Click here for Part 1. — Ed.
Last week’s column ended on a curious note. I was discussing an illustrated map drawn by Kim Nam-kil in 1702. Kim was artisan in the entourage of a Neo-Confucian Magistrate named Yi Hyong-sang. Kim’s illustration commemorates Yi’s “search and destroy” campaign against Shamanist/Animist shrines as it plays out upon the volcanic northeastern flanks of Mt. Halla and deep into the upland jungsangan hinterlands of its cave country. There are three caves depicted on the map. Each cave seems to represent a distinct three-part phase of Yi’s search and destroy process: discovery (the uppermost cave, apparently as yet undetected); subjugation (the middle cave, under active attack); interrogation (the cave in the foreground, where Yi himself is depicted upon his palanquin and seems to be directing mopping-up operations).
So here again is that provocative portion of Kim’s map that especially begs for our interpretation. Any Jeju World Wide reader can zoom in on the details here and reach their own conclusions on any aspect of the dramatic scene.
My own close inspection of the map has discerned what appear to be four village women at the mercy of what a feminist might describe as “Magistrate Yi’s patriarchal mob.” Two of these women are portrayed in the “cave of subjugation” and depicted by artisan Kim with their with heads hanging low.
Why are their heads hanging low? As I ventured to guess in last week’s column, these women may have been surprised at the shrine and captured by Yi’s military strike force. Their heads may hang low because their sacred shrine is going up in smoke around them. Meanwhile a fresh wave of soldiers runs toward the action. All of these men appear to be carrying swords. I suspect that the tall Neo-Confucian official striking a stoic posture over the process of subjugation and purge is the specter of the wrath of Yi Hyong-sang himself.
Or perhaps these women hang their heads in shame or fear, because they have betrayed the location of their shrine and led Yi’s troopers to the site. Whichever the case, the women are well aware that they will suffer rough treatment after the smoke clears – and some gloomy indications on Kim’s map are that this experience of interrogation will be painful. So, the women await the inevitable and meanwhile hang their heads.
Here are those grim indications as depicted by Kim in “the cave of interrogation” where I discern a brute with sword drawn inflicting punishment on a village woman. His sword appears bloodied. The poor woman facing the swordsman seems aggressively poised and drips crimson from her mouth and jaw:
Jeju World Wide readers will have to decide for themselves whether or not I am reading too avidly into this gruesome scene. I speculate that these are Jeju Island village women in part because they appear to be carrying traditional water jugs in baskets (mulheobeok) on their backs. Kim’s paint palette seems to have been rich and discerning for I think he has also successively depicted these women wearing their traditional persimmon-dyed, orange-hued galot.
Magistrate Yi committed dastardly deeds in the wilds of Jeju for both obvious and subtle reasons. Joseon Dynasty governance over the island, after centuries of its colonial management, remained tenuous. Previous magistrates from within Jeju City walls had exerted only nominal authority and control over indigenous islanders outside those walls who were prone to rebellion. That population was uniquely and aggressively matrifocal (if not outright matriarchal). It was time to act. Another reason is more subtle: the Neo-Confucian patriarchy on the peninsula felt disrespected by, and was jealous of, the independent womenfolk of Jeju who empowered themselves in part through the spiritual agency of their ancient, peculiar and secretive Shamanist/Animist shrines.
Thus motivated, Magistrate Yi Hyung-sang representing the Neo-Confucian patriarchy girded up his loins to do battle at the isolated place known disparagingly by mainland Koreans as “Over There” (Jeju). Nominally, his fight was against pagan shrines. However, artisan Kim’s illustrated maps reveal him taking special pride and pleasure during his subjugation of an independent, self-sufficient, proud and defiant body of Jeju womenfolk. “Subjugation” means to bring under control and governance, to subdue, to make submissive, and to enslave. It is this sort of epic drama that is depicted “during the act” by artisan Kim in his celebration of Magistrate Yi’s “cave of subjugation” (Figure 2, above).
The year is 1702. A colonizing patriarchy penetrates into Jeju Island’s matriarchal caves in order to subjugate robust and independent womenfolk and render them submissive. Sigmund Freud, better than me, might have done this story justice.
Next Week: ‘Search and Destroy’ on Jeju Island, circa 1702 (Part 3)