Women Divers an Intangible Heritage
By Kang Shin-who
A heritage expert, who has been working as UNESCO Chair of Heritage and Urbanism, said Jeju women divers are an intangible heritage that deserve government-level preservation. He advised Jeju Island to nominate them as a candidate for the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
``Women divers (Haenyeo in Korean) and their diving skills are very rare. It is also impressive that the job has been going on hundreds of years and only women do this. They are working all year around and very dedicated,’’ William S Logan told The Korea Times in an interview, Thursday.
Dr. Logan is also working as director of Cultural Heritage Center for Asia and the Pacific as well as professor of Deakin University in Australia. He participated in an international conference for island studies on Jeju.
The Australian professor said Haenyeo holds such a high cultural value and could make the list of UNESCO world cultural heritage. ``The point of (being listed in) the intangible cultural heritage is to draw attention of the international community to the threats to this particular heritage around the world and support Korea in finding ways to maintain these skills from donors and educators,’’ he said.
Mt. Halla and some islets on the southern coasts of Jeju Island have been designated as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in 2002 and Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes have been recognized at UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites in 2007 June.
``In the past, we had world heritage list only for places, but the 2003 convention started to include other kinds of heritage, particular performances, music, dance, and possibly languages, craft skills, temples,’’ he said.
The heritage expert, however, cautioned that the Korean government should introduce long-term plans to protect woman divers on the island. He said the number of women divers is dropping fast and there are few female residents on the island wanting to become divers.
``Korea needs plans to attract young women to this job, unless it attracts young women in their 10s or 20s, the heritage will die out,’’ he said.
He continued ``In Japan, the diving women work so much shorter hours whereas Korea has much longer hours. It is one of solutions to make diving sessions shorter and if (the job) is combined with other occupations such as housewives, students and working in shops, it will bring stronger income.’’ He also suggested that Jeju Haenyeo and Japanese Ama work together towards the nomination by UNESCO.
Dr. Logan has been connected with the chief heritage agency at the global level for more than 20 years, mostly evaluating a variety of places in Asia that have become incorporated into the global world heritage system.