The Haenyeo and the Underwater Palace

Many years ago, something amazing happened to one of Jeju’s haenyeo, or diving women. This particular diver was from Moseulpo. Nearly everyone in those days had to suffer through smallpox, but she never caught the disease. 

One day this haenyeo went to Geumro Harbor in Sagye Village, where she found a hawksbill sea turtle caught in a rock pool. Evidently the turtle had come ashore at high tide and gotten stuck in the depression in the rocky shoreline when the tide when out. Feeling sorry for the creature, the diving woman picked it up and released it back into the sea. 

The turtle seemed quite pleased as it swam off. Shortly after swimming out, it turned back and, just as though it were bowing in thanks, nodded its head before leisurely diving down and disappearing into the water. A short while later, the diving woman swam down below the volcanic rock formation called Dragon’s Head to collect some abalone. Hoping to find some large ones, she dove down as deep as she could. Strangely enough, she discovered a palace all decorated with shiny shells.  

“What on earth is this?” she wondered, as she swam closer and found strange flowers in full bloom. The dazzling structure resting on the seafloor made for a magnificent sight. Just as the haenyeo was approaching the door, a certain grandmotherly lady came out and said “I don’t know how to begin thanking you for saving my child. Please come in.” She warmly ushered the diving woman into the palace.

After treating her to a very generous reception, the old lady gave the diving woman a flower as a parting gift, saying “Take this flower and be on your way. As long as you have it, you’ll be immune from smallpox.” Accepting the gift, the diving woman swam back to shore, where she discovered that it was a coral flower. She treasured it carefully, and it proved effective indeed, for she never did catch smallpox.

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 the work of Professor Hyun Yong-Joon.

Dragon’s Head

   Dragon’s Head : 용머리 : Yongmeori is a rocky promontory that sticks out into the ocean from Sanbang Mountain on the south side of Jeju Island. 

Geumro Harbor : 금로포 : 金露浦


   The diving women of Jeju are known as haenyeo (해녀: 海女). These iconic women of the island make a living by free-diving into the ocean to catch and collect seafood, and are able to hold their breath for an extraodinarily long time. 

Moseulpo : 모슬포 : 摹瑟浦 

Sagye Village : Sagye-ri : 사계리


   In Korean mythology, turtles are considered to be the messengers of the Dragon King (Yongwang: 용왕: 龍王), the divine ruler of the ocean and other bodies of water such as springs, ponds, rivers and lakes. Jeju’s haenyeo collect nearly all edible marine animals, but an exception is made for turtles. The hawksbill sea turtle is called a daemo : 대모 : 玳瑁.

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