The other week I posted on an upcoming concert at the Gyeongju Cultural Center (경주문화원) in honor of the changing leaves of the 500 year old ginkgo tree (은행 나무) on the premises. As it’s just a short stroll from my house, I manage to pop down there for about half an hour before running to class. The atmosphere was a little somber as the event seemed somewhere between a cultural performance and religious ritual honoring this ancient dang namu (당나무), or tutelary tree spirit. I actually felt slightly voyeuristic being the only foreigner there. In fact, aside from the photographers, I didn’t see a single person in the audience that looked younger than 50.
The ancient ginkgo tree itself (registered as Gyeongsangbuk-do monument #66) was awash in brilliant golden leaves. For the ceremony, it’s trunk had been wrapped in colorful ribbons and an alter placed before it with incense and food. I got there just in time for the opening ceremony, where a man in white, ceremonial garb was reading some sort of poem or incantation before the alter while several dignitaries knelt nearby. After the reading, a stream of about a dozen well dressed local dignitaries and V.I.P’s poured offerings of makoli and bags dirt at the foot of the ginkgo tree.
After all the pomp and circumstance (and photo ops) had finished, the performances began. First on was Kim Min Cha (김 민 자) who performed the traditional “Salpuri” (살불이) dance before the alter. Whether Mrs. Kim is a professional dancer or a local Manshin (만신), or Korean shaman, I’m not sure. However, the dance itself was slow and meditative with a lot of elegant, sweeping movements. I’ve included a short video of the performance here at the top of the post, so you can see a bit for yourself yourself.
The Salpuri dance is actually part of an ancient shamanistic ritual from the Honam region in Korea and literally translated “Salpuri” means “washing away the spirits.” The dance was traditionally performed at the climax of Ssitkimgut, (씻김굿), or “soul cleansing ritual”, where the shaman exorcises unwelcome spirits while in a deep trance. Due to the Salpuri dance’s refined movements and mournful, restrained elegance the dance has enjoyed a revival in recent years. These days it’s more often performed in a secular context and is frequently featured in stage reviews of traditional Korean performing arts. Given the circumstances at the Cultural Center, I’m not sure if Mrs. Kim’s dance was meant to be religious or secular. Then again, perhaps this is only one of those “either / or” questions that ignorant westerners would bother asking
After the Salpuri performance, I was able to catch a few minutes of traditional Korean music performed by a trio playing a stringed gayageum (가야금), daegeum (대금) flute and janggu (장구) drum before I had to split for class. All in all, it was a lovely break from an otherwise hectic Wednesday afternoon. I’ll try and keep an eye out for when it comes around again next year. Hopefully, next time it might fall on a more convenient time for working folks and visiting tourists.