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The Tradition of the Haenyeo
A light fog lingers above the water. The air is cold, but the waves are calm, which will make for a good diving day. Women clad in wet suits and goggles assemble on the beaches ofJeju Island, fifty-three miles south of the Korean mainland. The women soon disperse, some of the Korean mainland. The women soon disperse, some entering the shallow water at the I beach, while others venturing out onto the rocks to access deeper waters. These women are haenyeo. Sea women. Divers.
For hundreds of years, the women of Jeju Island have worked primarily as sea divers. In this way, women became the main source of support for their family's they provided daily sustenance with the seafood they caught, and later they earned income by selling their catch, and later they earned income by selling their catch at the market. Initially, one of the reason women took on this physically demanding work was匝洹because of, unlike male divers, female dives weren't required to pay taxes
on their earnings. Over time, the local economy became reliant on the haenyeo. Women taught their daughters, and daughters taught their own daughters, and so on, how to dive, and the tradition became the backbone of the region's seafood industry.
The haenyeo use to dive wearing only thin cotton gowns so as not to inhibit their movements with extraneous equipment they didn't need. Today, they wear wet suits for protection from the cold and still dive without assistance and without being tethered to a buoy. They do not, however , use oxygen tanks. Bl For example, the haenyeo train to hold their breath for minutes at a time. While diving, they leave a taewak floating on the water's surface. This device serves several purposes: It can be a beacon to the divers below, signaling their return point. It is also a place to which divers can attach nets for storing their catch while they make additional dives. On good days, the haenyeo return to shore with these nets full.