Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another Sign of the Passing of the Old Korea

On a visit to one of the families in the mission station a few days ago the discussion turned to the genealogical records of the family.The grandfather brought me the register of the clan, a record of the family going back into the past for hundreds of years. This register, rather expensive, is republished every thirty years or so with new additions. The old Koreans are proud of their family history, and all that it means for family and country-- a precious heirloom.

The grandfather talking about his own family made it clear that because of globalization and intermarriage with foreigners elements of Korean history are disappearing. The young Koreans are not interested in old Korea, so it will not be long before genealogical records are a foot note of history. All this he said with a very matter of fact tone of voice, little emotion.

The feeling of older Koreans for the ancestors is not only with words, they have records they can check, names, achievements of the ancestors which makes for a family spirit that is difficult to appreciate for a non-Korean. When they have the rites for the ancestors they not only remember ancestors, but have names and locations on the map that give life to the past. This gives meaning to the rites they perform at least twice a year.

Attachment to their family history is a sign of their love of country along with the love for ancestors. They meet regularly with members of the clan to discuss their relationship and what has happened since their last meeting. They add new names to the lists, and although women did not appear in the registers in the past the names of female family often appeared now.

Not having any real knowledge of what is entailed in these histories my understanding would be that those who have nobility of some sort in their pedigree would have a register. There are over 250 surnames, and each surname may have many different clans depending from what part of Korea the first ancestors lived. To have a register means that you have a known pedigree. In the old days this register would be extremely important for you were not to marry a member of your own clan, and many would like to check the pedigree of the new possible family member. This has only changed in recent years, and it shows the importance of these family records in Korean history. The pedigree in many cases is now determined by something much more concrete and visual.

Many of the more traditional Koreans see this lack of interest in genealogical records as a slippery sloop to democratization of all Korean life. For many it is painful to see the love of the culture, love of language and their history eroding. Reaction of the children to their own history is easily seen by the elders. Globalization and the multiculturalism of modern times is destroying the homogeneity of the once proud Korean Culture. Efforts will be made to keep the good and minimize the bad, but the direction in which Korean society has started to move will not be derailed, and the young Koreans are the harbingers of this new world.

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