The Korean tradition known as Haenyo is just about over and not many people outside of the area know about it. It’s deep sea diving for squid, sea urchins, abalones, sea cucumbers and oysters. It was originally something that the males did but over the course of time women have taken over. Today there are far more women that do it and the males are the rarity. The tradition itself dates all the way back to the 5th century, but since the 18th century it has been done by mostly women. The problem is that today’s women don’t seem to have an interest in doing it and the number of those that do are getting very low. As of 2010, most of the women were over the age of 70 years old and there were no women in training to take over. Now in 2016, the numbers in terms of age are even higher but the number in training remains the same. So the women that do it currently have come to understand that they are the last of a dying breed. They dive in sixty feet of water with very little equipment and most of the time the average temperature is only around 30 degrees. So you can imagine how cold that water must be. They do wear wet suits and masks but that’s about it. They actually hold their breath to go under and collect. You can see why it isn’t a major draw for the younger generation as most young women today elect to go for education and jobs with better working conditions.The younger generation doesn’t show an interest in keeping the tradition alive and when you look at the working conditions you can’t really blame them.
Men started the tradition back in the 5th century but over time women took it over from men. Sadly, there are only a few left.
The women are also referred to as “Sea Women” and they have a very tough job. They dive sixty feet down in very cold waters while holding their breath for more than two minutes per dive.
With no trainees to take over, the current group is known as the last generation of Haenyo.
The women that do this extremely tough job every day are very proud of being part of the tradition. Unfortunately, it will be ending in the not too distant future.
There is nothing like taking in a beautiful sunrise no matter where you are. But for these tough ladies that’s one of the very few benefits of their demanding job.
The woman that have mastered the tradition have become the main breadwinners of their families. The good ones are flexible and can maneuver around the bottom to make the most of each dive.
All they wear are heavily padded wet suits and a mask. They hold their breath for over two minutes per dive in the freezing waters.
With the number of workers rapidly dwindling, this long time tradition is approaching its end. It’s only a matter of time before there are no women left to carry it on.