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9 Historic Trends and Characteristics

  1. Historical trends

    1. Before the Middle Chosun era

      Just as the origins of art are found in a primitive unified art form consisting of song, dance and instrumental music, the origin of Pungmul can be seen in the Hoheup (breathing) or rhythm of labor or production in the "primitive" era, the time when there was a developed signal (or sound) pattern used in hunting and gathering. Also, it is generally accepted that the form and structure of Pungmul instruments and the rhythm of Pungmul had been developed with the advancement of production tools and the native emotion of Korean people throughout their long history. There are few records about Pungmul (before the middle Chosun era) because scholars in this period regarded Pungmul as a superficial form of percussion music. Thus, the form of Pungmul can be surmised with relative accuracy by examining it from the time after the middle Chosun era.

    2. After the Middle Chosun era

      Pungmul's form and shape as we currently know it was created through Dure, an agricultural cooperative organization during the Chosun Dynasty. With the advent of the Yiang technique (rice transplanting method) in the middle and late Chosun era, the need for an intensive group labor system of Monaegi (rice transplanting] and Gimmaegi (weed picking) during each season created a working organization called the Dure. To facilitate an effective labor management system, the Dure was established nationwide. Farmers played Pungmul by themselves as Dure members during important Jeolgi (the subdivisions of the seasons) or agricultural processes. Dure culture stressing Pungmul focused on the farming season and the off-farming season, and it was divided into Dure Gut and Village Gut.

      Dure Guts during farming season are classified as Gimmaegi Pungmul (going to the worksite, being at the worksite, movingfrom worksite to worksite, coming back from the worksite); and Mobang-gu (increasing labor efficiency when working on the farm by playing Pungmul) that closely integrates labor with play (Pungmul and song); as well as Baekjung day (the 15th day of the 7th lunar month), the biggest festival day for farmers.

      During the off-farming season, the Village Gut can be traditionally performed with the main events of Dangsanje (temple ritual) and Jisinbalki in Jeongwol Daeboreum (the time around the full moon night of the first lunar month). Within the Boreum period (the first half of the month or fifteen days), during Jisinbalki, the Village Gut creates a festive mood in the Madang (yard, open space), and a well-organized Pangut ("Field" Gut) can be the climax of the Dure Gut. The Dure had structural limitations, which allowed the Yangban (the dominating hierarchy, the "aristocratic" class) to exploit the products of the Dure's group labor for the whole year. However, when the structural limitations reached an extreme (so that the farmers became SO angry at the absurdity of the system that), the Dure transformed into an organization to resist the Yangban, as well as fight against invasion from foreigners.

      In the 19th century, Chosun society saw the formation of an advancing commercial society with the development of currency-based economics. Farmers sold their labor for money, and Bobu merchants (traveling peddlers) actively conducted their business. Throughout this process, the Dure Pungmul players (9-2)of some villages played in other villages when they were requested for performances, and sometimes they played for the village public funds. As Geollip paes (Pungmul groups who often performed especially outside of their village) showed various skills in their Pungmulgut, the Pangut ("Field" Gut, choreographed Gut) gradually developed.

      During an unspecified period of time, the Chosun Dynasty's anti-Buddhist policy brought about financial difficulty for Buddhist temples, so monks started to form their own player groups to manage their financial crisis. Monks, usually dozens in a team, wearing on their heads Kkoggal (a peaked hat) attached with Bulduhoa (a type of Buddhist flower), played with instruments such as the Kkwaenggwari, Jing, Janggu, Buk, Jabara (cymbals), Jeok (flute), and visited many villages to play for money. Thus, the Gutjungpae (the monks' player group) came into being, and with the Gutjungpae came the Buddhist influence on Pungmulgut (eg. the Kkoggal hat, Beopgo, etc.).

      At the end of the 19th century, a group of skillful, professional Pungmul players, who left their hometowns and roamed around the country, appeared and earned money or food (grain) in exchange for showing their skills. At that time (late Chosun Dynasty), agricultural society was becoming more specialized by expanded production, and the Sadangpae (the professional Pungmul group. Pae refers to "group," "company," or "team.") was created by the wandering/nomadic professional artists who could not endure their hardships in this divided/specialized agricultural society. The Sadangpae originally consisted of women, but afterwards, the "man"-made Namsadangpae (9-3) until 1930 the Gaedari group of Anseong city in Gyeonggi province - namely, the Baudeogi pae, the O MyungSun pae, the Sim Sunok pae, the Bokmani pae of Anseong city, the Won Yukdeok pae, the Yi Wonbo pae (9-4), Sotdaejaengi pae, Binari pae, Gakseoli pae (9-5) etc. appeared.

