korean women must have recovered their energy for a healthy life through these games. Nowadays, in accordance with the changing times, the position of women has been greatly improved both socially and politically. Therefore, Korean traditional folk games for women are being played at a tradition-passing on level, and not for women’s liberation. So, during this coming Chuseok, while you watch for the Ganggangsuwolae in the light of full moon, why don’t you feel and think about the sorrowful traditional women’s life for a moment?






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