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A COUNTIES FOLKLORE CAPTIVATES A NATION
Text & Photography ©Nayan Sthankiya
Every spring and fall, Jindo-gun, South Jeolla Province, which consists of an archipelago of 250 islands located at the southwestern tip of the Korean peninsula, experiences a natural wonder internationally known as Korea’s unique version of the “Moses’ Miracle.” The phenomenon, which occurs three to four times a year, at low tide the waters recede to form a land bridge between Hoedong-ri, Jindo island to Modo-ri township on a neighbouring islet. Jindo is the county’s largest island and Korea’s sixth largest.
The land bridge, which varies from 10 to 40 meters wide and 2.8 km long, opens up for a few hours a day at low tide. As the tide return, the path is again submerged under the sea. The extreme tidal movement often strands sea life, making them easy picking for birds as well as tourists traveling back and forth on the land bridge.
According to legend, near the beginning of the Chosun Kingdom at the turn of the 14th century, a high official was condemned to exile on Jeju island, Korea’s largest island.
On his voyage, the ship was damaged and he drifted to Jindo island and Hodong or Tiger Town, named for the abundance of tigers in the area. His descendants lived in Hodong for over 200 years. Eking out a difficult life, the villagers were frequently attacked and killed by the tigers. Eventually, they made a raft and moved to the nearby island of Modo.
In their excitement and urgency to leave they left behind an elderly woman named Grandma Ppong. Grandma Ppong longed to be reunited with her family and prayed for help daily to the Dragon King of the Sea. Finally, one night, the Dragon King appeared to her in a dream and told her to cross the sea by walking on a rainbow that he would create for her. When she awoke, she ran to the sea a rainbow-shaped opening appeared in the water between Hodong and Modo.
Grandma Ppong started out over the rainbow path, but the exertion was too much for her and she collapsed. Her family, crossing the rainbow from the other side, found her. As she died in their arms, she said, “I am happy because the Dragon King has reunited me with my family.” The people of Jindo island still perform an annual ritual dubbed Yongdung Festival for the Dragon King in remembrance of the sea-parting miracle and Grandma Ppong. Some 300 – 400,000 tourists from inside and outside of the country visit for the occasion, which is celebrated with a rite honouring the tutelary deity at the village shrine, various cleansing ceremonies and performances of folk dances and music.