On the southwest side of Halla Mountain is a place of superb beauty called Yeongsil, meaning Home of the Spirits. There is a large cluster of fantastically shaped rocks reaching upwards, encircled by rugged cliffs and covered in dense forest. It’s said that at first glance the rocks look like the disciples of Buddha, but on second look they resemble army generals. So they are sometimes called the Five Hundred Disciples and sometimes the Five Hundred Generals. The following story about the Five Hundred Generals has been passed down to us.
A long time ago, there was a giant known as Grandmother Seolmundae who lived with her five hundred sons. She had so many mouths to feed that during a year of bad harvest it became difficult to find enough food for them all. One day she gathered her sons together and told them “Go find something to eat and bring it back so we can have something with our porridge.” All five hundred of the brothers went off to find some food.
Grandmother Seolmundae started to boil some porridge for when her sons came back. She lit a fire around a large cauldron and hung it up by the rim. As she walked around, she occasionally stirred the porridge. Once while stirring it, however, she lost her footing, fell into the cauldron and died.
When the five hundred brothers returned, they began to eat the porridge, not realizing what had happened. It tasted better than usual. When the youngest of the five hundred was stirring it, he discovered a bone. Thinking it strange, he stirred some more. They were more bones, and they were human. Realizing what must have happened, he thought “I can’t bear to be near my impious brothers, who’ve just eaten porridge mixed with the remains of our mother.” Grieving bitterly, he ran away to Chagwi Island off the coast of Gosan Village. He cried and cried until he eventually turned into stone.
When the brothers saw this, they too realized what had happened. They huddled in groups here and there lamenting their fate, until they too all turned into stone, becoming what are today known as the 500 Generals. So there are, in fact, only four hundred and ninety-nine generals at Yeongsil. The youngest remains separated far away on Chagwi Island.
There is an unobstructed view of him from the volcanic cone called Bagumji Oreum in the district of Daejeong. One year, a geomancer was looking for a gravesite on Bagumji Oreum. After choosing a suitable spot, he said “The site is all right, but the view of the youngest of the Five Hundred Generals on Chagwi Island is a problem.” The mourners told him that they would get rid of it. They got a boat, crossed over to the island, and chopped down the rock with axes. There is still a rock sticking out of the ground today that is said to be what little remains of the youngest general.
Based on the account given on March 4, 1975, by Mr. Gang Mun-Ho of Anseong-ri.
From 99 Legends of Jeju Island, a compilation based on accounts compiled by Professor Hyun Yong-Joon.
Basket Oreum : Bagumji Oreum : 바굼지오름
This oreum is also called Dansan : 단산 : 簞山, which means Bamboo Rice Bowl Mountain
Chagwi Island : Chagwido : 차귀도 : 遮歸島
Five Hundred Disciples : Obaeknahan : 오백나한 : 五百羅漢
Five Hundred Generals : Obaekjanggun : 오백장군 : 五百將軍
Yeongsil : 영실: 靈室 : Home of the Spirits