Korean Mermaids : Super Women of Jeju Islands, How Did They Start?

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Photos by Pixabay

Have you heard about the Korean Mermaids (Haenyeo; 해녀) a.k.a. Korean Mermaids? Who are the Haenyeo?

Haenyeo are female free drivers of Jeju Island who have put on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for their unique cultural identities. Most of them are over the age of 50 (sometimes up to 70) and possibly the last generation of traditional Korean Mermaids.

Jeju Island, Home for the Haenyeo

Jeju Island is known to be a home for the Haenyeo. To give you some notes on Jeju Island, it is the largest island in South Korea. It’s known for its beautiful landscape scenery and a unique dialect.
Korea has many different regional dialects, and most people can understand one except Jeju dialect. Jeju dialect has its authentic vocabulary and grammar. But sadly, native speakers are decreasting in a very fast pace!

Gears & Supplies of Haenyeo

  • Goggle
  • Float : originally made with a gourd
  • Flippers
  • Net
  • Diving Suit

Lifestyle of Haenyeo

  • Average working hour per day : 7 hours
  • Depth of water : 10 ~ 15 m
  • Bottom line : 1 ~ 2 min
  • Working season : Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Photo by Yonhap News

What Does Haenyeo Do?

Haenyeo usually work in pairs, taking turns to dive in. They can hold their breathe up to 2 minutes as they go deep down the ocean, without scuba tanks, and dig out abalone, shellfish and more to sell at the seafood market.

Story About Haenyeo

“Earning money from the afterlife, feeding the children of this world.”

This is an old saying referring to the life of Haenyeo.

Working as Haeneyo can be tough because they’ve got to work 6-7 hours in the middle of the ocean, consecutively holding their breathe.
That is why there is an old saying that they make money from the afterlife. Haenyeo’s lives can be too tough to be true in reality.
But still, they take pride working as a professional female diver!

Future of Haenyeo

There have been many development efforts to improve the environment and life of Haenyeo, such as establishing schools to educate and inherit the culture of Haenyeo. Many young people from cities visit Jeju Island to become a Korean Mermaid and learn the culture.

Film About Haenyeo

Check out this movie “My Mother the Mermaid” (2004). The main character plays the role as Haenyeo.

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