Haenyo – Diving Ladies, Jejudo, South Korea
Our visit to South Korea in 2008 took us to Jejudo, the largest island off the south coast and legendary spot for honeymoon couples. Many modern honeymooners now choose to go to Hawaii instead.
Jejudo is also the home of the Haenyo, the diving ladies who dive for seafood along the southern coast of the island. We encountered them at Seongsan ilchulbong in a UNESCO World Heritage Park. Although the women, mostly middle-aged to senior citizens, put on “performances” from 1.00 – 2.00 pm each day, they are clearly very proficient at what they do.
Dressed in their black neoprene dive suits, fins and masks, they swim with white polystyrene floats that hold their catch bags, and dive amongst the rocks offshore for seafood. Here a diving lady shows a small octopus that is clinging to her arm after she reached into her dive bag.
When the women dive they hold their breath for about 2 minutes as they dive over 10m below sea level. Most have been diving since the age of 12 to 14 years old. There are about 5600 woman divers on Jejudo, and the numbers reduce each year as the elder members retire.
It is a pity that the women have become little more that a tourist attraction and less of a part of the cultural life of an ancient island way of life.