      As shown above, we can see from the birth of Geollippae Pungmul and Sadangpae Pungmul that the advent of 19th Century currency-based economics brought about a partial collapse of the agricultural cooperative organizations, and Dure Pungmul ?originally the union of "work and play," a working class (farming class) culture ?separated the skills of "play" (drama, performance) from that of work. (9-6) Also, through advanced form and skills, the growing Sadangpae, which gave birth to professional artists or players, opened up the possibility for Pungmul to expand as a professional art.

    3. The period of Japanese occupation

      When Japanese imperialism advanced into Korea by military force, the development of Pungmul ?which was capable of developing into the unique culture of the Minjung (9-7) ?was disrupted and distorted. In order to effectively control Korea, Japan began to systematically examine and study all folk culture that affected the mindset of the people.

      First, the character of communal labor manifested in the Dure was transformed into a system of forced labor, as currency or "exaction" replaced mutuality (or bartering) as payment for labor. In addition, the Dure Pungmulgut lost its ability to strengthen the Minjung movement/culture, as the Dure Pungmulgut was utilized in furthering Japan's agricultural policies in colonized territories ?the policies of increased food production and labor exploitation. Pungmul was reduced to a mere rhythmic accompaniment or spectacle to increase agricultural productivity and labor efficiency, and one part of the Sadangpae was absorbed by the military drum group of the (Japanese Colonial) Office of the Governor-General. As Japanese colonial policies imposed capitalism on Korea, communal labor vanished, and the Dure system also nearly collapsed. Along with the harsh suppression of the Du-re community, Pungmul ?a deeply-rooted culture that enabled the Korean people to feel brotherhood and unity ?was also harshly suppressed by the Japanese as something wasteful and superstitious.

      Through this colonial policy of eradicating communal cultures, Pungmul was impeded (blocked) from maturing into a communal culture and - stripped of its meaning and its power to unite - remained only as a function and form of recreation. Pungmulgut, the culture of the Minjung, was re-characterized/re-named under Japanese rule as "Nongak," which means the "music of peasant farmers." Toward the end of Japanese rule, as Japan faced a shortage of munitions in carrying out the war in the Pacific, the Japanese demanded that all metals across the country be delivered to them, and so the Japanese confiscated even the kkwaengwaris and jings throughout Korea (to melt them down to make weapons).

      The historical effect that Japanese suppression had on Pungmulgut is threefold. First, it erased from Pungmulgut the Minjung spirit/consciousness of popular opposition against exploitation under the ruling class (then, Japanese colonial rule). Second, it forcefully separated the Minjung from Pungmul and thereby rendered them unable to create it on their own. Third, as a result, the Pungmul rhythms and dances/plays that were passed down to the next generation began to lose much of their true meaning as "Minjung art."

    4. Post-liberation to the 1970s

      Even after Korea's liberation, Pungmul lost its opportunity to recover from its near extinction during the period of Japanese rule because of the Korean War and the rapid industrialization that followed. Moreover, the corruption and extravagance of American capitalism that swiftly penetrated Korea reduced Korea's popular culture into an unproductive consumer culture. In the midst of these trends, a movement to revive traditional culture arose during the 1960s and 70s out of two branches.

      The first was the movement to revive traditional culture (the "Korean traditional culture revitalization movement") of the Pak Jeonghui (Park Junghee) administration. The Park Junghee administration sought to revive from progressive Minjung culture only the formal aspects of the culture, turning them into both government policy and tourist attractions to be placed in museums. The designations of "Intangible Cultural Properties" and "Human Cultural Treasures" (now called "Keepers of Talent") are the categories through which most presentations of folk culture can be understood today. Such policies contributed to restoring the formal aspects of traditional culture that had been erased, but the logic of the ruling classes advanced only the restoration of a Pungmulgut that had lost its substance. The Minjung were separated from Pungmulgut, and what little remained of Pungmulgut in the countryside during the "New Village Movement" (Saemaeul Undong) of the 1960s was branded as "superstitious," much of which was destroyed.

      The second branch was a trend to combine the work of scholars and of the artistic professions into a traditional folk culture. This movement arose during the late 1970s out of the People's Movement that opposed the "Yushintongchi" of Park Junghee's administration and matured further through such developments as the "Talchum Buheung Undong" ("Talchum (Korean mask dance theater) restoration movement") and "Urigeot Chatgi Undong" ("'finding our own' movement") which were led mostly by the educated classes and college students. Many young people began to learn Pungmulgut after understanding the need for Pungmulgut through the continuation of the Talchum restoration movement. In the midst of these developments emerged a group of young people in their twenties who had once made a name for themselves as traveling performers or Namsadang. These traveling performers had once enjoyed adoration and applause at every festive occasion that offered them a stage. But as the world began to change, they no longer had a stage on which to perform, and they grew up only having skills in Pungmul. Hence, partly to revive the Pungmul culture which was fading away, and partly to create for themselves a stage on which they could continue their celebrations, they came together to create a new forum for Pungmul under the name, "Samulnori" (the first performance was in February 1978 at the Gonggan Theater). From these beginnings, Samulnori traveled widely through the media and on various stages to reach a broad audience, and in the 1980s it came to establish a wholly different forum for Pungmulgut.

