The Haenyeo is a name given to the female divers in the Jeju province in South Korea. It’s a profession that dates all the way back to the year 434 but it was only in the 18th century when the number of female divers outnumbered the other gender.
The reasons for this shift are unclear. Some speculate that it’s due to so many men passing away due to war or deep-sea fishing accidents while others theorised that it’s simply due to physiological reasons – women had more fat and could therefore withstand the cold seas better.
Nevertheless, diving became the profession that was exclusively held by women while men went out to fish or row warships. Using no breathing equipment – only flippers and goggles – the women sweep the sea floor for abalones, conches, and octopuses, and over time, a semi-matriarchal society formed on Jeju, with the Haenyeo becoming the head of their households.
The women brought home the bacon while the men shopped, cooked and looked after the children. These gender roles still persist today and thanks to UNESCO’s recognition – the Haenyeo were inscribed into the organisation’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in December 2016 – the rest of the world are beginning to stand up and take notice. Today, they are celebrated as an invaluable gem of Jeju, as the profession is slowly fading away with more women taking a deep dive into the corporate world.
Photographer Jose Jeuland spent many months among the Haenyeo, documenting their lives and the hardships they faced, and will be exhibiting his work at the East Garden Foyer of The Fullerton Hotel Singapore from 28 October to 23 November. Take a look at a few of the incredibly compelling photographs below and make time in your calendar for this free exhibition.
Haenyeo Singapore is open to the public from 28 October to 23 November at the Fullerton Hotel Singapore. Admission is free.