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Past Webzine
WINTER 2008 Vol.22 No.4
Kimchi
Beauty of Korea
Byeoru (Ink Stone)
Background and Development of Korean Kimchi
Kimchi Ideal Health Food for a Well-being Lifestyle
Regional Influences Create Wide Varieties of Kimchi
Sharing Kimchi with Consumers Around the World
Seoul Hosts XXII World Congress of Philosophy 2008
Poet Ko Un “I am my own future!”
Archery Craftsman Yoo Young-ki Blends Strength with Resiliency
Elegant Earthenware Figurines Reveal Silla’s Spirituality
Magnum Korea Exhibition Images of Korean Society’s Diversity
Kevin O’Rourke Passionate Translator of Korean Literature
Sung Shi-yeon A Humble yet Forceful Presence at the Podium
Jeongseon’s Natural Beauty Endures the Passage of Time
Yaksik Rice Cake Tasty and Healthy Treat
Korea Delivers with Speed and Agility
Dance of Exorcism at the Fringe of Existence
WINTER 1995 Vol.9 No.4
  Feature
  Tug-of-War: Pulling the Rope for a Bumper Harvest
  Kim Kwang-on
Professor of Folklore
Inha University
Text-Only in EnglishPDF in ChinesePDF in EnglishPDF in FrenchPDF in JapanesePDF in Spanish Single Column Print Advanced Search
 
By far the most celebrated of the many events that take place at the annual March First Festival in Yongsan, Ch'angnyong-gun, Kyongsangnam-do Province is chuldarigi, or tug-of-war. This is a magnificent game played by thousands of townspeople in two teams or camps, the east and the west, reflecting the physical division of the town by the old town wall. Both sexes are represented in the contest; the east team symbolizes the male and the west team, the female. It is said that the town will have a bumper harvest if the west team wins, but that does not make the east any less determined to win. The harvest is all but forgotten as both teams tug with might and main, the victory and nothing else in their minds. Everyone becomes so wrapped up in the game that if members of a family are somehow placed on opposing teams, they will not speak to one another for weeks after the contest is over.
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Each side of the rope for the tug-of-war is 40 meters long and 50 centimeters in diameter. The rope, which is made of countless smaller strands of straw rope, is so thick that one cannot grasp its full width but has to instead grab onto and tug on more than a hundred thinner ropes attached along its length. The end of the rope is unravelled so that participants can also pull each of the small ropes. An enormous amount of rice straw is needed to make the thick rope, the whole work taking scores of people laboring more than 20 days and nights.
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Then, each team stands vigil over its rope day and night lest someone from the other team should sneak in to stride over the rope or drive a nail or needle into it, which is believed to cause the rope to break during the contest. Incidentally, there is a folk belief that a woman who Strides over the rope will give birth to a son, tempting many women to do so. During the Japanese colonial period, a woman caught in the act of stepping over the rope in Mokhaeng-dong, Ch'ungju, Ch'ungch'ongbuk-do was indeed stoned to death.
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The male rope and the female rope are identical except for the loop at the head. The loop of the female rope is made larger than that of the male rope so that the two ropes can be locked together by putting the male loop inside the female loop and inserting a 3-meter-long, 25-centimeter-wide log through both loops to hold the two ropes together.
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In 1968, I was on hand to watch the chuldarigi contest. Hundreds of men from each camp brought their rope to the playground of Yongsan High School around one o'clock in the afternoon. The ropes were so heavy that they had to carry them hooked to cross bars, each shouldered by two people. As the officiants began to lock the two ropes together, each camp insisted that the other should come nearer to their loop. "A woman is nor supposed to make the first move," shouted the west team. "Ha, they seem mighty ready these days," jeered the east side. The dispute and verbal abuse went on for more than an hour. Bored with waiting, I asked a fellow spectator when the loops were going to be locked together. "What kind of a man and woman would do it in the broad daylight?" the spectator said, giggling. After many exasperating twists and turns, including a local policeman firing a blank gun, the loops of both camps inched forward to lock onto each other and the log was about to be thrust through them, when one loop slipped out. The people at the end of the rope had pulled it, afraid they were giving too much headway to the other team. The leaders of both teams bellowed orders to push the rope forward, and the loops neared each other hesitantly only to slip away again. This was repeated over and over but everyone was gleeful and made comments such as, "That one sure is virile to be in and our of the female that many times."
