[Visual History of Korea] Hanji flowers for all life events, from birth to afterlife celebrations

[Visual History of Korea] Hanji flowers for all life events, from birth to afterlife celebrations

Jihwajang Ven. Seokyong prepares a jihwa arrangement for a wedding at his studio in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. Photo © Hyungwon Kang

Flowers are ubiquitous in Korean life, which is a series of celebrations, one after another. One of the essential components of the Korean psyche is “heung” and “kki”. Heung represents the rhythms of life, while kki is the enthusiastic energy that drives us.

While modern greenhouses today produce an almost limitless selection of colorful flowers throughout the year, fresh flowers were not always readily available in Korea until the late 20th century.

Do not worry. Koreans have “jihwa”, flowers made with “hanji” or naturally dyed mulberry paper. Hanji blooms guaranteed flowers no matter what time of year the flowers were needed.

Korean hanji, made from mulberry fibers, is a strong and durable all-purpose paper. Hanji is shaped into colorful flower petals and leaves and is used to wrap bamboo stems. Hanji is rolled to form paper strings and paper nails that hold the pieces together in a flower shape.

A paper chrysanthemum by jihwajang Ven. Seokyong Photo © Hyungwon Kang

A paper chrysanthemum by jihwajang Ven. Seokyong Photo © Hyungwon Kang

Long before fresh flowers were readily available, jihwa were the norm and added color to all life events that required flowers.

Ceremonial events such as weddings, spiritual rituals like “gut”, community orchestra “nongak” music, dance rituals as well as religious traditions that call for honoring spiritual enlightenment in Buddhism, require all flowers.

Colorful flowers can be seen when Koreans celebrate the 100th day of a child’s birth as well as the first birthday, “dol”.

Hanji flower arrangements were also common during celebrations of “hwangap,” the 60th birthday, which comes after the fifth cycle of the Korean zodiac, returning you to the same birth sign in the year you were born.

Hwangap was a big deal until the 21st century, when life expectancy was well below the modern average. One of the most famous rulers in Korean history, King Sejong the Great (1397-1450) didn’t even reach his 54th birthday.

A paper flower arrangement is placed on a ‘nuk-dangsak’, an underworld boat that helps spirits reach the afterlife during a ‘ssikimgut’ ceremony in Jindo, Jeolla province of South. Photo © Hyungwon Kang

A traditional Korean funeral procession has a hearse called a “sangyeo”, which is decorated with paper flowers. The paper flowers on sangyeo are burned after the funeral service, to send them to the afterlife.

Nongak, the community group music and dance rituals that are part of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, also uses hanji flowers.

“When I first learned nongak in 1991, for the first annual full moon celebration nongak performance, we took several days to make hanji flowers to go on the headgear in the shape of a cone. There were no fresh flowers in the middle of winter,” said Lee Myoung-hoon, the No. 7-6 Designated Person of Intangible Cultural Heritage of North Jeolla Province and lead interpreter of Gochang. Nongak.

“We have two types of ‘gokkal’, the cone-shaped headgear. Baek gokkal is topped with white flowers. Saek gokkal is the one with a variety of colors depending on the region of the country. Some use red, yellow, blue and white, while others use red, yellow, green and white. There are even some with red, yellow and white flowers,” said Lee, one of Korea’s best-known nongak artists.

The headgear of performers of

The headgear of performers of “nongak”, the community group’s music and dance ritual, is decorated with hanji flowers. Photo © Hyungwon Kang

Artists who make hanji flowers, or jihwa, are known as “jihwajang”.

Jihwajang Ven. Seokyong, 54, is the No. 63 Intangible Cultural Heritage Bearer of Gyeonggi Province, who works to reinvent Buddhist flowers in ancient paintings.

“There are 56 different flowers that appear in Buddhist art. We can make about 20 of them. I will resurrect the rest,” said Ven. Seokyong, who moved to Guinsa, the main temple of the Cheontae order. of Korean Buddhism at the age of 17.

Fri. Seokyong, who colors the hanji and makes the most detailed flowers, meticulously works the paper flowers using tools inherited from her teachers.

In “ssitkkimgut”, a shaman healing ritual, paper flowers are used with paper human figures.

The ritual sends the spirits of the deceased to the afterlife in an underground boat decorated with paper flowers.

The final act of ceremonies involving spirits is the burning of the objects used, sending them to the afterlife.

“Things used in the bowel, things made right before the bowel are burned after the ceremony,” said Professor Lee Kyung-yup, a folklore expert at Mokpo National University.

By Hyungwon Kang ([email protected])

Korean American photojournalist and columnist Hyungwon Kang is currently documenting Korean history and culture in pictures and words for future generations. — Ed.

By Korea Herald ([email protected])

Briana R. Cross