Jeju Fire Festival Reenacts Old Pastoral Traditions

Jeju Fire Festival ⓒ Jeju City

The twenty-second Jeju Fire Festival will run for four days from 7 to 10 March 2019 at places across Jeju, including Jeju City Hall Square and Saebyeol Oreum in Aewol-eup.

This year, the festival has the theme “Light up the world with wildfire and dreams.” The first day will begin with a torch lighting ritual at Samseonghyeol. The torch will be conveyed along a route from Samseonghyeol to the KAL intersection, Gwangyang intersection, and Jeju City Hall Square. In addition to the torch ceremony, various events will be held at the city hall, including writing wishes on paper and a music concert.

The second day will see a number of programs taking place, including a prayer ritual for the prosperity and development of the Jeju city, a sheaf making contest, and diverse cultural and media art performances staged by delegates from other countries. There also will be a large full moon ceremony where visitors can wish upon the moon, which will be followed by putting the torch to a field, a torchlight parade, and a sheaf burning event.

On the third day, various traditional cultures of the island will attract visitors. One of them is majoje, a ritual of praying for the health of horses, which is representative of the pastoral culture of the island. Others include neokdungbegi, the traditional yutnori (board game) of Jeju, and deumdol-deulgi (stone lifting), a coming of age ceremony of the residents. A forum on how to develop the festival is scheduled as well. In addition, there will be a burning of a pig sheaf to hail the year of the pig according to the Chinese zodiac. Then, the oreum will be set alight, which is the highlight of the festival, to pray for good fortune in the new year.

Even during the 1970s, farming households in Jeju raised a couple of cows to plow the land and carry the harvest from the fields to their homes or village market. In the off-season, farmers in each town took turns to manage the fields for their livestock. They set the pastures alight to get rid of old grass and harmful pests between late winter and early spring, so their livestock could graze fresh quality grass. The fields were set alight all over the hilly areas, and it created a spectacular sight. The Jeju Fire Festival is a modern interpretation of the ancient pastoral traditions of the island.