.The festival is thought to have originated from Buddhist and Taoist customs which were incorporated in boisterous celebrations of dancing and drinking by local peasants after the final round of paddy weeding Village elders selected a fortuitous day around the time of the Buddhist All Souls' Day in the middle of the seventh lunar month for a rite honoring the god of agriculture. The most able farmer was chosen chief officiant for the ceremony.
.No one is sure how or why the Dance of the Five Drums, the Dance of Commoners and the Cripples' Dance became part of the Paekchung Nori festivities, but scholars assume that the Dance of the Five Drums derives from the ture cooperative farming tradition and ancient ceremonies associated with the worship of the Five Elements of traditional cosmology so common in the southeastern region of the Korean Peninsula.
.The Paekchung Nori festivities begin with nong-ak, the vibrant percussion music of the Korean farmers. A team of musicians performs the rousing music as village elders purify the ritual site, calling forth the "generals" of the five directions (North, East, South, West and center) to drive away evil spirits in a ceremony known as the "Exorcism of the Five Directions" (Obanggut). A tall pole, called nongshindae, is erected in a corner of the ritual site. It is made of 360 hemp stalks, symbolizing the 360 days of a lunar year. From it hang ten "dragons" made of straw rope. The villagers gather around the sacred pole, their pockets filled with rice, beans, money or written prayers. They grab hold of the "dragon" ropes and circle the pole, then fall, to the ground in three deep bows, laying out their offerings of grain or money and praying for good fortune as the chief officiant reads an invocation.
.This rite is followed by masked dances, and then the chief officiant is lifted onto a "horse" made of a wooden back-pack carrier, together with offerings for the spirits. He is carried around the ritual site amid much dancing and merrymaking.
.The chief officiant, a peasant himself, sticks out his chest, pretending to be a yangban aristocrat. This signals the beginning of the Aristocrat's Dance. Then the farmhands and kitchen maids emerge from the crowd to entertain onlookers with the Cripples' Dance, in which they imitate the movements of lepers, cripples and other unfortunates. The Cripples' Dance is thought to have originated in the latter years of the Choson period, a time of extreme hardship for the common people, but there is no hard evidence to back up this theory. The movements of the dance do, however, suggest a satiric attack on the oppressive yangban elite and sympathy for the downtrodden common folk.
.The focus of the gathering soon shifts to the improvisational Dance of the Commoners, a lively and humorous swinging of the arms and legs. This dance is followed by the Dance of the Five Drums, which begins with four drummers positioned in the North, East, South and West, with a single drummer standing in the middle. The drummer-dancers begin slowly but gradually build up to a rapid and deafening beat which mirrors the intensity of their dance.
.The Paekchung Nori festival ends when the dancers and the surrounding onlookers join in a boisterous dance called hotunch'um, literally "unstructured dancing."
.Intangible Cultural Asset
.Miryang has produced many fine dancers and musicians, because it was a hub of activity for the sadangp'ae, wandering folk entertainment troupes, and heavily influenced by kisaeng female entertainers.
.Today, five talented folk entertainers, including octogenarian Ha Pogyong, have been designated "important intangible cultural assets" for their expertise in Miryang Paekchung Nori. Yi Kang-sok specializes in the Cripples' Dance and Ha has been recognized for his mastery of the Dance of the Five Drums and the Commoners' Dance. In fact, he is the sole master of the latter dance and is recognized throughout the country for his skill in traditional folk dance.
.Ha was born in Miryang in 1906. His parents were both members of a local farmers' music troupe, so he was naturally more interested in music and dance than in studying. Throughout his childhood, he accompanied his parents on their tours of the southeastern Korean countryside, and at the age of 15, he took up the drum himself. Despite his youth, Ha's Drum Dance bordered on perfection, and the villagers were soon calling him the "Boy Drummer."
.His parents refused to allow their son to neglect his studies entirely, however, and at the age of 18, he was forced to enroll in Miryang Primary School. But Ha remained devoted to the drum and dance and did not excel in academics. A year later, he joined his parents' troupe officially as he was recognized for his artistic skills. He married a girl from his village the same year, but showed little interest in family life or farming. All he cared about was dancing and drumming. Ha spent the next few years wandering from one wrestling match to another where professional entertainers were always needed. His father once asked him to take an ox to market for sale, and young Ha used the proceeds of the sale to gallivant off to Manchuria. On the return trip, short of money, he had to work as a laborer in distant Kanggye, P'yonganbuk-do Province. His father was devastated by his son's disloyalty and died shortly thereafter.
.Ha's bitter experience working in the north and his father's death were terrible shocks, but he found it hard to break old habits. His wandering life continued for decades; then, in the early 1970s, he returned, empty handed, to his hometown to found a Traditional Music Society. He convinced the county's finest dancers to participate, but the association was not a success. He changed its name to the Folklore Preservation Society and has spent the last two decades working to preserve and systematize traditional folk arts.
.Ha began to enjoy national recognition for his dance skills when Miryang Paekchung Nori was designated Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 18. In 1980, he received the prime minister's award at the annual National Folk Arts Contest, and since then he has performed throughout the country and in the United States and Japan. Critics at home and abroad laud him as "a born dancer" who has broken "new spiritual ground" with his work.
.Ha, on the other hand, is ambivalent about his achievements. "I have never contributed a cent to my family or household. My family has gone through terrible times because of me," he said with a sigh.
.Ha is not simply an expert in the Drum Dance. He also excels in the Aristocrat's Dance and the Dance of the Commoners. He learned the Aristocrat's Dance from one of the members of his parents' troupe. For this dance, he dons a black horsehair hat and a white top'o robe and carries a folding fan, all symbols of the yangban elite. The Aristocrat's Dance is characterized by its sweeping arm motions, gentle "shoulder dance," or okkaech'um, and understated foot movements. The dance is performed, not to the sedate music of the komungo, kayagum or p'iri, but to the raucous tones of the farmers' band.
.The origins of the Aristocrat's Dance are uncertain. It is, however, quite different from the Aristocrat's Dance performed by masked dance performers of southeastern Korea. In the masked dance versions of the southeast, paegimsae, or impromptu arm and foot movements, is prevalent, while in the Miryang version of the dance, the movements are much broader. In the Miryang Aristocrat's Dance, both arms are brought up to form a straight line with the shoulders on the first beat, while the right foot is set forward. On the second beat, the arms undulate in a wave motion, and the left foot is set forward. On the third beat, the left arm is raised slightly above the left shoulder, and the two shoulders are lifted in a gentle bouncing motion. On the fourth beat, the right arm is raised above the right shoulder and the right foot is lifted. The dance is unique for the asymmetry of the shoulder motions and the lifting of one foot.
.Pombu of Pombuch'um, or Commoners' Dance, literally means "lowly person," but in this dance it refers to petty local officials who often inherited their posts. Like so many traditional dances, its origins are uncertain but many people believe that it originated in the late Choson Dynasty when wealth y local farmers of low social rank tried to pass themselves and their families off as members of the yangban elite.
.Ha po-gyong has been performing this dance for more than 50 years and, now on the verge of 90, exudes a sense of satirical origins of this dance. His age does not prevent him from grabbing a drum and gently flowing with the music that has been such an important part of his remarkable life and the life of the people of Miryang.