About a month ago I went to a fascinating mask dance festival in the city of Andong. This is known as the cultural center of Korea. Before arriving to the festival, we stopped at a cliff overlooking the Hahoe Folk Village where we would be watching performances later that day.
This village is a treasured aspect of Korean history. It displays historical architecture, folk traditions, clan village life, along with authentic books and artifacts. In addition to being an UNESCO World Heritage site, this has been a one family village since the 16th century; quite an unique place.
The first mask performance was a drama of traditional, religious, and ritual significance. This Hahoe play is considered a South Korean National Treasure, as well as an intangible cultural heritage. In the play there are characters such as a nobleman, scholar, bride, monk, and a butcher.
Following that, there was a brief taekwondo show. The kids were really impressive with their wood block cracking and so cute as they performed some dance moves intertwined with their regular routine.
After, there was an incredible lion mask dance. It was so intriguing to watch the performances and not be exactly sure what's going on for us non-Korean speakers). However, the spirit and energy of the characters succeeded in pulling us right into the story.
That afternoon there was a decent amount of time to explore the village. Hahoe means "village enveloped by water." The river is a giant "S" shape while the village is said to look like a floating lotus flower resting on it. This place is home to the descendants of the Ryu clan which included some well-known scholars from the Joseon period (~1300s-1800s). There were 2 brothers, one was a great Confucian scholar and the other the prime minister during the Japanese Invasion. In 1992, England's Queen Elizabeth visited creating a rise in its recognition. What makes this place really special is that the buildings are still inhabited today. Surrounding the village are scenic views of the river, cliffs, and vivid green and yellow fields. The houses with their tile and thatched roofs, flower-lined walls, and lovely gardens had an old enchanted feel to it, like you'd stepped back in time with everything so well-preserved. There were several significant buildings, a small museum, and even a 600 year old tree that is said to be where a goddess resides. There were thousands of wish papers tied in every possible space in and around the tree. Overall, it was quite a charming place to wonder around.
As the rain began early that evening, there was talk of the cancellation of the fire show and fireworks. Thankfully they still did a small fireworks display. Leaving the village and heading into the city, we had a traditional dish, jjimdak meaning "steamed chicken of Andong." This was the spiciest thing I believe I've ever eaten. Wow! It did have a delicious flavor with its carrots, potatoes, other vegetables, noodles and chicken marinated in a Korean based soy sauce, but man! those chili peppers were absolutely deadly!
The following morning we awoke to the continuing sounds of the pounding rain. On the way to the festival grounds we stopped at a lake known for its footbridge, which happens to be the longest in the country. As the rain splashed across the water's surface and the dreary clouds hung low over the hills it still created quite a beautiful sight. At the main festival site in the city there were the usual tents with various products for sale, food, pottery, masks, hands-on activities etc.
There were also traditional folk mask dance performances by groups from all around the world. I had the opportunity to watch the groups from Malaysia and Singapore before I left. They were so incredible! For an hour they rotated every other dance; each performance had new stunning costumes and dazzling masks.
The stories and emotions portrayed through the dances were quite remarkable. It was a fantasic way to end this immensely cultural festival!