Did you know that South Korea has over 3,000 islands? The largest is Jeju Island, which is located off the southern coast. For most of its history, Jeju Island was a tough place to live. It was isolated, and most of the land was not suitable for farming.
So, how did the people there make a living? Some started diving into the ocean to catch sea creatures to sell. At first, most divers were men, but over time, women took over the profession. These female divers were called haenyeo , which means sea women.
Haenyeo were excellent swimmers. Many could dive 20 meters underwater and hold their breath for two minutes. Training usually started when girls turned 11 and lasted for seven years. They learned how to catch things like sea urchins and octopuses with their hands or a fishing spear. Nowadays, haenyeo use modern equipment like wetsuits, fins, and masks, but they still go without air tanks.
Though there are fewer haenyeo today than in the past, they are still seen as an important symbol of Jeju Island. In fact, in 2016, haenyeo culture was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. This has helped put these brave female divers and Jeju Island on the map.