From Seoul we took a bus east to Andong. With a population of 185,000, it’s a market and university town with a laid back feel.
It’s a pleasant place to knock around in, but our main reason to come was to visit Hahoe Village. Pronounced ha-hway, the village was established in the 1200s by two clans, the Heo and An families.
A third clan, the Ryu family, arrived in the 1400s. The village is particularly famous within Korea as the birthplace of brothers Ryu Unryong and Ryu Seongryong. One was a revered Confucian scholar and the other the Prime Minister during the period of the Imjin War with Japan (1592 to 1598). They brought prestige to the village and their descendants still live here, 600 years after the first arrivals.
Hahoe has survived and thrived through all the tumult of Korean history, and in 2010 was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list as one of Korea’s most representative clan villages.
The village has 230 permanent residents and is beautifully maintained and lovely just to wander around.
There’s very little that’s touristy and there were surprisingly few people there when we visited.
Villagers make their own soy bean paste which is fermented in these jars.
Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1999. Doubtless she was thrilled to spend her 73rd birthday observing how gochujang (red pepper paste) and kim chi are made, and watching traditional farming with an ox-drawn plow, mask dances and the dedication of yet another tree in her honour. Whatever you think about the Royal Family, you must acknowledge she personified commitment to duty.
She is reported to have said she had ‘a marvellous time’ and her tree is thriving.
That’s not the most special tree, however. That honour is reserved for a 600 year old zelkova tree in the centre of the village revered by locals to be the home of a goddess named Samsin. Believers come and tie a small piece of white cloth to the fence or totem and pray to the goddess.
Christianity came to Hahoe in the late 1880s in the form of the Presbyterian Church. Another member of the Ryu family is honoured for saving the Gospel Bell by burying it during the years of the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century. It seems incongruous to find a Western church here, but here it is.
The village is surrounded by fields, bathed in gold this time of year.
It’s harvest time. A beautiful time to visit.
The UNESCO listing also recognises the village’s intangible heritage. Rituals and customs of the Joseon Dynasty period (1392 to 1910) are still practiced here. Most visible for visitors is mask making and the performance of dance dramas telling traditional stories from that era.
Hahoe hosts an annual International Mask Dance Festival in September which attracts a major international audience. For the rest of the year, at the entrance to the village is a theatre where traditional mask dances are performed once a day.
And not far from the village, the Hahoe International Mask Museum contains a display of local traditional masks as well as masks from other parts of Korea and an extensive exhibition of masks from cultures all around the world.
That’s where it does get touristy. You can buy your very own Hahoe mask to take home, if that tickles your fancy.
Next up, Gyeongju, the city known as ‘the museum without walls’.