Dongje is Close to Our Lives
Dongje is Close to Our Lives
  • Jung-In Bae
  • 승인 2010.05.18 12:06
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21st Century Koreans might be unaccustomed to the word, Dongje. Dongje refers to a practice whereby village people held memorial services for a god who protected them and helped them to achieve a common purpose. Other religions have the same fundamental basis. People who live in rural areas wished for a good harvest and the prevention of disasters. People who lived in fishing villages also prayed for a safe return with a bountiful catch. City people who still perform Dongje wish their city can avoid disasters and disease. People who run businesses hope for prosperous trade. Dongje is held in early January, generally on January 15th of the lunar calendar. In addition, it is held in lunar October and is the birthday of their god. There are various times in each town.There are a lot of towns that have preserved the Dongje tradition into modern times. About 140 towns still hold Dongje. However, most Dongjes remain in rural farming areas and fishing villages. Large cities such as Incheon, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan, and Gwangju only have 1 or 2 areas that recognize it.Shape of Remaining DongjesDongjes that still exist take on one of two forms. The first form has been handed down in the traditional way, and it is practiced by the village as a unit. The second form widens their field of activity from a village to a region, so it has become a popular regional celebration in some areas. The village Dongjes select a sacrificial day and the head of ancestral rites at a meeting. The head of ancestral rites is commonly a village foreman. He takes overall responsibility for the sacrificial day. The head of the memorial service is sure to observe all the restrictions before the ceremony, but taboos have been simplified these days. The ritual of Dongje is pretty much the same as memorial services at home. There is a memorial service with prepared food at a shrine. Shrines are usually the oldest tree in the village or a stone grave. However, shrines can differ in every town; some trees are designated as natural monuments. Dongje ceremonies that follow traditional rituals are meant to heighten community spirit and a sense of unity. It also promotes the spirit of self-government and has ties with a selected village foreman, young adult group, and women's society. There is a festive air throughout the whole village on the sacrificial day. All people eat prepared food together and spend the entire day with each other. Nongak, traditional Korean music is performed by farmers and a mask drama is a part of the ritual. They have very high artistic value, so they play an important role in preserving culture.Regional Dongjes, on the other hand, have many festival functions. They carry out the real purpose of Dongje and prepare events which can be joined by regional people and visitors. This type of Dongje is known as Danoje or the Mask Dance Drama. To understand the form easier, let us use the well-known examples of Gangneung Danoje and Gyungsan Jain Danoje with a story that has been passed on orally.Gangneung Danoje was held on the day before and after May 5th of the lunar calendar during the Joseon Dynasty. However, in recent times it is held for one month, from April 5th to May 7th of the lunar calendar. The mayor and people of Gangneung offer rice and malt with which the sacred liquor is to be brewed. The spirit of the event Daegwallyeong Sansinje is relevant to General Yu-Sin Kim. When Yu-Sin Kim, who was a General of the Silla Dynasty, was young he made an excellent blade. He unified the three kingdoms with this blade. Yu-Sin Kim became the mountain deity of Daegwallyeong Ridge after his death. When the Japanese invasion of Korea ocurred, he displayed great talent. He made the pines look like soldiers so that the Japanese invaders couldn't infiltrate Gangneung. In addition, there is the Yeongsin Parade, Dano exorcism, and Gawnno Mask Drama.Gyungsan Jain Danoje is held every year on the day before and after May 5th of the lunar calendar. Jain Danoje is the oldest traditional folk festival. It is a custom handed down to us from Silla Dynasty. One of the main events is the General Han Festival. He is a country guardian deity. When the enemy from Japan harassed village people, General Han used creative tactics. General Han made himself up as a woman and he and his sister danced at a willow pond. He wore the corolla and did a great dance. Many people gathered to watch their dance, and the enemy from Japan also watched with joy. While the enemy watched in fascination, General Han's men took them all and threw them in the pond as Han ordered. Then the village people lived in ease. After this event, people made General Han's shrine and held a memorial service every May 5th of the lunar calendar. The General Han festival starts Hojanggut which is a parade that goes to General Han's shrine in the morning.Gangneung Danoje was designated by UNESCO, and Jain Danoje was named an important intangible cultural asset. These recognitions led to more widespread appreciation of their value. They serve to promote local culture. In addition, these performances have become tourist attractions and cultural products as foreigners attend more and more.Dongje has changed from a village ceremony to a regional festival. Our ancestors believed in this religion as modern people believe in theirs. In reality their religion is completely out of our lives. However, many people have grown very attentive to Dongje. Not only Korean people, but also people from other countries have become interested in this custom. As the custom has adapted modern elements to their festivals, a number of people flock to Gangneung Danoje and Gyungsan Jain Danoje every year. We should be also interested in Dongje festival and hope to take part.

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