Pansori “Sugungga수궁가” is set against an underwater palace governed by the sea king. When the king becomes ill, the turtle goes up to the land to deceive the rabbit to give up his liver, but the rabbit fools the turtle to take him above the water before running away. This episode transpired when a Taoist master told the sea king that a rabbit’s liver is the cure for the king’s illness. It was an almost impossible task for sea creatures to get the liver of a land animal. So, the sea king convened a meeting of his officials to come up with a solution. Of course, all the officials were sea animals as well, ranging from a snapper and a turtle to a skate and an octopus and even a whale. Even in pain, the sea king jokes that he feels like he’s become a rich fishmonger just days away from a big holiday. This pansori passage about a royal cabinet meeting in the sea palace was arranged into a modern piece entitled “An Illustrated Book of Fish” sung by Lee Nalchi.
An Illustrated Book of Fish/ Sung by Lee Nalchi
Coming up next is a song about the woman divers of Jeju. ‘Haenyeo해녀’ refers to women who dive into the sea without any diving equipment like an air tank and gather abalones or conches and other edible sea creatures. Such woman divers are known to hold their breath for an average of one minute at a time and some highly skilled women can dive down to as deep as ten meters by holding their breath for more than two minutes.
In the old days, they used to row their own boats when they went out to the sea to dive. The song they sang while getting ready to go down to the water was “Ieodo Sana이어도 사나.” One woman would begin singing the song that begins as follows.
Where would we go by rowing this boat? Let’s go to the sea near Jindo Island.
On the island surrounded by water, we have to dive whether we like it or not.
And then the rest would follow with the refrain of “Ieodo sana, ieodo sana.” The work is exhausting and dangerous, but these divers are proud that they can afford to pay for their children’s education and their families’ well-being with the money they earned. Here’s Kim Ju-ok and a choir singing “The Song of Woman Divers.”
The Song of Woman Divers/ Sung by Kim Ju-ok
There is an old saying in Korea that a wise person likes water and a virtuous person mountain. According to the Tao Te Ching, the speculations on morality written by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, water serves everything without competing and it flows to the lowest place where everyone hates. It means that a wise person is always humble and tries to yield to others and not remain stubborn. And a virtuous person embraces everything like a mountain without being swayed by trivial matters. But people tend to choose the cool, refreshing seas in the summer days than climb up a mountain sweating and toiling. Next, we are going to hear “The East Sea,” a folksong from the southern region. Its lyrics are about the sorrow of sending off a loved one from the seashore. It won’t be a surprise to see so many people go through the same emotion under similar circumstances. This song, a blend of high notes and fast beats, doesn’t feel sad, but rather relieved, perhaps because disappointment and resentment were also sent away on the refreshing winds of the sea. This song will be sung by Kim Yul-hee and reggae band The Soul Sauce.
The East Sea/ Sung by Kim Yul-hee & The Soul Sauce