'Women of the sea': Jeju haenyeo, an extreme job putting fresh seafood on tables

29/1/2022 12:06:00 PM

'Women of the sea': Jeju haenyeo, an extreme job putting fresh seafood on tables

https://str.sg/wdgoSEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - On Jeju, South Korea's largest island, it is common for women to wear the pants in the family.For a long time, the Jeju women, many of whom are primary income earners for their households, are literally responsible for putting seafood on our tables.

Jeju haenyeo, which roughly translates to"women of the sea", are free-diving seafood gatherers who can hold their breaths for long periods as they harvest from the sea floor."They used to call us 'jomnyeo' which means diving woman in the Jeju dialect," said Madam Koh Bok-im, 73, a Jeju native who has been working as a Jeju haenyeo since the age of 18, following her mother and grandmother in the tradition of muljil, or diving for seafood.

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Copy to clipboard https://str.sg/wdgo SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - On Jeju, South Korea's largest island, it is common for women to wear the pants in the family. For a long time, the Jeju women, many of whom are primary income earners for their households, are literally responsible for putting seafood on our tables. Jeju haenyeo, which roughly translates to"women of the sea", are free-diving seafood gatherers who can hold their breaths for long periods as they harvest from the sea floor. "They used to call us 'jomnyeo' which means diving woman in the Jeju dialect," said Madam Koh Bok-im, 73, a Jeju native who has been working as a Jeju haenyeo since the age of 18, following her mother and grandmother in the tradition of muljil, or diving for seafood. "When I first started back in the day, abalones were very common but they are rare now. Nowadays, I typically harvest about 30kg of sea snails called 'sora', which we can catch from November through April," she said. "Sea cucumber season is during the months of February and March when the weather is cold. On a lucky day, I caught up to five octopuses in one day. But haenyeo don't usually get to enjoy our harvest as we have to sell them for cash to raise and educate our kids," said Madam Koh, who has raised her five children by working in the sea. Working as a haenyeo is indeed an extreme job. "I dived during all of my five pregnancies. On the day I delivered my third child, my water broke during muljil and I just dropped everything and rushed home to deliver my boy," said Koh, who had home births for all five with the help of her late husband's aunt. "When diving for seafood, my dive typically lasts about three minutes. I look for my target on my way down and usually catch something before I come up for air, but there are times when I come up for air empty handed," said Madam Koh. "You need a friend when you're working in the water. We look out for each other," said Koh. Haenyeo have to have each other's backs when diving in dangerous sea waters. When a diver does not come up for air as she should, a haenyeo nearby drops everything to pull up a passed-out diver. That happened with Koh about 10 years ago during a haenyeo diving competition among representatives from several villages. "A haenyeo from the Seogwipo area was diving in the water near me and she got too greedy. When she passed out and started sinking. I pulled her out of the water. Thankfully she woke up when her villagers slapped her back. I heard them scolding her for being too ambitious," she said. The near-death incident put a stop to any future Jeju haenyeo diving competitions. Jeju haenyeo have exported their expertise to Japan. "In my 40s, I worked out of Japan, where I was able to make 10 times more for the same work. Japanese waters are full of seafood as they aren't over harvested," said Madam Koh. More On This Topic