중앙데일리

Feathers are aflutter

Which is Korea’s harbinger of marital bliss: Ducks or geese?

Nov 30,2003
The following is a tip on traditional Korean language and customs in response to a query from a Mr. Neal Williams, who wrote to us from Seoul:

Q. Mr. Williams:
Three weeks ago, you published an article about traditional Korean wooden ducks. In this article, you stated that these ducks symbolized a married couple.

Recently I went to a Korean wedding with a friend. We observed what appeared to be a wooden duck being used during the ceremony. When I referred to it as a duck, my Korean friend quickly corrected me. She stated that it was not a duck at all, but a wild goose. She stated that the Korean word for the wooden object meant “wild goose” and not “duck.”

Could you please tell me which is correct? It certainly looks like a duck to me.

A. IHT-JAD:
In ancient Korea, all migratory waterfowl, whether ducks or geese, were considered to be gods. It was believed that these amphibious animals could cross between heaven and earth. Shamanistic rituals in farming communities used symbols of these holy birds, carved from wood.

Among these birds, people observed that one particular species, known as the mandarin duck, or wonang in Korean, lived in male-female pairs.

Female wonang resemble ordinary wild ducks, but male wonang have exceptionally beautiful feathers. The wonang has a shorter neck and a smaller body than the wild goose. According to tradition, happily married couples in Korea were compared to a pair of mandarin ducks. That’s how the bird came to be a popular symbol in wedding ceremonies.


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