As I headed towards a hike to Mt Songaksan, I spotted a group of women climbing into the back of a pick up truck and knew what I was witnessing — the Haenyeo.
Traditionally these hard working women dived for seafood such as abalone or octopus while the men stayed home and looked after the children. It was a challenging life entering Jeju’s icy seas before wetsuits were invented. But even after wetsuits, the younger generation were no longer interested in diving. This was confirmed because the group I spotted were all older women.
I’d read about the haenyeo in two fiction novels before I visited Jeju Island, White Chrysanthemum and The Island of Sea Women, and knew they were a dying tradition. So I never expected that I’d accidently witness any haenyeo returning from a dive. What a thrill it was to hear their comradery and laughter once they hauled their catch from the ocean.
For more on these amazing women watch this short video: