Korea's Remote Isle of Rich Folklore
my photos from my visit in September 1998
|The southern sector of the east coast.
Ulleung-do is remarkably craggy, and incredibly beautiful, remote in the Donghae [East Sea]. Korean folklore has many stories of
one or more Dragons or Sanshin [Mountain-spirits] that "Ascended to Heaven" at some ancient point, and quite a few of those are
used to explain unusual geographical landscapes. Ulleung-do has several versions of a tale of a gigantic dragon that lived on the
Seongin Peak and one day long-ago ascended to Heaven in anger at not being properly venerated, smashing this and the other
once-graceful islands with his tail before leaving for-good -- leaving this "broken" craggy landscape. Some variations of this myth
identify this fearsome dragon with Gimbu-daewang [Great King Kim Bu], a.k.a. King Gyeongsun, final ruler of the Unified Shilla Dynasty,
or even with Munmu-daewang, the great soveriegn who accomplished unification of Korea in 668 CE. Ulleung-do is also said by
Pungsu-jiri geomancers to be important in the energy-balance of all the Korean Peninsula, granting protection to the long east coast.
|The central east coast, with Dodong and Jeodong ports; Dodong 道洞 도동 Town is the capital and tourism center.
The summit of its unified volcanic mountain-complex, Seongin-bong [Holy-Person Peak] 984m, is at center-right.
|The upper parts of Dodong Town crowd against the steep eastern peaks
|Bongnae Pokpo [Peak-inside Waterfall] west above Dodong, east below Seongin-bong
|Ohjing-eo [Squid] is the main business, along with tourism. There's not much farmland....
|The Samseong-am [Three Saints Rocks] are a major tourist-draw north of the port, seen by tour-boats.
|One of Korea's very few remaining fully authentic neowajip [traditional house of the lowest class, with wood-slat roof
held-down by stones], with even the front walls thatched against the sea-borne storms, in west-coast Taeha-ri Village.
|Looking down NE from the Seongin-bong Summit
|Remote Tonggumi-ri Village
|Juk-do [Bamboo Islet], 2nd-largest landmass of Ulleung County -- a few people live there; I did not visit.
This is a steep, rocky, passive volcanic island; it last had a gigantic explosive eruption about 9,350 years ago.
It is now thought to be linked by magma-tubes very deep underground with the Baekdu-san volcano to its north-
west and the Halla-san volcano to its south-west, making a semi-circle of potential volcanic activity encompassing
all of Korea on its eastern side. It has been inhabited since sometime in the first thousand years BCE, at first by
migrants from the early-bronze-age Korean proto-states. It has never erupted in known history.
They developed an independent tribal society on this island, then called Usan-guk 于山國 [Flute/Exhale Mountain
State] by the mainlanders. In Korea's early ancient era the forces of Shilla King Jijeung 智證王 지증왕 (r. 500–514)
led by Kim Isa-bu first conquered it and renamed it as Ulleung-do 鬱陵島 울릉도 [Luxuriant Mount Island] in 512 CE.
The aristocrat-general Kim Isa-bu was governing "northern Shilla" at the time, the region then called Mureung-do
and now known as the core of Gangwon-do Province. The area was only loosely governed by the Unified Shilla
Dynasty, and not at all when Shilla degenerated in the 9th century.
Ulleung-do was re-conquered by the incipient Goryeo Dynasty forces, and annexed to Gangwon Province, in 930.
It became a constant security problem for the next thousand years, due to being so remote from the mainland i
very cold and rough waters (still a problem for modern-tech ferries today, and it has no airport) -- it was often
attacked by pirates from what are now Manchuria and Japan. The new Joseon Dynasty government ordered a
temporary evacuation of the residents just after 1400, leading to the tragic tale of Taeha-ri still enshrined today.
A Korean fisherman named An Yong-bok heroically but just-barely held-off Japanese forces claiming fishing rights
in the 1690s, and after that the Joseon Dynasty government tried to enforce an "empty-island" policy dis-allowing
residence here from around 1600 to 1880. That policy was officially rescinded in 1881 as the government of King
Gojong opened-up to international relations, and they then sought to encourage settlement of many fishermen
and a few farmers.
Today Ulleung-gun County consists of 4 islands and 40 islets, including the controversial Dok-do Islets claimed by
modern Japan (far to the east, but linked by seabed-ridge to Ulleung and closer to it than to any Japanese island;
clearly a part of the Ulleung archipelago; the Japanese claims have no basis other than imperial colonialism).
Paraphrased from the Encyclopedia of Korean Folklore: "One of the old myths from Ulleung County is Gumeong-bawi [Hole Rock],
about a huge rock-outcropping located off the shore of Cheonbu Village, which was originally on the waters off Hyeonpo Village.
An elderly villager with mighty powers tied the rock to his boat and tried to haul it to faraway waters. But the rock would not be
pulled away, and the old man, getting angry, lifted one of the nearby smaller rocks and threw it at the big rock tied to his boat, which
made a hole in it. When the boat reached the waters off Cheonbu Village, the rope tore off, leaving the rock in its current location,
and the rock came to be called Gumeongseom (Hole Island) or Gongam (Hole Rock) due to the hole made by the old man."
"This myth seems based on the“ Mountain That Moved ”narrative-motif, explaining the origins of this prominent giant islet next to Ulleung-do.
The old man who moves the rock in this story seems based on the creator who rearranges geographical features, more specifically the giant
creator deity in Korean mythology. In the course of moving the rock, the old man loses his mighty power, which can be interpreted as the
secularization and fragmentation of the creator god, a common phenomenon in Korean folk narratives."