There are quite a few folktales and children’s stories in Korea that feature woodchoppers. For instance, there is “The Fair and the Woodcutter” about a woodchopper who marries a fairy by hiding her clothes and “The Gold Ax and the Silver Ax” which warns against greed. Chopping wood was an important activity for Koreans in the old days, because firewood was essential for cooking and heating, and having plenty of firewood was the most fundamental preparations for the winter. It was hard for ordinary people in the old days to chop wood in nearby mountains, because most of the mountains were privately owned and required permission from the owners to gain access to them. This gave rise to professional woodchoppers who went deep into faraway woods to cut down trees. It was common back then for tigers to inhabit the forests in the mountains and even to come down to human villages for food. Other wild animals like boars or foxes were also found in great numbers in the woods. Woodchoppers would have become lonely as they usually worked alone. So, they would sing songs to keep themselves company and the blanket term for such songs was “Eosayong어사용.” One of the songs goes something like the following.
Welcome, my friend. Listen to my story.
My needle-thin body is loaded with a heap of wood, and it treks through the rough mountain.
My empty stomach is almost touching my back and my parched throat is on fire.
Let’s listen to Shin Eui-geun singing “Jige Eosayong.”
Jige Eosayong/ Sung by Shin Eui-geun
Jige지게 is a backpack-like carrier made with wood. Long pieces of wood are laced together to form a triangular frame that can bear a load weighing up to 70 kilograms. A man straps on the jige on his back and uses a staff to stand up since the load can get quite heavy. This staff is called a jige mokbal지게목발 or a carrier crutch. A jige mokbal is used to keep the beat while singing “Eosayong,” so the song was also called “Jige Mokbal Sori.” The term “Eosayong” is assumed to have originated from the Buddhist ceremonial music beompae범패, which is also called eosan어산. Beompae and Eosayong songs are similar in that the melodies vacillate widely, and sounds are simple yet mournful. Among the Eosayong songs, there is a song titled “Galgamagu Sori,” which means “Raven Song.” Many people regard the raven as an ominous bird that reminds them of death, but in the old days, the bird was known as an auspicious creature that predicted the future. So, the shamanistic songs sung to welcome the gods are assumed to have been influenced by Buddhist music to become woodcutters’ songs. Next song we’re going to listen to is titled “Bongdeogi Taryeong봉덕이타령,” which is about a widow searching for her lost daughter, Bongdeog. This song was passed down in Goisan-gun Country of Chungcheongbuk-do Province. Today’s version is sung by Lee Gwang-young.
Bongdeugi Taryeong/ Sung by Lee Gwang-young
“Bongdeogi Taryeong” is about a woman who became widowed at a young age who travels to find her missing daughter. The widow goes through a lot of hardship to find her daughter, which is communicated to the audience through the song’s mournful melody. The sorrowful song could have also conveyed to the listeners in the old days the frustration and anguish felt by poor working people while the upper class leached off the efforts of the poor. Today’s Sounds of Korea will conclude with the modern arrangement of “Bongdeogi Taryeong.” Here’s Kim Dong-geun singing “Searching for Bongdeog.”
Searching for Bongdeog/ Sung by Kim Dong-geun