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Goryeo’s Hahoe Masks return home in 53 years

Posted January. 09, 2018 09:12,   

Updated January. 09, 2018 09:32


Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, was the center of Confucianism, which produced many leading scholars during the Joseon Dynasty. But there is one more thing the region is known for: the Andong International Mask Dance Festival. Starting in 1997, the festival has grown into a successful local event, attracting 1.2 million visitors both at home and abroad in 2017. And what draws the most attention is definitely, Hahoe Mask Dance.

The Hahoe Pyolshin-Gut Tal-nori (Mask Dance and Play) has been passed down from the Goryeo Dynasty and is still continued in the Hahoe Folk Village in Andong. A total of 11 Hahoe masks are known to have been created during the period of Goryeo including Yangban (aristocrat), Seonbi (scholar), Halmi (old widow), Choraengi (servant), Baekjeong (butcher), Gakshi (bride) and Bune (concubine). You can easily tell who is who, because each mask is distinctive in its face and expression‎. Yangban appears to be cunning while Seonbi looks to be arrogant and stubborn, and Bune has an aura of sensuality. With various characters of different social classes, the Hahoe Mask Play shows how common people from old times used mask dances to jokingly, indirectly criticize and satirize the ruling elite.

The Hahoe Folk Village had been storing Hahoe masks in a structure called “Dongsa,” until a fire broke out in the early 1960s. The masks remained intact, but the incident brought concern over storage thereof. At last, they were moved to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul in 1964. The Hahoe Folk Village petitioned several times to bring the masks back to Andong, but their request was not accepted on the ground that there is no suitable storage facility in the region. After a special exhibition of Hahoe masks was held in Andong in 2016, however, more citizens started to request a transfer, and Andong City also built a storage for cultural heritage made of wood at the Andong Folk Museum. Then the request has been finally accepted by the National Museum of Korea.

On December 27, 11 Hahoe masks, which are Korea’s National Treasure No. 121, and 2 Byongsan masks departed from Seoul in an anti-swing special vehicle, and safely arrived in the Andong Folk Museum. Andong citizens welcomed with joy the return of their heritage in 53 years. The museum plans to put the masks on display starting in early July. It seems this year’s Mask Dance Festival will be more bustling with visitors hoping to take a glimpse of the authentic Hahoe masks.