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Haenyeo: The last of Korea’s women divers

Haenyeo: The last of Korea’s women divers

Haenyeo, are the Korean female divers who harvest seafood by diving into the ocean without diving equipment or breathing apparatus.

The haenyeo culture is Korea’s unique indigenous cultural heritage that has a history that goes back to the primitive age when people began to dive for food in the sea. In fact, the haenyeo have been noted in literature since 1105.

The life of haeneyo women begins when a girl turns 15 or 16 after receiving training in swimming and muljil (which refers to the actual work of underwater harvest), and their practice continues until the age of 60 or even older.

Most haenyeo reside in Jeju Island, located in the southern end of Korean peninsula.

Since 2013, the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea has been pushing to get haenyeo registered by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This distinctive practice of female diving culture is one of Korea’s prime intangible assets.

Currently the Korean Cultural Service in New York is holding a photographic exhibition on the Haenyeo community. The photographic works by Hyung S. Kim capture the true reflection of haenyeo’s everyday life on Jeju Island.

This photographic collection has been in production since 2012, when Kim became fascinated by the historical background and distinct characteristics of haenyeo. He has since been residing on the Island to produce a photographic collection of the extraordinary women.

Kim’s works express the joys and sorrows of the lives of haeneyo as well as their history. He photographs of them in their most natural states.

In addition to the works by Kim, the exhibition will display documentary photos and video materials depicting the life of haenyeo – their uniforms, tools, and diving practices. This will allow the audience to more fully understand the culture, history, and life of haenyeo, a precious cultural asset of Korea.

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