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Hahoe masks of Andong.

I recently returned to Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, where I did six weeks of basic military training in early 1974. The city exudes the spirit of traditional Korea, the heart of Korean Confucian culture, which values justice, righteousness and the preservation of civilizing customs.

Many prominent scholars such as Lee Hawang (penname Tae-gye ) and Ryu Seong-yong thrived in Andong during the Joseon dynasty (918-1392 A.D). The city is regarded as a cradle of learning that boasts Korea's largest number of Seowon, Confucian academies.

What makes Andong even more distinguished is the unique Hahoe Village and Hahoe Mask Dance. The Hahoe Village is home to descendants of the Ryu family clan of Pungsan. It is well-known for its traditional houses and is representative of Korea's aristocratic Confucian culture and the social structure of the Joseon Dynasty. It became famous beyond Korea when the place was designated a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site in 2010.

The heart of the village is populated by large, tile-roofed (traditional) houses belonging to the Ryu clan, adding their own unique charm to the surrounding thatched roofs which preserve the life style and customs of olden days.

The Hahoe Village is famous for the traditional mask dance, a form of folk drama. It features the wearing of characteristic masks, singing and dancing in styles that have been practiced for many centuries. Since ancient times it has been believed that the Hahoe masks have spiritual powers.

The Haehoe Pyolsin-gut (Exorcism), one of Korea's most precious intangible cultural assets, is a mask performance conducted as part of shamanist rituals. To entertaining vignettes for the gods are redolent with social satire and comic elements. Ritual prayers for the village's welfare and bountiful harvest as well as invocations to dispel evil are part of the dramatic action. The ritual is performed on 15th of January of lunar calendar.

In addition, folk games such as Chajeon-nori, Notdari-balkki, and Sonyoujul-bulnori, are performed. They date from the 12th century.

The Hahoe masks were originally comprised of 12 masks, of which only 9 remain.

They were created during Goryeo Dynasty. They include the Yangban mask (aristocrat), Seonbi (scholar), Halmi (old widow), Choraengi (servant), Baekjeong (butcher), Gakshi (bride), Joong (Monk), Juji(totem beast) and Bune (concubine).

According to the symbols and facial features (physiognomy) of each distinctive mask, we can recognize who is who. For example,? Yangban appears to be cunning while Seonbi looks to be arrogant and stubborn, and Bune has an aura of sensuality. With diverse characters of different social classes, the Hahoe Mask Play show us how common people from ancient times used mask dances to in directly criticize and satirize the ruling elite through jest.

It is pleasing to learn that the original Hahoe masks, designated as Korea's National Treasure No. 121, were returned to their home in Andong at last. The Hahoe Folk Village kept the masks in a village hall until a fire broke out in the early 1960s. Fortunately, the valuable masks were unharmed. However, due to an abundance of caution to prevent mishaps, the masks were moved to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul in 1964. The Hahoe Folk Village petitioned to bring the masks back to Andong many times, but the request was not accepted because there was no suitable storage facility in Andong then.

Hosting a special exhibition of Hahoe masks in Andong in 2016, the citizens petitioned to return the masks to Andong again. The petition was finally accepted by the National Museum of Korea.

On December 27, 2017, the Hahoe masks returned home after being away more than half century. They are safe in the Andong Folk Museum. The value of the authentic Hahoe masks will be enhanced now that they rest in their place of origin. They are recognized as masterpieces of mask art worldwide.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Jan 31, 2018
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