Ung-nyeo (웅녀)


Ung-nyeo is the mother of Dan-gun (단군), who was the first ever founder of the Korean Kingdom. The creation myth of Korea starts with a tigress and a she-bear. They asked the king to help them become incarnated as human-beings. The king gave them a bunch of mugwart and garlic and told them to only eat this for a hundred days while avoiding the sun in a cave. The tigress could not handle the food and left before the hundred days and the she-bear stayed and completed the quest. The bear transformed into a beautiful woman who is Ung-nyeo.




This story was collected from my brother, after remembering a conversation we had half a year ago about an article called Beauty Will Save You”: The Myth and Ritual of Dieting in Korean Society (Park, 2007), after my drastic weight loss of 40 pounds from basically fasting. He commented that it was through stories like these where I would care too much about my body image and would take drastic measures to achieve my goals.




Garlic is a central part of Korean cuisine and in modern times, telling this story to children could teach them lessons about eating food that they may dislike to become better. Strong flavors such as garlic or potently fragrant food like mugwart can be disliked by children frequently.