Korean legends are a fascinating world to immerse yourself in–of course as an avowed student of Myths and Mythology, I could perfectly happily spend my entire life in the fantastic world of eastern stories. Of a particular interest to me are the origin stories of creation and cultures, a passion which led me to research the Korean story of creation and the Korean culture’s origins.
Mythology and stories about the beginning of the world can be divided into two categories ~ 1) Creation Myths which tell of the origin of the world and 2) Foundation Myths, a subset of the Creation genre, which more specifically relate the origin of a people, nation, or culture.
As one of the great ancient peoples, it is only natural that much of Korean myths come through to us in the oral tradition. Still, Koreans do not have much in the way of “Creation of the Earth” myths ~ most of their stories and legends presume that the world was already in existence when the tales begin.
There are a few minor oral tales that claim the world began (as so many origin stories hold) in a time of utter chaos and an absence of any type of creation or order. The stories go on to say that suddenly a crack appeared in the heavens, dividing the earth from the skies. But those are very minor, basic tales lacking any deep specifics or embellishments.
Rather, Korean myths tend to fall into the realm of Foundation Myths ~ sharing the origins of Korea and the Korean peoples. There are several variations, of which the most popular is the Myth of Tangun, which speaks of Hwangun, a beautiful character of strength and eternal goodness.
Once upon a time, many centuries ago, the great Heavenly God Hwanin had a noble son whose name was Hwangun. Hwangun had looked upon earth and fell in love, wishing greatly for the chance to come to earth and rule over it so that it might prosper. After learning of his son’s desire and examining the situation on earth, Hwanin decided that his son’s leadership would benefit the earth and so decreed that Hwangun should go to earth and take charge.
Before he left, Hwanin gave his son three Treasures from Heaven that would signify his authority and right to rule. Taking these with him, Hwangun finally embarked on his great mission. Taking 3000 spirits with him Hwangun first alighted on a mountain in Myohyangsan, a place in the modern-day North Korea.
Along with his great assistants, the spirits of the wind, rain, and cloud, Hwangun began implementing his leadership and guided the earth into a time of prosperity and splendor.
After some time had passed, Hwangun began to be pestered by a tiger and bear who came visiting him and begging for human forms. Taking pity on them, Hwangun set before them a test~ they were to fast for 100 days and then they would receive their human bodies. Now, the bear was very diligent and passed the test, finally transforming into a female and enjoying her new form. The tiger was not so steadfast and failed to transform. But the bear was greatly saddened, for she realized that there was no one on earth for her to mate with and thus no children would come to her. So daily, she went to the alter and pleaded with the Heavens to provide her with a child.
Once again feeling pity for the tragic bear-woman, Hwangun transformed himself into a human form and married the woman. Together they had a son, who they named Tangun. Tangun was the man who, in the time of Emperor Yao (one of the Five Emperors of China in the 2300s-2200s BC), established the first human Korean city in Pyongyang and the first Korean dynasty~ the Choson dynasty.
There are of course several variations of this initial story, but this is the tale in its original and most basic form. Even, to me, the most beautiful form.
What do you think? Does this sound familiar to your culture’s foundation myth? Any themes or similarities that cross cultural bounds? Let me know in the comments!
If you are interested, this story is some-what re-told (with major alterations) in the Korean drama “The Legend“~ it’s a great watch, both for the beautiful storyline and insight into Korean cultures/ideology.
Colombian pair of traditional artists visited Korea A in September to showcase the country’s carnival music and dance and engage in a cultural exchange with Korean artists. Dancer and researcher Maribel Egea Garia and instrumentalist and professor Jarry Jose Julio Arjona came to Korea on Sept.At the request of the Colombian Embassy 8, and performed at schools and events across the country.They also took lessons on traditional Korean music and dance, provided by the Korean Classical Music Corporation.
Both are natives of Barranquilla, a city in northern Colombia by the Caribbean Sea that is famous for its carnival in February. The four-day festival is considered one of Latin America’s three major carnivals, along with those of Rio de Janeiro and Miami. Declared a National Cultural Heritage by the Congress of Colombia in 2001 and recognized by UNESCO in 2003, the event has become a universalby incorporating cultural influences over waves of celebration the years. “The carnival is a cultural melting pot, mixing the legacies of Spanish colonialists, African slaves and their accompanying South American natives,” Garia told The Korea Herald. “It passionately fuses the different elements, which manifest themselves in characteristic ways during the festivity.” As various ethnicities and groups live harmoniously in Colombia, no apparent tensions or conflicts exist between them, Arjona said. People the PREPARE for the event for weeks or months on end, depending on their roles, he said, with the exception of few native tribes who live deep in the forests in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region – the Kogis, Arawakas and Wayuus. “They have the Colombian national identity in their heart, but been largely outliers to the event due to their culturally indigenous ways of life.” According to Garia, the carnival originated from cultures surrounding the Caribbean Sea. The most famous dance is “la cumbia,” comprised of a pair of male and female dancers, the WHERE the man makes moves that resemble seducing his female partner, she said. Arjona said that spectators can “indirectly” participate from the side of the road , singing and dancing, taking photographs and interacting with other crowds, but can not jump into the carnival. Barranquilla lies next to the Magdalena River delta facing the Caribbean, and has served as a strategic port for the riverside and maritime industries. . . .
“Collecting Asian Objects in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945”
National Museum of Korea
When: Oct. 28, 2014 – January 11, 2015 (Hours Vary)
National Museum of Korea
137, Seoubinggo-ro (168-6, Yongsan-dong 6-ga)
Yongsan-gu, Seoul 140-797
In the late nineteenth century, as Western powers expanded deeper into Asia, the cultures of the East were eagerly commodified to satisfy westerners’ penchant for the exotic. Tomb thefts were just as prevalent as legitimate archeological investigations. With the concurrent boom in the antique market, the acquired artifacts were smoothly incorporated into the category of ‘fine arts’.
At the center of this movement were museums established through the emergence of modern states. Korea, however, was unable to play a leading role in the current of this era. At the time, Japan regarded itself as the only civilized country in Asia, and thus the only country capable of leading the primitive East into modern civilization. Based on this belief, Japan re-interpreted the histories of other Asian countries from its own perspective and attempted to promote these historical revisions through museums.
Notably, the so-called cultural assets collected in museums at that time originated from all across Asia, ranging from Central Asia to China and Japan. Why did Japan collect cultural assets from other Asian countries under its colonial rule? This exhibition represents the first step of a long journey that will yield both a question and a corresponding answer about our museum’s collection of Asian cultural assets and its origins.