[FOUNTAIN]Restless souls underneath the runwayAs a young boy, painter Kang Yo-bae ― a native of Jeju island ― was curious when his friends and relatives all mourned the deaths of their family members on the same day. Considering most of the villagers were involved in fishing, he couldn’t understand how so many people could have died on the same day. When he asked the adults, their faces turned dark, and no one gave him a straight answer. After he grew up, Mr. Kang realized that the village was mourning the victims of the fire and massacre from the April 3 uprising, an incident that occurred on the island while under U.S. military occupation in 1948.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the incident in 1998, Mr. Kang held an exhibition titled, “Historical Paintings of the April 3rd Uprising ― Camellia Falls.” Mr. Kang, who had resolved his decades-long curiosity through painting, said that whenever he thought about the uprising, he was frustrated at how people failed to clarify the deaths of countless others. According to an official report, over 30,000 people were killed during the uprising, and the painter interprets it as the “struggle for survival.”
The title of Mr. Kang’s No. 57 painting is “A Song of Bones.” The smiling skull in the dark is eerie yet sad. The souls of the victims who had been cruelly slaughtered and improperly buried are laughing at us. The victims cannot rest.
Korean-Japanese writer Kim Seok-beom, who was born on Jeju, said that his heart ached whenever he visited his hometown because he knew too well of the tragic story. Those who died during the uprising are buried under the runway of Jeju International Airport. He sighed and wondered how the souls could rest in peace when planes take off and land all day long.
The United States still works hard to recover the remains of soldiers who died in the Korean War, and Japan is searching the South Sea islands for World War II dead.
On the 57th anniversary of the April 3 uprising, various events are scheduled over 10 days. A monument will be built for the dead, and a shaman ritual and prayer meeting for peace will be held. Korean, Japanese and Chinese scholars will gather at the Jeju Peace Forum and designate Jeju as the “island of world peace.”
With the remains of thousands buried at the airport, can Jeju become an island of peace?
Just as Lee San-ha’s epic poem about the uprising, “Mount Halla,” read, “Because the dead have nothing to say, and the survivors have even less to say...the rape flowers in Jeju have all fallen asleep with a blade in their mouths.”
by Chung Jae-suk
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.