Ramie fabric has kept Koreans cool during the sultry summer months for the past 1,500 years. Now the weaving of fine ramie in the Hansan region of Korea, a tradition that has come to symbolize the perseverance of Korean women, has been registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The craft has attained the same level of recognition as carpet weaving in Iran and Azerbaijan.
Bang Yeon-ok, a designated intangible cultural asset master, weaves ramie in Seocheon, South Chungcheong Province. /Yonhap The Cultural Heritage Administration said Monday that taekkyon, tightrope walking and the weaving of fine ramie in the Hansan region were included on the list during a meeting of UNESCO delegates in Bali, Indonesia.
Taekkyon is the first martial art ever to be registered on the list. Both it and traditional Korean tightrope walking were widely expected to be registered after being recommended by a UNESCO subcommittee.
But the application for ramie weaving was put on hold as the subcommittee said it required more information supporting Korea's bid. However, in a dramatic reversal, UNESCO approved it during its main session after Korean officials filled in the gaps.
As a result, Korea now has 14 intangible traditions on the UNESCO list. They include the Royal Ancestral Ritual at the Jongmyo Shrine and its Music (2001), the Pansori Epic Chant (2003), the Gangneung Danoje Festival (2005), and the Ganggangsullae Dance (2009).
Also on the list are the Namsadang Nori Performance, Yeongsanjae Buddhist Ritual, Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut Shaman Ritual, and Cheoyongmu Dance (all registered in 2009); and Korean traditional wooden architectural craftsmanship or daemokjang, songs based on traditional poetry from the Chosun era or gagok, and falcon hunting (in 2010).
Fine ramie from the Hansan region in South Chungcheong Province is a popular fabric for summer clothing due to its light weight and cool texture. But producing the fabric is highly labor-intensive. There are at least six different stages to the process, from gathering ramie plants to bleaching them, and a craftswoman has to spend three months weaving the filaments into fabric.
Ramie plants are also grown without herbicides, as it requires using lips and teeth to rip them into fine strings.
In the 1960s, many households in the Hansan region made their living by weaving ramie, but the craft faced extinction when Korea was flooded with synthetic fibers in the 1970s, and another onslaught by cheap Chinese ramie in the 1990s. It began to receive attention again during the mid-1990s.
The fabric is a specialty of Seocheon, whose government operates a center dedicated to promoting its fine quality and works to prevent this piece of cultural heritage from falling by the wayside.