Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Korean Ancestors' Appreciation of Life

The culture of life column in the Peace Weekly goes back to  Korean oral history to pick out some of the customs that Korean  ancestors followed in showing concern for the environment. The columnist laments that the young are following indiscriminately the  ways of the West and have forgotten the meaning behind our customs.
Because of the ecological problems we are facing, going back to the ways our  ancestors respected and protected nature will help us to confront and eventually solve, he believes, many of these problems. He then reminds us of the ways they showed this in life--in their symbiotic relationship with nature.
There was the custom--when eating at cemeteries, during mountain climbing, or on a waterside excursion--of throwing some of the food on the ground. This was part of their belief in a spirit world  surrounding them. But the columnist makes note that the ones who benefited were the ants and other insects and animals.
This was also the case at the 'kosa,' a shamanistic practice of sharing food with one another and also with the spirits outside the house, with insects and animals mostly benefiting. And there was also what they called "food for the magpies." When they harvested fruit from the orchards, they would always leave some of the fruit for the birds and animals.

Their respect for life  was also seen in their taboos. When a magpie or swallow was killed they were thought to have taken on sin. When they confined a cicada they would have a dry spell. If you captured a bird that came into the house you would have a fire.  If you cut down a large tree you would die. If a large tree fell something bad would happen. If you burnt a lot of fire wood the mountain spirit would hate you. If a house plant died something bad would happen.  Digging up the earth without reason would bring bad luck.
They felt they would be repaid for kindness to animals. They personified the animals; you would not praise another animal in front of an ox because this would make him jealous. Farmers during the winter months would give the ox a hot bean and straw gruel and cover the ox with something warm.  They would be slow to slaughter their animals and even have rites for the animals when they died.  When there was snow on the ground and animals would come into the villages, they would not kill the animals.
We no longer follow these customs and there is no reason to do so, of course, but we should not forget, he says, that the loving concern our ancestors had for nature is admirable, and the same concern should be ours as well.                             

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