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16th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest People
Lady Divers 1

Jeju island, known for its characteristic basalt volcanic rock, sits off South Korea. It is the home of the renowned Haenyeo or women of the sea who free dive off the black shores of Jeju harvesting delicacies from the sea. Wearing thin rubber suits and old fashioned goggles, this aging group of women are celebrated as a national treasure and inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, but the tradition is slowly fading as fewer women choose this extremely hazardous profession. Today, the majority of Haenyeo are over the age of 50 and many are well over 70. In a society obsessed with education, the future of this physically arduous activity would appear bleak, and yet… Efforts by the government and local communities to preserve and promote this ecological and sustainable lifestyle have brought renewed interest from young people disillusioned with urban life and eager to return to their roots. It is perhaps a renaissance.  Soon-ja Hong, 69 years old, proudly poses with the live octopus she just caught. Other divers have come out of the water with similar specimens, but this one is by far the largest catch of the day. By the time she removes her mask, it has already been sold to customers standing by at the beach restaurant ready to eat the fresh delicacy.

Photo Detail
Date Taken: 09.2018
Date Uploaded: 11.2018
Photo Location: Seongsan, South Korea
Copyright: © Alain Schroeder