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Haenyeo - the women free divers of Jeju Island

Haenyeo diver
Haenyeo - the women free divers of Jeju Island

Until about 15 years ago, there were fears that the Haenyeo - also known as the Grannies of the Sea - were a dying breed, but the South Korean government – and social media – have rekindled support for this unique way of life. 

Jeju is a subtropical island off the Korean Peninsula’s southern tip, easily accessed from the mainland by direct flights and ferries. The island has maintained its distinct culture, dialect and shamanistic traditions, and is well worth visiting for those reasons alone.

Although no one knows for sure when Jeju Island’s inhabitants first started harvesting shellfish from the ocean floor, archaeological evidence indicates it might be as long ago as 300 BC. What we do know, is that women took over the profession in the 17th century. Over the years, they didn’t modernize beyond wearing wetsuits, flippers and masks.  All haenyeo still free dive without oxygen tanks.

Visitors to Jeju, can watch the haenyeo prepare for their days work at Sunrise Peak. The divers sing traditional songs and demonstrate their practice. From the shore can be seen bobbing orange floats reminiscent of pumpkins, marking where divers are, up to 100 feet below the surface.

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