The Legend of Seolmundae Halmang – a proposal
I have a new epic project in the works, an animated adaptation of a very unusual Korean folktale.
This is the story of Seolmundae Halmang, the giant goddess who created Jeju Island:
A long time ago, Seolmundae Halmang created Jeju Island by gathering dirt in her apron and dropping it in the middle of the ocean. Her apron had a hole in it, though, and soil sprinkled through the hole and landed here and there on the newly-formed island, creating the Oreums.
When she finished creating the island, she sat down on Halla Mountain to relax, but the top of the mountain was too pointy and uncomfortable to sit on, so she tore off the peak and tossed it aside, leaving a comfortable shallow crater as a seat. The part she had thrown away landed on the southwest coast of the island and became the enormous stone dome known as Sanbangsan
Seolmundae Halmang was so big that when she sat on top of Mount Halla, she straddled the whole island. Her left foot rested on the south coast of the island, and her right foot rested on the north coast. She was so big, when she sat like this and splashed her feet in the sea, the waves rose up and pounded the shore as hard as a typhoon.
Seolmundae Halmang was so big she had trouble finding clothes to fit her. Food was often scarce on Jeju, and she wanted to cross over to the Korean mainland to go to market – but she didn’t have proper dress clothes to wear. So she went to talk to the people of Jeju.
“If you help to make me one garment of silk,” She said, “I promise to build you a bridge all the way to the mainland.”
One of the villagers replied, “But you are so big, it would take 100 reels of silk to make your clothes! That’s impossible!” But the seas around Jeju were treacherous to sail, and the prospect of a safe way to get to the mainland was too good to pass up.
So while Seolmundae Halmang started stacking boulders in the water to make the bridge, the citizens of Jeju set about gathering as much silk as they could, until the entire island had been exhausted of it’s supply. But they were only able to gather 99 spools. When they reported their failure to Seolmundae Halmang, she thrashed around in anger, dashing the unfinished bridge to pieces.
Seolmundae Halmang was very proud of her size and strength. She boasted that she was taller than any body of water on Jeju. She would travel here and there across the island, challenging people to find her a lake or a pool that was deeper than she was tall.
She traveled to the pool nearby Dragonhead Rock, but it was only up to her toes. Then she traveled to the south side of the island, to Hongli Pond, but it was barely up to her ankles. Finally, she went to Mulgangol Oreum and stepped into the water. It only went up to her knees.
She laughed. “This is nothing! I am taller than anything in the world!” She took one more step out into the lake… and disappeared into the water! The villagers stood on the shore and waited, but only a few bubbles floated to the surface. Seolmundae Halmang was so tall, she had never had to learn to swim, and Muljangol Oreum, so they say, is bottomless.
Seolmundae Halmang was never seen again.
“The Legend of Seolmundae Halmang” will be a hand-drawn, 2d-animated short (approx. 3-5 minutes) retelling of the myth of the creator goddess of Korea’s Jeju Island.
It will be narrated and voiced in the indigenous language of the island (제주어), and subtitled in Korean and English. The Jeju Language is a critically endangered language, with only a few thousand fluent speakers left — all over the age of 70. In my encounters with 제주어, I’ve found it to be a rich, expressive language and significant to the character of the island. I hope that, if nothing else, this project will pique interest in reclaiming 제주어 as a living tongue.
I’ve just finished a couple months of research and translation, and at the moment I am pulling all the stories I have found regarding Seolmundae Halmang together and storyboarding them. Next, ANIMATE! My goal is to be finished by the beginning of September. It’s difficult to stay on track with a full time job, so I’m posting this here so you all can keep me on track 🙂
P.S. – Thank you to Nakyung, Angie, and everyone else who helped correct my 제주어 in the captions for the artwork in this post 🙂
The following are a few sites that have been useful in my research, in case anyone is wondering:
I also found some great resources for books on Jeju at the Jeju National Museum, 탐라도서 bookstore, and 북앤북스 . Also, the Haenyeo Museum near Hado-ri sells an album of Songs of the Women Divers, and has a few good picture books about the 해녀, all of which are now on my bookshelf 😀
 In addition to it’s giant central volcano, Mount Halla, Jeju is also dotted with 360 hill-sized parasite volcanoes, known as 오름 ‘Oreum’ which is Jeju Dialect for ‘peak’.
 This part of the legend explains the fact that the circumference of Sanbangsan is nearly exactly that of the crater at the top of Mount Halla.
 Lit. ‘Cow Island’. A small island just off the east coast of Jeju.
 Lit. ‘Castle Mountain’. Jutting out of the east coast of Jeju, this was once a towering volcano, but now its slopes have eroded away, leaving only the pillar of lava rock at its core.
 The remains of this bridge are said to still exist on the north coast where a short smattering of rocky outcroppings can be seen trailing off into the ocean.
 Formed from extremely porous volcanic rock, Jeju has very few permanent lakes, and even rivers and waterfalls only flow during the rainy season, since most water simply soaks into the ground. In the past, this make farming extremely difficult on Jeju.