Monday, June 18, 2007

Dano-Traditional Korean Festival: Some insights into Korea's Rich Past

Learning about a culture’s traditions, customs, and norms is helpful in building cross-cultural understanding. Korea has a number of traditional lunar holidays that link the present to the past. These include Chuseok (the Fall Harvest Festival), the Lunar New Years, and Dano.

Dano is celebrated the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. This year it falls on Tuesday June 19. Although not a popular as Chuseok or Lunar New Years, Dano is still seen by many as a festival rich in heritage. Tano is not a legal holiday.

Looking Back….
In the past, Dano (also spelled Tano) was a day set aside to have fun and enjoy life with dancing, singing, and sports. It is also a day where people performed ceremonies honoring village spirits and ancestors. Wrestling, martial arts, and swinging are activities traditionally associated with Dano. Men often participated in ssirum, Korean wrestling, and taekkyeon, Korean martial arts, while women gathered to swing on long rope swings. On this day, women washed their hair in a special iris flower emulsion to make their hair shinier, softer, and darker. For women swing contests were held to see who could swing the highest in the air. Men, in turn competed in wresting and martial arts events.

One interesting Dano event was the mask dance. Popular among peasants, the dance, its satirical lyrics, and an array of colorful masks flouted local aristocrats and society.

I’ve included an excerpt from my historical novel, A Yankee in the Land of the Morning Calm, Book 1. It gives the reader some insights into the festival set in late 19th century.

Tano Celebration
As a new day dawned, Cho informed Josh that it was one of Korea’s traditional holidays called Tano, a day with roots in Buddhism and Shamanism. Josh schooled to be wary of heathen beliefs and false practices, quizzed his Korean colleague how the “holiday” might stymie trading. Cho noted although some visited Korean Buddhist temples in the mountains, most of Seoul’s inhabitants congregated for a day of game and drink. One popular meeting place was near the Ch’ônggyech’ôn stream.

Peaking an interest in Josh, Cho elaborated. On holidays, traditional folk events such as bridge crossing, kite flying, lotus lantern lighting, and stone-throwing contests drew inhabitants from the capital region. Feeling that not much work would be accomplished, after breakfast Cho and Josh agreed to witness the day’s activities. A crowd of men shouting near the Kwanghwamun Gate quickly drew Josh’s attention. Cho explained it was t’aekkyôn. In Korea, martial arts contests were popular among the commoners although shunned by the elite yangban. On holidays, for example, rival groups participated in t’aekkyôn competition including the Witdaepae and Araetpae. The Witdaepae were residents from inside the city limits, while the Araetpae were people who lived just outside the city gates. Other groups that competed lived in the Sangch’on (higher village); specifically this was the area north of the Kwangtongkyo Bridge that crossed the Ch’ônggyech’ôn stream. Their rivals commonly known as the Hach’on (lower village) lived in the area south of the Hyokyôngkyo Bridge. Cho pointed out that in t’aekkyôn matches, practitioners won by knocking opponents down by using their feet. After watching several spirited matches, the men strolled westward across the city. As hours passed, the men stopped occasionally, watched children play, or other folk activities that included adult women on kune (swings) and troupes of actors performing talchum (mask dances). By early evening the men had returned to the hanok, Josh’s only remorse was that he forgot to bring his sketchpad since the day had been full of new experiences and insights into life in Korea.

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