Hahoe Folk Village and Mask Dance


Hahoe Folk Village and Mask Dance – The Korea Times

Hahoe Folk Village and Mask Dance

By Yi Woo-won

Hahoe is one of the oldest and most folkloric clan villages in South Korea and was therefore designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. It is located about 25 kilometers west of Andong , in North Gyeongsang Province. Founded in the 14th and 15th centuries by the Ryu clan of Pungsan, the village reflects the Confucian culture and historical legends of the early Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).

Remarkably, to this day, Hahoe Village has retained some of the oldest architectural styles that may have been lost during the rapid urbanization and development of recent years. They include wooden buildings with tiled roofs for aristocrats or yangban and small thatched-roof houses for servants or people of the lower classes. In the hierarchical society of the Joseon Kingdom, “yangban” referred to family members of high-ranking officials and their descendants.

There are about 125 such houses, some of which are over 500 years old. The grand stately houses with tiled roofs, which were once the residences of influential yangban, still look elegant and noble, illustrating the wealth and dignity of the former residents. Additionally, although terribly weathered over the centuries, the buildings’ elaborate woodwork is still in good enough condition to attest to the unique and graceful architectural qualities of the Joseon Dynasty.

There were a few other surnames among the early settlers in the village, but the Ryu family of the Pungsan clan was predominant in numbers for many generations. Among the most famous figures of the Ryu family who had lived here during the Joseon Dynasty were two renowned Confucian scholars: Ryu Wun-yong (1539-1601) and his younger brother, Ryu Seong-yong, who had served as Prime Minister during the Japanese Invasions (1592-1597).

Among the majestic buildings, one named “Yang Jin Dang”, in Chinese characters, meaning “House of Promoting Truth”, was the residence of Ryu Wun-yong. This house had above all 11 rooms, four kitchens and two stables, which seemed sufficient to justify the luxury and comfort of an important character. Another notable house in the village is the one named “Chung Hyo Dang”, or “House of Loyalty and Filial Piety”, which was posthumously dedicated to the late Prime Minister Ryu Seong-yong. He was revered by many compatriots as a distinguished model of high integrity,

Unlike those impressive tile-roofed residences of the yangban, the tiny thatched-roof huts that belonged to the lower classes were traditionally scattered along the outskirts of the yangban village. This fact was due to the yangban’s dislike and discrimination towards lower class people. Life must have been quite unfair and hard for the occupants of these simple little mud houses. But, thanks to the wisdom of our ingenious ancestors, they seemed to have enjoyed a little comfort: coolness in summer under thick thatched roofs and warmth in winter in rooms with mud walls and ondol floors.

Another special and truly intriguing feature of the historic village is the talchum or “masked dance drama”, which has been performed for centuries during the Lunar New Year holidays. It is generally assumed that the satirical and humorous depiction of the drama was devised by the poor commoners to vent their grievances against the haughty aristocratic yangban. Therefore, the comedy is hilariously acted out with a bit of lewdness and curses to criticize and ridicule the yangban ruling class and further disparage the licentious behavior of some Buddhist monks.

Although the exact number of original masks is unknown, nine of them have survived to this day. These are the masks of a yangban, a housewife, a bride, an elderly woman, a monk, a scholar, a servant, a butcher and a imbecile. Incidentally, Queen Elizabeth II visited the village of Hahoe in 1999. During her visit, the villagers prepared a big party to celebrate her 73rd birthday.

Meanwhile and over the years, rumors of a masked dance event in a small village in Korea have spread quickly and widely. Today, it has grown into a huge international festival in the city of Andong, the birthplace of Confucianism and Confucian studies in Korea. The world culture festival of mask dancing is now enjoyed by tens of thousands of locals and visitors from all over the world. The event takes place annually for 10 days from late September to early October.
Yi Woo-won (yiwoowon1988@gmail.com) lives in Waegwan, North Gyeongsang Province, and has been writing since 1986.


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