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The sun set and dusk began to descend. At five o'clock, the two ropes were finally locked together and the tugging began The female team won within ten minutes by tugging the rope about two meters to their side. Roars of triumph reached the sky.
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The winner takes both ropes, which are sometimes cut up and sold in pieces. It is said that the straw of the rope makes good crops when used as fertilizer, makes cattle healthier when used for feed, and protects a family when used to thatch their roof. Even fishermen from Masan would come to get a piece of the rope, hoping for a bumper catch. It is said the losers paid taxes or did tax labor for the winners in ancient times.
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The tug-of-war is a game prevalent in rice-growing Southeast Asia. In eastern Indonesia, it is interpreted as a rite for the once-a-year union of the masculine sun god and the feminine earth god. It is held at the beginning of the farming season with men and women, divided into opposing teams, pulling the rope with the upper parts of their bodies bending forward and backward in simulation of sexual intercourse. The yearly union of the male god and the female god is a tradition widespread in the southern part of Korea also, but quite a number of villages, loathing to repeat it year after year, have the two gods wedded.
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A similar custom exists in Laos as well. One evening before the spring sowing begins, men and women each form a snake-like queue and dance. As the women dance, they make gestures of sending the men far away, symbolic of the rain sending the sun away. The tug-of-war takes place after the dance. Here too, it is believed that women should win to ensure a bumper harvest. In Cambodia also, men and women engage in a tug-of-war in temples and monasteries as supplication for a bumper harvest. People in Myanmar believe the tug-of-war brings rain, a concept stemming from fertility rites The concept of identifying a queue with a snake is widespread in the southern regions of Japan.
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The correlation of the rope and the rain comes from the shape of the rope which resembles a dragon. A thick rope that has a great many smaller ropes attached to it indeed looks like a dragon when seen from above. People believe pulling the dragon-like rope will bring abundant rain because the legendary beast is supposed to be responsible for rain. Indeed, chuldarigi used to be staged in Chinju, Ulsan and other areas during severe draughts.
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Chinese Accounts
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The tug-of-war tradition also thrived in China. In the Book of Sui (Sui-shu) a seventh-century history book, it was recorded: "A loop-tugging game is played in two provinces. It originates from military training given to the army of Chu when they battled with Wu. The sounds of the drums and singing are so great that it is almost alarming. It is a folk belief that the winning side will have a bumper harvest. The custom has spread wide to other regions."
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Feng Yan of the Tang Dynasty described the game in greater detail in his travelogue Fengshi Wenjianlu: "The tug-of-war was called loop-tugging in ancient times. It is the custom of the Yang and Han states to play it on the first full moon every year. It is said that the Chu army was trained with this game when they were warring with Wu. . . A rope of bamboo skins was used at first but it has been replaced with a 40- to 50-foot-long hemp rope. Each end of the rope is unraveled into hundreds of smaller ropes for pulling. A flag is stuck into the big rope to mark the center. Each side pulls the rope to their side with a great roar and the beating of drums. The one who pulled the rope to their side wins the game."
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This record shows that the tug-of-war was already very popular during the Tang Dynasty (7th-10th century) and that a hemp rope was used in place of a bamboo skin rope.
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According to the jinglong Chronicle (Jinglong-wenguanji), "On the Qingming Festival in 710, the king watched his officials playing the tug-of-war in the Liyuan Garden. About a dozen smaller ropes were attached to the hemp rope and each was pulled by three or four men. Among those on the east side were the king's two sons-in-law and seven cabinet ministers whereas there were five senior ministers and five generals on the west side. Two of them, ancient and exhausted, collapsed by the rope and could not rise for a long time. The king had a good laugh and told those nearby to help them stand up."