    5. From the 80s to the Present

      The government-initiated formal revival of folk culture changed Pungmul's face from its original inclusive nature that involved the community to a time-constrained, performance-oriented form. The cultural revival approach conserved the framework of Pungmul but fell short of promoting its spontaneous, diverse, and uniting nature. Pungmul was also overcome by the commercialized popular culture which emphasized a profit-driven capitalistic view of the culture, instilling pessimism and historical apathy among people.

      Pungmul underwent a period of inactivity during the repressive, anti-democratic era of the Jeon Du-Hwan administration in the early 1980s. From the end of 1983 to 1984, the government's appeasement policy driven by the rapid growth a new democratization movement led Pungmul to diffuse over the university campuses. As a result, after 1987, Pungmul's influence spread to the labor union, the teachers labor union, the agricultural sector, and the poor sector of the society on both a national and local scale, leading to the creation of many Pungmul groups and cultural associations and organizations within the activist sector. With this social atmosphere in the late 1980s, those who participated in cultural groups, specifically Pungmul paes, in college continued their commitment to Pungmul once out in the society through activities in various social activist movements. Additionally, groups based on the common interest and pleasure in playing Pungmul spread. The diffusion of Pungmul naturally led to a change in the groups?focus from simple functionality to an effort to create more space for Pungmul and to restructure the educational organization of the groups. These organizational meetings usually occurred in the cities, and in the process, the lack of an instructor who could teach unified Pungmul content (the rhythm and steps of pangut) manifested as a problem. Consequently, both the samulnori, which was spread throughout the country, and the professional groups were directly and indirectly incorporated, and Pungmul instruction in different regions of the country became very active. Many Pungmul paes that sprouted out as a pastime became professional groups. With this popularization movement of Pungmul, the perspectives regarding Pungmul and its performance became greatly diversified.

      The socially-conscious professional Pungmul activist groups added other media such as slogans, slides, torches, lights, songs, and scripts on top of the traditional format of Pungmul. They also created new period-appropriate Pungmul (rhythm), Pangut (steps), and song-based Pangut as part of their repertoire.

      In a different sector, Pungmul groups based purely on interest and pleasure spread in the form of Pungmul instruction among local citizens and the general populace which enabled people to participate directly or indirectly in the society via performances. Pungmul groups also spread to many occupational sectors of the society, including the army (The Ministry of National Defense, the military, the navy and the police) and other local social educational organizations.

      Even today, different Pungmul groups emerge with various perspectives on and expression of Pungmul. There exists a trend for people to organize Pungmul groups in order to improve and create new forms of Pungmul gut. Such a trend can be viewed as an effort to rise above a human society that alienates toward a Pungmulgut society that contains the hope for a new form of community-based livelihood and reunification.

  2. Special Qualities of Pungmul
    1. Group unity and faith can easily be promoted via primitive impulse and spontaneity.
    2. Pungmul groups exist within communities and promote collectivity, cooperation, and group action.
    3. Pungmul can mobilize a large group of people, and with diverse steps, Pungmul enables expression of a large group's mission and action.
    4. In contrast to many other media, Pungmul is easily accepted and learned. Thus both sexes can participate in any type of setting, including urban or agricultural areas, schools, and factories.
    5. The possibility of its revival is greatest compared to various forms of other traditional culture due to its solid foundation.

9-1: In other words, what were and are the times like --- and how did and do things run their course - in the context of Pungmul

9-2: The term used to refer to a Pungmul player was Pungmul-kkun. Kkun was a (derogatory) term for "artist," since back then (even today as well!) artists were considered part of the lowest class.

9-3: The syllable nam refers to "male," so the Namsadangpae was the male equivalent of the Sadangpae, which originally consisted of just women.

9-4: As shown, some of these groups (or paes) were probably named after a lead individual of the group.

9-5: Sotdaejaengi was a masked acrobat who climbed a pole to perform tricks. Binari was a traditional prayer. Gakseol is a beggar. These terms were used to name these different paes and could have referred to their "specialties."

9-6: In other words, playing Pungmul was no longer necessarily closely integrated or one with the farm labor, as it was in Dure Pungmul.

9-7: Minjung - loosely translated: "the people," the masses, the lower classes.