An unexpected encounter

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.

Haenyeo by Mt Songaksan, Jeju

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.

Haenyeo by Mt Songaksan, Jeju
Haenyeo by Mt Songaksan, Jeju Island

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: