Diving into the sea out of Jeju is called chulga (leaving home) muljil (diving), or baekat muljil. When the women divers dove into the sea on the Korean peninsula, it is called 'mainland muljil'. From the past, Jeju women divers dived into the sea in Jeju and around Southeast Asia for a living.
| Diving into the sea out of Jeju||
There is no record that points to exactly when the women divers began to dive away from Jeju Island. There is some evidence that this diving began in the late 19th century in the Busan area and gradually extended to further destinations. After the Gap-o Reform of 1894, many Koreans began to increase the seaweed collection businesses in Busan and even began to visit Jeju Island to recruit Jeju divers.
According to the Jeju-do Handbook published in 1937, as of the end of March there were 2,801 women divers were diving out of Jeju Island with 1,650 in Southern Gyongsang Province, 473 in Northern Gyongsang Province, 408 in Southern Joella Province, 54 in Gangweon Province, 50 in the Yellow Sea area, 32 in Southern Hamgyoung Province, 19 in Northern Jeolla Province. and 5 in Northern Hamgyoung Province.
To dive away from Jeju Island, the women divers used a sailing ship, motorboat, or a steam-powered ship. Although they usually took lodgings at private houses near the sea, when they could not find any place to stay, they had to build a temporary log shelter.
When the women divers diving away from Jeju had to stay several days on the ship, the journey was called nanbare (going out to the sea)' and the divers themselves were 'honbatdu'. Diving in the Jeju Island area was called 'abbare' and the divers gathered shellfish such as abalones and top shells. Diving is really exhausting work for female divers since they have to dive throughout the day, grabbing only a few moments to eat and warm up. Sadly, many women divers who worked away from Jeju were exploited by the seaweed dealers, but they often had little choice because making sufficient money was extremely difficult on the small island. Interestingly, according to the women divers, they found that diving outside of Jeju was an excellent opportunity for personal freedom in new regions. In the midst of this tough and draining profession, the robust Jeju women divers looked for a ray of hope to help them endure the hardships.
Female divers also worked in Tsushima, Tokyo, and Koji in Japan, Xingdao, and Dalian in China, and Vladivostok in Russia. It must have been a fearful new experience in a new country at times! However, they were determined to support their families. The overseas diving usually ran from March to August. These intrepid women divers packed foodstuffs and diving tools and went off with a thrifty mindset and a frontier spirit.
<Situation of Jeju Female Divers' Diving out of Jeju>
* Data : Marine Products Department in Jeju (Source: Korean Female Divers, 1999)
Diving in Japan
It is not known exactly when Jeju female divers started to dive in Japan but according to a record in Japanese History, it may have been before the 5th century. They started to dive in Japan in earnest in the early 1900s and before the restoration of independence in 1945, 1500~1600 female divers went to Japan every year.
According to the Jeju-do Handbook published in 1937, there were 750 divers in Tsushima, 265 in Shizuoka, 130 in Tokyo, 65 in Nagasaki, 55 in Kagoshima, 51 in Chiba, 50 in Tokushima, 10 in Ehime, and 10 in Shimane for a total of 1601.
During the diving in Japan, instead of using tools used in Jeju, they carried a 'butong' or 'dampu' which was similar to a drum with a small net pocket. In the past they used a big piece of board instead of dampu. Sometimes they were referred to as 'itaama' or 'board woman diver'.
Diving in China- Xingdao and Dalian
Unlike other areas, Mr. Mun from Jeju Island had fishing rights because he introduced brown seaweed to the Xingdao area for the first time. For this reason, the local people and officials were friendly to the Jeju women divers.
Jeju female divers usually worked from May to August and made a good wage. They harvested large amounts of brown seaweed because Santung Province did not import brown seaweed for a while.
In Xingdao, female divers mainly gathered brown seaweed but divers in Dalian harvested only abalones. When they dove in China, they took a taewak and bitchang. They encountered many difficulties in communicating with the Chinese. In Dalian, another challenge was the male divers.
Diving in Russia – Vladivostok
The number of Jeju women divers working in Vladivostok was far fewer than other areas. According to a woman diver who dived in Vladivostok, the water was frigid. Even in summer she could see snow. She usually tried to harvest kelp but the local kelp were too huge to pull up.
Because whales often shook their ships from side to side, they gave wrapped rice to the whales. Therefore, a person in charge of the divers asked them to dive quietly in Vladivostok. It has never been determined whether or not official permission was given to the divers.