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The Indomitable Diving Grandmas of Jeju Island”

They call themselves haenyo (pronounced hen-yuh), which literally means sea women and the whistling sound they made preceding their exit from the depths is called sumbisori. They are representative of a centuries old tradition, one which transformed their island in to a functioning matriarchy but a way of life which today is in danger of disappearing forever.

The island of Jeju, 53 miles south of mainland Korea, lies at the watery crossroads of the Yellow and East China Seas. Diving for conch, octopus, urchin, and abalone had always taken place there but due to large taxes was never very profitable – something men would take up if there was no alternative. That was until a canny group of women in the 18th century realized that women did not, unlike their men folk, have to pay taxes. A loophole was about to become a living.

Learn more about these awesome women over at Kuriositas!

Photos by DMac 5D Mark II and Baraka50

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