Andong and the Mask Dance
On September 22nd, I travelled to Andong with my komdo teacher’s family, some students and ‘LC.’ I last visited Andong in 2000 and it was a brief visit of only a few hours during which there was no time for sightseeing.
First, we visited the longest wooden bridge in Korea which spans the Nakdong River just outside Andong. Incidentally, the Nakdong meanders northwards to pass through Daegu. We walked across the bridge and visited a park where traditional games can be played, (these are always popular on holidays) and then visited a nearby cultural museum. We then ate Andong chicken stew in the city. In the afternoon we headed to Hahoe Village.
Every Korean town and province is famous for something. In Ch’eonan it was the walnut cookies while in Daegu it is the apples, textiles and mak ch’ang. Andong is famous for its spicy chicken stew, mackerel, soju and of course, the mask dance. Back in 2000, I remember several Koreans proudly reminding me that Queen Elizabeth 2nd had watched a mask dance in Andong on her birthday in 1999. Indeed, a small building at the entrance to Hahoe Village houses various artifacts and photos from her visit and in the garden nearby, grows a pine tree she planted. At one time, one of the underpasses in Daegu was painted with a large mural commemorating her visit but I think it has since been painted over.
Masks have a long tradition in Korea and were used both by soldiers in war, in burial rituals and in shamanistic ceremonies. There are several types of mask dance, better described as mask dramas but the Hahoe version is probably the most famous. Typically, there are a number of characters including a monk, a scholar, a simpleton and some nobles (yangban). The Hahoe drama is an exorcist play dating back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The dance is performed regularly but the actual International Mask Festival is only once a year. I had no idea what the play was actually about but it was amusing and after a short while the masks begin to become quiet realistic.
Close to the dance site is the traditional folk village of Hahoe where you can find a museum dedicated both to Korean masks and masks from around the world. The village is a working one with a small population who are engaged in traditional crafts which you can often watch. As in other folk villages, there are numerous guest houses, known as minbak, which give a taste of a former lifestyle.
Close to the entrance of the village is a ‘graveyard’ of abandoned totems (장승 – jang-seung). I love Korean totems and wrote about them in: Fascinating Physogs. Jan 2012.