Korean Creation Myth.
Kyujin Sohn was born in Korea but moved to the United States as a young child. The majority of his family is from Korea, and many of them still live there. Although he has spent most of his life in the US, he has visited Korea often and identifies closely with Korean culture.
“Uhh, I guess, we should start, if we’re talking… this is the Korean, the Korean creation myth, in essence. It’s like where the Korean people came from. So, this is uhh, it’s an interesting story. It’s essentially, so there’s this God, or there are multiple Gods but there is this particular God that is kind of like, likes interacting with the mortal world. And so, there’s this bear, and this tiger, and both of them yearn to be human, because in an understanding of Asian culture, humans were seen to be the most free, like they’re seen as kind of the most intelligent and kind of uhh, most like, I don’t know, superior species, right? So, this bear and this tiger yearned to be human so they went to this God and they said please, please let us be human. And this God said ‘Okay, I will grant you this wish, but for 100 days, you must subsist only on garlic and water.’ And so the bear and the tiger both agree to this, right? And they are forced into a cave, where all they have is water, and garlic. And this is what they’re supposed to eat for a hundred days. And if they survive this challenge, then they would become human. And so the bear and the tiger both start eating garlic, and they start drinking the water. And, for 99 days, both of them managed to do it. But on the 99th day, the tiger says ‘this is too much,’ and quits. And on the hundredth day, the bear comes out of the cave, and the God says to him, or her, and says ‘you succeeded the trial,’ and so the bear becomes a human. And she becomes the first mother of Koreans. She is like the first Korean. And, the tiger always has a hateful relationship with the humans because he never got to become a human, because he quit on the last day. And then the God and the bear married, and gave birth to more Koreans.”
Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:
Kyujin learned the story from his mom, and was told that it was the creation story for all Korean people. This creation myth he claims is from before Buddhism or Taoism and is just a product of east Asian influences.
Thoughts About the Piece:
I find it interesting that the story features a bear as the parent of the Korean people. Bears and tigers are both aggressive towards humans, and I know Kyujin didn’t really know why the bear was chosen either. I also think the trial is an interesting one: surviving off of garlic and water for 100 days is not a test of strength, intelligence, or kindness but rather a test of will. Perhaps this was meant to represent the determination of the Korean people.