South Korea // Jeju Island //

Grandfathers of rock

What is it with Pacific islands and statues? The moai of Easter Island are the most famous, but similar relics have been found on Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii and Okinawa, among other places. Jeju’s own version is the dolhareubang, or “stone grandfather”. Commonly abbreviated to hareubang (하르방), they can be found all over Korea – nowadays usually outside fish restaurants wishing to drum up custom. Bulgy-eyed and often cheery, they differ from their Polynesian counterparts by being quite expressive. Their hands rest on their tummies as if full of food; those with left above right are said to be military, as opposed to the more scholarly right-above-left brigade.

Like the moai, the origin and purpose of the statues remain shrouded in mystery, though it seems likely that they were placed at village entrances as a means of protection. Another theory, and one supported by their extremely phallic appearance, is that they served as sources of fertility – today, miniature versions are sold to women who are having trouble getting pregnant, as well as tourists wanting a souvenir of their trip to Jeju.

Today, only a few dozen authentic hareubang remain; the most accessible can be found in Jeju City, at the entrance to the Folklore and Natural History Museum, and outside Samseonghyeol.

Read More