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In China the tug-of-war game is most popular in the Hunan and Hubei provinces along the Yangzi River and in Guangdong in the south. The game is played on a massive scale on the first full moon in the Hubei region. Here too, the rope is identified wirt the dragon and the rope-pulling with the dragon ascending to heaven.
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In Japan also, the tug-of-war is closely related with rice fanning as indicated by the prevalence of the game in Kyushu where rice farming started in Japan. Likewise in Korea, the game is rarely played in areas north of the Han River where dry-field farming is dominant but it is very popular in the southern Honam (Cholla) and Yongnam (Kyongsang) regions where rice farming thrives.
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Whereas the tug-of-war usually takes place on the first full moon in Korea and China (the aforementioned chuldarigi of Yongsan was held on the first full moon until it was changed to March 1 in commemoration of the March First Independence Movement of 1919), in Japan it is played on different occasions according to region. The game is played on the first full moon in the north of the Kinki region which is centered around Kyoto and Osaka. It is played on the Hundreds of Souls Day (seventh full moon) in the south of Kinki and on the eighth full moon in Kyushu. However, the recent tendency is to hold it on the first full moon regardless of the region.
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A Japanese scholar suggests that the reason the tug-of-war has been popular in the Kinki region, Japan's erstwhile political and cultural center, is because immigrants from ancient Korea brought the game to the area. At the same time, he also alludes that it could be a folk game native to Japan on the grounds that it used to be played more often on the eighth full moon than on any other occasion. But, in Korea, the game is played on the eighth full moon rather than on the first full moon in the coastal areas of the Chollanam-do, Cheju-do, Kangwon-do, and Kyonggi-do provinces and in parts of the Kyongsang-do provinces. It is only logical to assume that the game was transmitted to Japan from Korea.
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Why do people play chuldarigi on the first full moon? Because the first full moon of the lunar year was a sacred occurrence for ancient agrarian populace whose farming calendar revolved around the moon. For them the first full moon was practically the first day of a new year. This is why no less than 52 of 192 yearly traditional events of Korea were held on this day. Moreover, about 40 percent of all folk games and fertility rites to village tutelary deities were also held on the day.
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It is quite clear that chuldarigi is an important rite of agrarian society judging from the fact that it is held on the first full moon, it simulates sexual intercourse and the rope symbolizes the dragon. It should also be noted that chuldarigi is an event that promotes community solidarity and loyalty to one's homeland It would be no small feat for the hard-working, thrifty farmers to volunteer all the rice straw and twine the ropes day and night for almost a month without a great pride and love for their homeland. In this sense, chuldarigi is a game that truly represents Korean folk tradition.
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From region to region, very peculiar variations of the tug-of-war are enjoyed in Korea, China and Japan. An example is the ke-chuldarigi, or crab tug-of-war, popular in Miryang, Kyongsangnam-do. Each man puts his head in the loop of the rope and crawls on his hands and knees to pull the rope to his side. Sometimes smaller ropes are attached to the main rope, five on each side for five men to pull. All ten men pulling the rope on their hands and knees is very much like a crab crawling sideways.
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Tibetans in Szuchuan, China play an identical tug-of-war. It is played by two men, each crawling to the far side of the other to pull a 4-meter-long cloth rope looped around his neck. It is called elephant tug-of-war because the scene is reminiscent of an elephant. A similar tug-of-war is played by the Kirghiz of Central Asia. The only difference is that a Kirghiz player holds onto ox horns which he uses to stick into the ground to prevent himself from being pulled backward.
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The residents of a fishing village in Kyushu, Japan play not by tugging a length of rope but a circle of rope, each side facing the other. The circle soon curves this way and that as a stronger player pulls the rope toward him while a weaker one is dragged forward. The circle thus looks like a snake. In fact, the whole idea is to simulate a snake. In many regions of Japan, it is believed that like the dragon, the snake ensures a bumper harvest.
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In sum, Korea's chuldarigi is of the same nature as the tug-of-war games that prevail in southern China and Southeast Asian countries in that it is closely related with rice farming, the rope represents a dragon, the game symbolizes sexual intercourse, and victory by the female is thought to bring a bumper harvest.
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