Getting into the rhythm of the past

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Getting into the rhythm of the past

SEONGNAM, Gyeonggi
Braving chilly weather, hundreds gathered last month for the inaugural Sinmyung Culture Festival at Namhan fortress here, just south of the Seoul city limit. This festival ― an open-air performance rooted in shamanist rituals ― came together following numerous pilot programs for expatriates in Korea.
“The gist of the festival is to build your confidence by participating in various minsok nori” or Korean traditional games, said Wei Chang-rang, an organizer. “That is why this festival can be categorized as a cultural revival project. Culture can help cure a life of listlessness and frustration.”
By the festival’s end, Mr. Wei added, the participants would certainly have sinmyung (a word that is most closely translated as mirth).
One of the prevailing prejudices about Korean tradition is that it’s boring. But Mr. Wei points out that many traditional performances, such as samulnori, or farmers’ percussion bands, are lots of fun.
A brief orientation got the festival hopping, followed by an opportunity for participants to learn some interesting tidbits about the background of the rituals and the main elements of minsok nori.
The participants wasted no time in establishing a rhythm with percussion instruments, such as the janggo (hourglass drum) and the buk (barrel drum). Meanwhile, others took pains to master a few moves of the Korean mask dance, got caught up spinning a top or just played a game of shuttlecock.
When everyone had warmed up, the group reconvened for some group play. En masse, participants constructed flags and made ropes by twisting pieces of straw together. Finally, they began putting together a bonfire, known as daljip, by creating a pillar of bamboo, then tossing in straw and firewood. These kinds of group activities factor heavily in the festival’s success, Mr. Wei said.
“Our ancestors healed their pent-up anger or depression by depending on the virtue of group healing. And that spirit is fully embodied in this festival,” he said.
The daedong play was the festival highlight. T he participants gathered to play ganggang sulae, which uses a spinning top, as well as a hearty tug-of-war with the rope they had made earlier. This was when the teamwork that participants had developed could be applied.
The mirth reached its peak when the daljip began burning. According to custom, daljip is typically lit on a night with a full moon. People of long ago would create a bonfire before making their wishes under the clear light of the full moon.
“It feels like all of my schoolwork stress is gone,” said Shin Myung-a, 16, who came to the festival with her teacher and classmates. “Through the minsok nori that I participated in today, I think I now understand the positive attitude of our ancestors. How could they be depressed with all of this exhilarating play?”
The next Sinmyung Festival will be held on Jan. 31, also at Namhan fortress. All are invited. From then on, the festival will take place on the last Saturday of each month. For details, call (02) 413-1631.


by Kim Hae-young
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