Jeju’s diving tradition dates back to 434 A.D.:100 Originally, diving was an exclusively male profession, with the exception of women who worked alongside their husbands.: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”).:101
By the 18th century, female divers, at this point commonly referred to as haenyeo, outnumbered male divers.: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 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.: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.
Whatever the reason, as sea diving became a female-dominated industry, many of the haenyeo subsequently replaced their husbands as the primary laborer.:: This trend was especially prominent after the Japanese colonized Korea in 1910 and diving became much more lucrative. Up until this point, much of what the haenyeo harvested was given to the Choson government as tribute. When the Japanese took over, however, they abolished this tradition, allowing haenyeo to sell their catch at market and make a profit. 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. 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