The dolharubang (stone grandfather) embroidered onto the backside of my denim jacket looms large. As well it should. As an iconic emblem of Jeju Island, it ranks second only to haenyeo (diving women) in world renown. The year before I first arrived on Jeju Island as a Peace Corps Volunteer (1973) a comprehensive archaeological survey to estimate the size and distribution of the “authentic” Jeju dolharubang population (estimated to total 48) located 45 of these on the island, two more in Seoul which left but one unaccounted for.
During 1973 and 1974 I made a point of paying a visit to as many of the 45 on the island that I could find. Saemaul Undong’s reshaping of the traditional landscape on Jeju was entering into full swing during my Peace Corps years there, and many of the monoliths (which ranged from 1.5 to 2.5 meters tall) were being relocated helter-skelter from their historic positions to new sites. It was a chess game with no rules. For example, some that originally stood on matching pedestals were separated from them during their ad hoc redistributions.
When I revisited the island in 1980, many of the historic monoliths had by then been moved twice over. Apparently no one supervised or mapped these movements. To the extent the monoliths were created as sacred stones mirroring celestial prototypes, Saemaul Undong had created chaos under heaven.
To make matters worse, island stonemasons were carving brand new dolharubang hand over fist. Every new entrepreneur catering to the burgeoning tourist trade on the island seemed adamant to have one stationed in front of their establishment. Dolharubang knock-offs and grotesque imitations were fast becoming the cigar store Indians of Jeju retail expansion. Adding insult to injury, ambitious and unethical entrepreneurs (many of them mainlanders) confused tourists by claiming that their graven fakes were the authentic originals! Today it would be hardly hyperbole to venture a guess that half of every vertical stone artifact over two meters tall on the Blessed Isle is an imitation dolharubang sculpted for the tourist trade. Or indeed, if you marshaled them into a single line and chained them front to back you might build a bridge all the way from Moseulpo to Mara Islet!
I’ve noted elsewhere but it is worth repeating here that it would not be idle speculation to hypothesize from cosmological inference and telling aspects of the artifacts themselves that half of the original 48 stone grandfathers are grandmothers:
Forty-eight authentic dolharubang monoliths were identified in the 1971 government survey report. The survey culminated with their official nationwide recognition as high-order “local cultural assets” on the threshold of Jeju Island mass tourism planning. Some Jeju Studies scholars speculate that their function may have been to serve as sacro-symbolic castle gate guards in medieval times. As such the 48 were stationed outside the walls of the three major Yi Dynasty administrative fortresses on the island. Twenty-four dolharubang guarding three gates at Jeju Castle; 12 guarding three gates at Daejeong Castle; 12 guarding three gates at Jeongui Castle. These fortresses were located ritually and/or pragmatically equidistant from the axis mundi (sacred center) of the island, Baengnokdam, atop Mt. Halla. So, when I open up the atlas of Yi Hyong-san’s Inspection Maps with its 40 colorful leaves drawn in detail in 1702 by Kim Nam-kil, I expect to discover some evidence of the authentic dolharubang depicted there. And here is what I find:
The only map in the 1702 atlas to depict dolharubang statues is the map that represents Magistrate Yi’s inspection of Jeongui Castle. We can observe four of the statues inside the south gate of the fortress. There is another map of the inspection of Jeongui Castle in the atlas. I have excerpted a portion of that second map which has some remarkable detail that centers on these four monoliths:
In sum, if there were 48 dolharubang monoliths on the island in 1702 why do we only observe four of them represented by artisan Kim in Yi’s Inspection Atlas of the entire island? Also we observe that the four statues at Jeongui Castle are located inside, and not outside, the gate. Also, we might expect to encounter them depicted on Kim’s maps at Jeju Castle, if anywhere – yet we do not observe any there. Finally, Hendrik Hamel was marched into Cheju Castle as a prisoner in 1653, and spent several months there before being transported to the mainland. You would think he would mention them in his recollections of his captivity if they existed at that time. There is much food for thought here about the Jeju Island dolharubang phenomenon and I hope Jeju World Wide readers will contact me at [email protected] to share their opinions and critique my interpretations and conclusions.
Next Week: The Illustrated Peace Corps Man (Part 6)