Have you ever ducked underwater in the bathtub or swimming pool and timed yourself? How many seconds could you stay underwater? 6 seconds? 10 seconds? Perhaps even 20 seconds? Off Jeju Island in Korea, women divers – known as Haenyos – have dived for centuries. These Korean divers can hold their breath for several minutes and dive to 65 feet deep.
The women divers of Jeju head to the sea early in the morning and dive for five to six hours every day. They search for octopus, sea urchins, seaweed and abalone – delicacies in Asian food markets. The divers’ work is dangerous and tiring. Their ears often pop because of the pressure under the water and their muscles hurt at the end of the day. If the water becomes rough, the divers may drown. Sharks lurk nearby.
Diving is a dying art in Korea. Most of the divers are between 50 and 70 years old. Younger women have opportunities for other jobs. They can go to the mainland and study at a university. They can go into business or become doctors or teachers. Jeju has become a popular tourist attraction. Young women can get a job in the tourist industry. It’s good that women can choose what they want to do, but it’s also sad that the Korean tradition of diving is disappearing.
Fun Facts About Korean Mermaids
- The divers take nets and floating coolers to hold their catch until they can return to land or a boat.
- Divers wear weights to help them sink. They also wear masks and fins.
- Girls started diving when they were as young as 10 or 12.
- The women divers work all day and then do farm chores in the evening.
- Many divers work together. They meet during the day for lunch and to chat. They share the money they earn selling fish. Some have even opened restaurants together.
- The Haenyo divers were active opponents of the Japanese occupation. They’ve also fought hard to conserve the sea’s resources. A special memorial and museum honors them.
Korean Mermaids Vocabulary
- Sea urchin: a spiny fish
- Delicacy: a food considered delicious and special
- University: college
- Tourist: someone visiting from another place
All About Korean Mermaids Video for Kids
Here’s the best kids Haenyos video you can watch right now to learn more about Korean Mermaids
Korean Mermaids Q&A
Question: Do the divers earn a good living diving?
Answer: Until recently, women had few choices when it came to earning a living. The divers earned enough money to buy simple houses and send their children to school – something other women in Korea could not do.
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