Korean Traditional Objects of Everyday Use
If you happen to visit any traditional Korean household or just go for a walk at any of the traditional markets like Namdaemun or Dongdaemun, you would come across many an interesting but traditional objects that would keep you wondering with questions like – Oh, what is this? but at the same time frustrated because there is this language barrier and you just cannot go about asking what it is? A lot of us go through this including me but some how its difficult to tame our curiosity. So, that is what made me do a bit of a research to find out the history of some of these objects which I have presented below.
Dojang –도장 – The Korean Seal, is a personal stamp made of wood, jade or sometimes ivory. These seals are written in Chinese characters, since most Korean names have Chinese in them. It has a legal effect and is the equivalent of a personal signature in official documents, contracts, art, or similar items. The seal is stamped using the Korean ink Inju, which is normally red in color.
Jukbuin – 죽부인- juk stands for bamboo and puin starts for wife. So, Jukbuin means ‘Bamboo Wife’ in Korean. Jukbuin is used in the summer months to help you sleep when it gets too hot. These pillows are made by tying the strands of thinly cut bamboos into the shape of a large pillow. One has to hug the pillow tight with his arms and legs wrapped around it while sleeping. It is empty inside so air flows through it making the surface of the pillow refreshingly cool, thus reducing the heat when you’re sleeping.
Yogang – 요강 – can easily be mistaken to be a vessel for keeping candies and cookies with its metallic lid but it is actually the Korean Chamber Pot used for urinal at night. In ancient days people did not have indoor plumbing and had bathrooms outside the home. So in the middle of the night when it was too cold they had to go outside for urinal. But for old people who found it difficult to walk out of the house in the cold or in the middle of the night they used the yogang for urinal.
GeumJul –금줄 – It is a rope made from straw, and was hung on the front of the house for 21 days to show that they have given birth. It was created to repel evil spirits and ghosts. When a baby boy was born, red peppers and charcoal were fastened on the Geumjul and when a baby girl was born, pine branches and charcoal was hung on the straw rope.
Hwaro – 화로 – is sometimes loosely termed as a Korean barbecue, but has more uses. It is used to warm up the house, keep the fire going, cook food, warm water, light pipes, roast simple food, like sweet potatoes and sometimes even to warm irons. The hwaro flame is also used to relight the fireplace. Its versatility made it a household necessity that it is guarded with care in every Korean house.
Paapsangbo – 밥상보 – is the cloth that is used to cover the food kept on a meal table. It protects the food from fly and dust and prevents the odor from flying. It is made from the leftover scraps of the cloth used to make Hanbok.
Ttoeksals – 떡살 – are nice embossed log of woods that are used for shaping rice cakes or pressing patterns with auspicious meanings into these cakes. Each of these patterns symbolizes long life, good health, good fortune and protection of family against evil spirit.
Chung-sa Cho-rong – 청사초롱 – is a kind of tall flashlight used to light surroundings. It represents the love between married couples and encapsulates the balance between yin and yang. Newly wed couples used to hang this in front of their homes so that this Chung-Sa Cho-Rong would illuminate their days ahead.
Hamjin Abi – 함진아비 – is the Matrimonial Chest carrier. He is the person who carries a chest of gifts from the bridegroom’s family to the bride’s family. It contains gifts, rings, jewelry, bags, make up and many other knick-knacks. But it also contains a letter giving the bride and the groom, permission to get married. The arrival of Hamjin Abi with a box of present to the bride-to-be’s family sets evidence to the world that the couple is getting married. Sometimes it is also regarded as a process similar to engagement.
Jangdok – 장독 – A pot made from Chinese clay that has fine breathing holes to preserve fermented food. Spices and seasonings used to make Korean food are pickled and preserved in these pots. Fermenting foods inside pots for a long time ensures that the pot will retain the freshness of the food. That’s why sometime it is also referred to as kimchi refrigerator.
Jangdok are typically lined up in multiple rows in a well-ventilated area with plenty of sunlight. This allows air and moisture to slowly seep through the breathing holes, thus enhancing the flavor of the food that is contained within.
