S. Korea’s traditional culture kept alive in historic city

SEOUL, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) — In a city about 268 kilometers southeast of Seoul, there sits a historic village where distinctive elements of South Korea’s traditional culture are well-preserved and kept alive.

The picturesque scenery of golden paddy fields greets visitors to the village called Hahoe, the birthplace of the iconic Hahoe masks.

At the entrance of the village, the curious visitors are attracted by the sounds of pounding drums and clamorous cheers coming from an open-air auditorium.

The auditorium presents the mask dance drama, Hahoe Byeolsingut Talnori, featuring various characters representing a different social class in the ancient times.

The mask dance drama is composed of a few episodes with a satirical and humorous story that depicted conflicts among the allegoric characters such as a butcher, a pedantic scholar, an immoral Buddhist monk and an arrogant aristocrat.

This dance, which dates back to the 12th century during the Koryo Dynasty and was originally performed to appease the spirits, was popular entertainment for commoners as it was almost the only way for them to decry the lifestyles of the local elites and religious figures in satirical way.

Back in the days, it offered the commoners a chance to let out their resentment and sorrow caused by rigid social class barriers and to get even with the noble class by mocking their shortcomings while wearing masks.

In one episode, a butcher slaughtered a cow, cut out its heart and testicles, and spoke out satiric words to the audience and made fun of them. The cow even pretended to urinate at the spectators by splashing water. This episode represented a satire on haughty aristocrats who were hypercritical on sexual matters.

In another episode, an old widow lamented about her poor life, danced and begged for the audience’s help while carrying around a small gourd. The episode portrayed the suffering and grief of women’s life in male-dominated society.

“Watching commoners playing together with nobles is fun to us, but when I think about it, there are both positive and negative aspects of it,” said 72-year-old Park Tae-gun.

Despite the lack of foreign language service, tourists from abroad seemed to have understood the gist of the satire just by watching the wildly exaggerated acting.

“I think it is great, very nice and unique, and a very interesting way to see something traditional from (South) Korea. So I was impressed with it,” said Juanita McGarrigle from Ireland.

“What I like the most about it is that you can identify each of the characters by how they move and how they position themselves,” she said.

Besides the famous Hahoe mask dance, Hahoe Village is renowned for being the home of the Ryu clan. The village is inhabited by 125 families, mostly belonging to the Ryu clan, who have lived there for centuries.

Their traditional houses are handed down from generation to generation. The Confucian schools and many other ancient buildings are preserved intact in modern days.

In July last year, Hahoe Village was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, receiving international recognition for its cultural value.

Every October, the city of Andong is filled with an exuberant atmosphere as the annual Andong Mask Dance Festival takes place.

A range of indoor and outdoor programs featuring different types of mask dance are introduced at a number of locations throughout the city, including Hahoe village.

During a 10-day celebration of games and cultural exhibitions, troupes from around the world also perform their traditional dances related to mask and its symbol.

The festival offers various exhibitions on South Korea’s folk traditions and hands-on activities such as painting one’s own mask.

The festival reaches its climax with a mask parade that encourages participation of all visitors wearing masks, regardless of age, gender, and nationality.

“Andong is a place represented by the Hahoe Mask Dance and the transmission of the traditional dance. A mask is an icon as well as a character of a certain culture. Therefore, it exists in every cultural place in the world and carries characteristics of each place’s culture. Also, a mask serves as a means of change. A festival is aimed at creating a new world that is apart from the routine of daily life and produces a new kind of excitement. Therefore, there is no better instrument than a mask to help people be absorbed into the festival. With these meanings, we planned and prepared the festival,” said Kwon Du-hyun, secretary general of Andong Festival Tourism Foundation.

This year, the 15th edition of the festival took place between Sept. 30 and Oct. 9, drawing more than 1 million visitors.

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