Haenyeo Woman Divers

Jeju’s diving tradition dates back to 434 A.D.[2]:100 Originally, diving was an exclusively male profession, with the exception of women who worked alongside their husbands.[2]:101 The first mention of female divers in literature does not come until the 17th century when a monograph of Jeju geography describes them as jamnyeo (literally “diving women”).[2]:101

By the 18th century, female divers, at this point commonly referred to as haenyeo, outnumbered male divers.[3]:1 Several possible explanations exist for this shift. For instance, in the 17th century, a significant number of men died at sea due to war or deep-sea fishing accidents, meaning that diving became the work of women.[1]:1[4] Another explanation is that physiologically, women have more subcutaneous fat and a higher shivering threshold than men, making them more equipped to withstand cold waters.[2]:101 An 18th-century document records that taxes of dried abalone were imposed on ordinary people, forcing many women to dive in cold waters while pregnant.[4]

Whatever the reason, as sea diving became a female-dominated industry, many of the haenyeo subsequently replaced their husbands as the primary laborer.[3]:[5][6]: This trend was especially prominent after the Japanese colonized Korea in 1910 and diving became much more lucrative.[7] Up until this point, much of what the haenyeo harvested was given to the Choson government as tribute.[7] When the Japanese took over, however, they abolished this tradition, allowing haenyeo to sell their catch at market and make a profit.[7] Additionally, Japanese and Korean merchants hired haenyeo to work for them in Japan and on the Korean mainland as wage-laborers, increasing their financial situations greatly. On Yeonpyeong-ri, an island near Incheon where many haenyeo worked, their wages, on average, constituted 40 to 48 percent of a typical family’s total income.[7]  The prominent place of haenyeo in Jeju’s economy and in their individual family units continued long after Japanese colonization.  In the early 1960s, for example, haenyeo harvests accounted for 60% of Jeju’s fisheries revenue and 40% of haenyeo husbands remained unemployed


Popular nearby, compatible sites for a private tour in Jeju:

Seongsan Ichulbon Peak