Not far from Hado Beach on the north-east coast of Jeju Island, was a Haenyeo museum. I’d read two fiction novels about the Haenyeo, (White Chrysanthemum and Women of the Sea) so I was keen to explore further into their lives.
As far back as 1629 it was recorded that these Jeju women had been diving for abalone. They supported their families by harvesting seafood and tilling the soil while their husbands looked after the children. During Japanese colonial rule five of these women joined patriotic leaders to struggle against their colonial rulers.
At one time coastal villages had three or four bulteok where Haenyeo women changed into their diving gear and afterwards rested and warmed themselves by a fire. Jeju’s waters were icy and this was a time before wetsuits.
Today there are only about seventy of these sturdy women left on the entire island because the younger generation are not interested in this difficult and often dangerous job.