To ring in the New Year I thought I’d share some video I shot at last year’s Andong Mask Dance Festival. On its last Sunday the festival hosts a traditional folk game from Andong called Chajeon Nori (차전놀이) which literally means “Combat Carriage Game.” It sometimes goes by the more impressive moniker “Juggernaut Battle Game” and it’s one of the cooler things I’ve seen in Korea.
The origins of Chajeon-nori date back over a thousand years to when the last remains of the once great Shilla Empire were crumbling to pieces. King Wanggeon of the Goryeo squared off against King Gyeonhwon of the Hubekjae at the Battle of Gochang near Andong in 930 C.E. As the story goes, the citizens of Andong sided with Wanggeon and, without drawing weapons, swarmed the Hubaekjae army and forced them into the Nakdong river. This bloodless victory earned Andong its current name meaning “Peace in the East.” Legend has it the people of Andong invented Chajeon-nori in commemoration of this victory.
Chajoen-nori is itself quite a spectacle. It takes about 500 people to play, forming two mock armies of 250 “soldiers” each. Each army hoists a large “dongchae”, or carriage made of two logs lashed together, above its head. The “general” for each team rides atop the dongchae and after much fanfare the two armies clash and try to force the other team’s dongchae out of bounds. I’ve edited about 20 minutes of footage down to about 3 minutes of highlights, enough to give the general idea I think. Though to be honest, I have no idea when either team scored or who won in the end.
Playing Chajeon-nori was forbidden during the Japanese occupation, but it’s made a comeback since the 1960’s (in fact it’s currently registered as Intangible Cultural Property # 24). Traditionally it was played on Daeboreum (대보름), or the first full moon of the new year. These days it’s played on a variety of holidays and at a lot of different festivals and events, though you can be sure to catch it on the final Sunday of the Andong Mask Dance Festival every year.