For many centuries the sea women of Jeju called Haenyo have been harvesting conch, octopus, and abalone in the sea and making a living out of it.
The Korean Mermaids
Called the Korean mermaids and romanticized by many, the job of a Haenyo can be a difficult and often dangerous one. The sea women don’t use any breathing equipment on their dives.
Jeju’s Sea Women
Haenyo can go down to depths of 20 m all the while holding their breath without the aid of a breathing apparatus. They wear the same old-fashioned scuba masks and a complete wetsuit with weights around their waists that allow them to sink quickly.
On the surface is a flotation device that sort of acts as the haenyo’s anchor and place where they store their harvests while they go down for more. This is called a tewak.
A Long History
When you find Jeju Island accommodation be sure to visit the haenyos and learn more. The history behind how they came to be is obscure, but they can be traced back as far as 434 AD. Until the 17th century, the divers were mostly men but today they are almost exclusively women.
The Reason Why It is Women
There are many reasons as to why there are mostly female haenyos today. If you stay locally in a resort the likes of Somerset Jeju Shinhwa World and ask the local inhabitants, they will tell you women could tolerate the cold water better or that all the men were conscripted into the army.