Housing Culture of Jeju Island
A human being’s residence is a place of comfort and refuge from the harsh world. The bleak conditions that Jeju people had to endure - violent winds, a barren environment, stagnant cultural advancement - inevitably led to burdens.
- Housing Culture of Jeju Island
The home is the starting point of life. From birth to death, a human being’s residence is a place of comfort and refuge from the harsh world. The bleak conditions that Jeju people had to endure - violent winds, a barren environment, stagnant cultural advancement - inevitably led to rough and burdensome lives. Thatched roofs woven with dried silver grass protected homes from rain and wind, and the stone walls built around houses provided the home with some level of coziness. Traditional houses in Jeju had no gates, so visitors could come and go as they pleased, and offered a sense of warm welcome.
The word “olle” in the Jeju dialect refers to the alleyway that connects a village house to the public road. The alley is deliberately built slightly curved so that the house is hidden from view and not easily seen by passersby on the public road. You can see these olle roads even today in Jeju’s rural villages, lined with doldam stone fences moving in soft lines through the town.
A traditional house in Jeju Island consists of two houses, the inner house, and the outer house, along with the mokeori, where livestock are kept and agricultural equipment is stored. Both houses are equipped with kitchens, so while the yard space is shared, the residents of the two houses can live independent lives. Traditionally, when the children of the family were married, they would move into the outer house to raise their family. In this way, two families were able to live together.
Unlike houses on the mainland, traditional houses in Jeju did not have front gates. Instead, two stone pillars, each about a meter long, were erected at the entrance of the house about 2 meters apart. Three holes were carved out on the side of each pillar facing each other, and wooden rods were inserted between the stones. If three rods were inserted horizontally parallel to each other, it meant that the owner of the house was away on a long trip. If two were placed, the owner was out on a short trip, and if only one rod was placed at the entrance, it meant that the owner was home to receive visitors. In this way, the owner communicated with visitors using symbols.
The typical Jeju house is composed of bedrooms, a large living room, a kitchen, and a shed. Similar to Western-style houses, the living room of Jeju houses was a common living space, while also functioning as a dining room. It faced the outer yard and served as the entrance of the house. On either side of the living room were bedrooms, one primary bedroom, and one smaller room. Next to the bedrooms were the kitchen and furnace, and storage space.
Most of the traditional houses in Jeju had thatched roofs made from grass. On the mainland, leftover rice straw from the rice harvest was used to cover the roofs of houses. As Jeju’s farmland was not suitable to grow rice, the Jeju people instead made rope out of silver grass to cover their roofs. Since both rice straw and silver grass decay over time, they had to be replaced every year.
The work of twisting silver grass into ropes was mainly done by women, while men climbed onto the roofs to place the ropes. The entire process was very laborious and impossible to do alone, so the village people worked together as a community to complete the job every year. As Jeju Island became more modernized, thatched houses have disappeared, but there are some well-maintained thatched houses available for viewing at Seongeup Village.
“Tongsi” in the Jeju dialect means “toilet”, and “dottongsi” is the type of toilet that is used with pigs. It is said that when a person entered the bathroom, pigs would rush over to feed. Traces of this tradition can be seen in Jeju’s thatched houses.
They raised pigs in their homes and fed them human dung. Then, a solid fertilizer was made by mixing the pig’s dung with barley straw. This was the wisdom of the Jeju people who skillfully created something nutrient-rich and useful from pig dung, which could become toxic to the environment if left untreated.
Korea has a unique heating culture called ondol, a floor-heating system. When the furnace was used to cook and burn wood, the heat went into the floor of the house and warmed it up. It was a system that cooked and heated at the same time. However, the system for cooking and heating was separated in Jeju.
Cooking was done in a sotdeok, where a pot was placed on a stone, and heating was done with a furnace unique to Jeju called a gulmuk. Dried cow and horse dung were used as fuel for the fire in the gulmuk. Since cows and horses were abundant in Jeju, this made fuel very easy to access, and it was also helpful in protecting Jeju’s natural environment.
Chusa Kim Jeong-hui was a member of the most influential family of the Joseon Dynasty in the 19th century. However, after losing a political fight for power, he was exiled to Jeju Island for a total of 8 years and 3 months. While in Jeju, Kim Jeong-hui fell in love with the mandarin tree and even named his home “gyul jeongok”, which means “house surrounded by mandarins”.
The thatched-roof house where he lived was burned down in 1948 during the Jeju 4.3 Incident but was rebuilt in 1984 according to the descriptions of the house he wrote in a letter.
Yang Geum-seok’s thatched-roof house in Shinrye-ri Namwon-eup was built only about 60 years ago, but it was built in the traditional thatched style. It has been designated as Folklore Cultural Heritage No. 3, and it is characterized by its creative use of space. The house’s olle gil is lined with camellia flowers and leads to an inner and outer house facing each other in the center of 2,000 square meters of land. A citrus orchard surrounds the house, giving it a cozy feel.
For 500 years starting from the early 1400s, Seongeup was the center of Euihyeon and also where the prefecture was located, and various cultural heritage relics remain intact. Cultural heritage sites like the houses of Jo Il-hoon, Go Pyeong-oh, Lee Young-sook, Han Bong-il, and Ko Sang-eun are relics managed directly by the state. Seongeup Village has the largest number of thatched-roof houses in Jeju and they are still being well-maintained and managed.
Seongeup Village is different from other folk villages because there are residents who still live there. You can also spend the night at a traditional minbak, a Korean bed & breakfast, where you can experience the Jeju residential culture.
Father Patrick James McGlinchey, a missionary from Ireland who founded St. Isidore Farm, the largest pig ranch in Asia, invented a style of home for the Jeju people. Inspired by ruins from the ancient city of Ctesiphon located 35km south of Baghdad, they are called “Cteshphon Houses”.
There were no columns inside, so the space was well-utilized, and it provided a home for the poor to help them eventually become self-reliant. Today, a single Cteshphon House remains at the St. Isidore Farm in Geumak-ri, Hallim-eup.
- ※ The above information was written on 2022-01-04. Please confirm the information prior to your trip.
- ※ Unauthorized use of the content above (text, photos and videos) is prohibited and subject to copyright by the Jeju Tourism Organization.