Little girls in Jeju who played near the seashore became haenyeo, and followed in the footsteps of their mothers. Haenyeo fended off fear to dive into the dark, cold sea, with other haenyeo friends. They valiantly jumped into the sea even if they were pregnant. The haenyeo’s life is weary, but the sea is honest, and their efforts are definitely rewarded. The sea gives haenyeo wisdom and richness. They find value through diving in the sea, which embraces them.
Sumbisori (숨비소리), is a rapid panting sound (gasping for air), made by haenyeo immediately after diving. It sounds like a whistle. Haenyeo usually hold their breath for one to two minutes, while submerging for 10m depths without any oxygen or equipment. It is a raw sound from human breath, which is uttered just after coming back from the underworld. Sumbisori has shown that haenyeo do not give up when life becomes difficult, but rather they adapt to their arduous environment. Haenyeo usually dive for one to two hours, when they have access to conventional diving suits. This is due to the fast decrease, in their body temperatures. Afterwards, they would take a rest and warm their body. However, after they started to wear rubber diving suits, their working time increased, and they began to stay in the cold water longer. It caused haenyeo to fall sick, much more frequently than before. Rubber diving suits are buoyant, so haenyeo wear led in their waste, which leads to chronic backaches. Most haenyeo also get decompression sickness, but quite a lot of old haenyeo are still active. According to the 2017 statistics, 679 of haenyeo who were over 80 years old, officially counted as having an active status.
The Jeju government is trying to keep the culture of haenyeo alive despite the decreasing population as well as the aging of the haenyeo people. Systematic haenyeo training schools were established in Jeju, which aim to produce skilled haenyeo divers, at a young age. The Jeju government is also supporting the entire medical fees of ambulatory care. The haenyeo are Jeju’s pride. Their traditional survival skills are also a form of genuine empowerment of Jeju women. Their existence gives us the courage, to walk confidently towards to the future.