Mokchim – 목침 – can easily be mistaken to be a chair as it gives the affordances for sitting but it is actually a Korean wooden pillow. Korean ancestors frequently used mok-chim while they took a nap. The wooden material is cool and refreshing, which makes sleeping more enjoyable. Older mokchims are just 10 cm wide as they were not meant for long periods of sleep. A person using a narrow mokchim would fall off the pillow when he is in deep sleep and is turning his head left or right. Mok-chim is also a great tool to treat headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, lumbago, and stroke.
Eunjangdo – 은장도 – the silver ornamental dagger, was worn as a pendant by the women of rank of the Joseon Dynasty as a symbol of their social standing. The knife served as a tool for protection from personal humiliation or peril, not by attacking an assailant but killing themselves, under the moral obligation to remain faithful to one spouse.
Chhe –체 – During Lunar New Year, a ghost named Yagwang would come out at nights and steal one of the shoes from the household. He tries all the pairs and whichever fits him, he steals it. And whoever gets his shoes stolen by the ghost faces a year of bad luck. To avoid this the Koreans would move all the shoes back into the house and hang a chhe outside. The chhe is round and is made of gauze net. The ghost, upon seeing a chhe hanging outside the house will start counting all the little holes. So that would keep him busy the whole night. And the moment the sun comes up, the ghosts goes back thus keeping the shoes safe.
Ki – 키 – is a vessel that is made from bamboo cane and is used commonly for winnowing straw. For kids who had the habit of wetting the bed at night, their mother made them wear the Ki on their head and humiliated them in front of their neighbors as a punishment. That way they would remember the humiliation and stop themselves from wetting the bed at night.
MinHwa –민화 – Min stands for common people and Hwa stands for paintings. So MinHwa stands for paintings by common people in Korea. Minhwa is much related to the lives of the people. This type of painting was often the work of anonymous craftsmen who faithfully adhered to the styles, canons and genres inherited from the past. Minhwa were believed to possess beneficial virtues to protect the owner and his family from evil forces. They feature popular themes such as cranes, rocks, water, clouds, the sun, moon, pine-trees, tortoises, insects and flowers.
Tadumi Pangmangi – 다다미 방망이 – is the Korean traditional process of ironing out clothes that were wrinkled using tadumi pangmangi (a long and rounded wooden bat for beating) and the tadumidol (the flat rock base to lay the cloth). The task was done usually in the evenings, after the kitchen work was finished for the day. When the clothes were still slightly damp after washing, they were folded and beat on a tadumidol. Women used the tadumi pangmangi in each hand for beating the cloth. As a result the clothes acquired a certain glossy surface sheen, which lasted for a considerable time.
Binio – 비녀 – is the hair accessory used by Korean women. The ornamental hairpin that was used from the medieval age continues to be employed as a design accessory even today for fastening hair.
CheonThong Maedeup – 전통 메듭 – or decorative knot making, is a unique art of knotting all sorts of braids into various ornamental shapes to decorate dresses or home. There are around 33 types of maedeup or knot making techniques. Harmony and contrasts of colors and various delightful patterns made by different knotting techniques are what makes the art still much loved by Korean people. Maedeup is still a commonly practiced traditional art, especially amongst the older generation and is used to accessorize objects like cell phones, bags and purses by the younger generation.
Hanji –한지 – is the traditional Korean Handicraft paper that is hand made using a unique method of processing the bark of the mulberry plant. In the medieval times hanji was the only paper used in Korea and was used for passing down records. Because of its texture and patterns, Hanji was also used for interior decoration in various traditional Korean houses for creating lamps and decorating the walls and floors.
Bokjori – 복조리- or bamboo-woven ladles have traditionally been used for washing and winnowing rice and other grains. But their association with rice, which is believed to be a bountiful harvest, and good fortune, has made these ladles a symbol of good luck for the Lunar New Year. Hanging or holding bokjori in houses is regarded as one of the most widely known customs on the Lunar New Year’s Day.
Koreans believe that hanging Bokjori in the master bedroom or on the main pillar and putting matches, candles, coins, or grains in it will guarantee good harvest and fortune for an entire year.
Gomusin –고무신 – in the past Korean people used to wear gomusin along with hanbok. Gomusin were shoes made of leather, straw and rubber. Gomusin made of rubber quickly became popular because they are waterproof and practical. The first king to wear rubber gumosin was Joseon’s King Sunjong. Rubber was once a precious material, so ‘black gumosin’ were more common because they could be made from recycled rubber. Eventually varieties of gumosin were created with different designs and colors for women and children.