The 1)Haenyos of 2)Jeju-do 韩国济州岛：潮汐召唤着海女
Hendrick Hamel, a Dutch sailor, published a journal describing his and his mates’ 13-year detainment on Jeju-do after wrecking their 3)yacht, the Sperwer, in 1653. Even then, the wonder of the haenyo captured and amazed those western onlookers, who, upon hearing their strange cries, described the even stranger ladies of the island as 4)mermaids.
With an area of about 700 square miles, Jeju-do lies 60 miles southwest of South Korea. Along with its surrounding isles, Jeju is home to these fascinating female sea divers. The haenyos dive several times a month, when the tides are favorable, to collect sea treasures: 5)abalone, sea 6)urchins, octopi, seaweed and shellfish. Their labors were, and still are, an important source of income for their families; the men historically couldn’t dive, due to taxation laws on male labor .
One can instantly feel the differences between this island and the mainland, especially the historical importance of women. The women divers made the money, and therefore controlled the commerce. Women were not only the breadwinners, but they also created better lives for their families, by financing the building of houses and paying for their children’s educations. While men took on the duties of farm and family, the women divers farmed the sea. Strangely, in 7)Confucian Asia, this may have been the only place where the birth of a baby girl was celebrated more than a boy’s, as a female birth meant more wealth for a haenyo family.
Even in bustling 8)Jeju City, the haenyo women continue their dives. Their blue-and-white sea shack stands just outside the recently constructed E-Mart supermarket, and just before the decorated sea wall with steps leading down toward the sea. Here, they gather after an industrious day. As they unload their full nets, you can’t help but notice that the women are built like the sea, but not as one might first ima-gine. They are not toned as 9)triathletes. They are short, slightly rounded in the belly, and solid. Their arms are steady, as if a steel rod has replaced the bone. The sea has given them skinny legs, 10)limber joints and strong, cracked hands. Their wrinkled eyes show contentment, a feeling of accomplishment that observers may never feel. Nowadays, they may earn anywhere from $150 to more than $200 a day. But the occupation comes at a price: Many on the island say the haenyos die young. They believe that only the women who dive can handle the extreme spiritual, mental and physical stress.
Sadly, generation after generation, there are fewer divers; they are a dying breed…and according to governmental regulations, only divers’ daughters can officially inherit the arduous lifestyle. Diving is considered taboo for men. These 11)heiresses, however, are searching for different roles in a modern society, where tourism and business flourish. “I’d rather do something easier, based on my education,” said one young lady who spoke perfect English, and whose mother is a diver. “We see that it’s too hard on them. We have different things we can do.” Elderly divers, many well into their seventies and beyond, acknowledge that they are the last of their kind.
12)Stocky divers totter in 13)flippers toward the 14)cavernous openings leading to stair steps into the dangerous sea, then plunge into the ice-blue water even in the roughest of weather. Their 15)weatherworn faces and bodies show an 16)insatiable urge to go just a little deeper, a little longer. They frequently dive as deep as 45 feet. Every year there are women who never surface again. Swimming for hours, they submerge without 17)scuba tanks. Using small, wooden tools, they pry their 18)plunder loose. After one or two minutes, they emerge from the depths and throw their 19)collectibles into a net bordered by white or yellow 20)buoys.
The haenyos, like their ancestors before them, 21)bob rapidly to the surface. Their 22)thoraxes burn. Their lungs quake. They give themselves to the sky, as the sharp rocks echo the uncontrollable screeching of lungs grasping for life, gasping for another deep breath; a lungful that will take them, yet again, into the 23)womb of the Earth—a place where the tide speaks, and the haenyo, alone, are called.