Menu Content
Go Top


Shaman Kim Keum-hwa

#Sounds of Korea l 2012-10-17

Sounds of Korea

Shaman Kim Keum-hwa
Although science has made remarkable developments, we still live in the world where people feel small in front of uncontrollable natural forces. Just a single typhoon can cause a catastrophic natural disaster despite warnings to brace for it.

In that sense, ancient people must have been fearful of constant changes in nature. But they didn’t succumb to such unpredictable natural forces and sought ways to protect themselves against emergencies. People in the past believed supernatural powers controlled nature and tried to resort to spiritual forces to weather through unexpected difficulties.

Belief in shamanism stems from such background and the ritual held for it is called “gut” in Korean. Although some treat the rite as superstition, people became one in hard times through the ritual and gained strength to overcome hardships. During a shamanistic ritual, shamans offer song and dance performances along with sacrificial offerings to the spirit. That’s why shamans that conduct the solemn ceremony are also considered great artists.

In today’s edition of the program, we’ll meet the representative female shaman Kim Keum-hwa who is designated as the nation’s Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 82-2 and holder of western coast Baeyeonsingut and Daedonggut. For the first piece of music on the show, we have the section “Misfortune” of Baeyeonsingut from Hwanghae Province performed by Kim Keum-hwa and others. This part preceding the main ritual is held to ward off all signs of ill omen.

Misfortune from Hwanghaedo Baeyeonsingut / Myeongin Kim Geum-hwa and others

The shamanistic ritual called “Baeyeonsingut” held in western coastal region was carried out by shamans in January or February when the Lunar New Year begins upon requests from ship owners. By having the guardian god of the village, the shaman first repels ominous signs. Then various gods are invited to the ritual praying for their well being throughout the year and a good haul of fish.

Myeongin Kim Keum-hwa who has been passing down the aforementioned ritual was born in Yeonbaengri, Hwanghae Province, in 1931. By receiving naerimgut, or initiation ritual, from her maternal grandmother who was also a shaman, Kim was initiated as a shaman and followed in the family profession. Later, she also mastered other shamanistic rituals such as Baeyeonsingut and Daedonggut from great shamans who performed national public rituals.

During the Korean War, Kim suffered from all sorts of hardships inflicted by the North Korean People’s Army for deluding the world and deceiving the people. She continued to endure contempt and scorn because of the nation’s drive for modernization which also ran against local superstition. But in the early 1970s, by winning the best actress award at the National Folk Art Competition by performing Haeju Janggungut, she started to promote the artistic features of shamanistic rituals to the public.

In 1982, as part of the commemorative event celebrating the 100th anniversary the diplomatic ties between South Korea and the United States, she was invited to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. to perform the traditional rite. At the time, the show that particularly intrigued viewers from all over the world was the performance called “Jakdutagi” which is a shamanistic dance presented on top of the blade of a straw cutter. This Jakdutagi is also the main feature of the gut of Hwanghae Province.

This time, we’ll listen to the section Daegamnori from Baeyeonsingut. This section thanks the hardships of boatmen in charge of a ship.

Daegamnori / Myeongin Kim Geum-hwa and others

Some time ago, shaman Kim Keum-hwa was the talk of the town because she was featured in the music video of a pop singer. The music video is about a man who tries to meet the soul of his lover lost in an accident by resorting to a shamanistic ritual. But the video was prohibited from the airwaves for its unscientific content.

The case shows that the treatment of shamanistic rituals hasn’t improved much from the past. However, as we witness how people with different backgrounds and those living in varied environments can become one through songs and dances, it seems that the traditional culture of shamanism is rather needed in the modern society.

When the Baeyeonsingut comes to an end, seamen perform sori together and head to the vast sea. Their chanting guarded by the spirits is filled with confidence, undaunted by the forces of nature. We’ll wrap up the show with the boating song from Hwanghae Province performed by Cha Hui-dong and others.

Hwanghaedo Boating Song / Cha Hui-dong and others

Editor's Pick


This website uses cookies and other technology to enhance quality of service. Continuous usage of the website will be considered as giving consent to the application of such technology and the policy of KBS. For further details >