The Korean Folk Custom Forbidding the Establishment of Water Wells

THE KOREAN FOLK CUSTOM FORBIDDING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF WATER WELLS

Geographical Review 106(1)

Hong-key Yoon

American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?

Hong-key Yoon: To show that the custom of forbidding well digging did not originated from geomantic ideas but is from a practical desire to protect the quality and the quantity of water in existing water-wells and to control the social structure within a settlement.Yoon1

American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?

Hong-key Yoon: Water-wells have been the principal source of water for domestic consumption in traditional Korean settlements.  This article deals with the Korean folk wisdom of forbidding the establishment of water-wells. Traditionally this custom was practiced as a part of the geomantic belief system (fengshui in Chinese and p’ungsu in Korean).  I argue that this custom originated from a practical desire to protect the quality and the quantity of water in existing water-wells and to control the social structure within a settlement. Only later did this custom of forbidding well digging adopt the magical and religious power of geomancy that gives it more prestige and respect.

American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

Hong-key Yoon: This study is one of the first work (if not the first work) on the folk customs of forbidding well digging.Yoon2

American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?

Hong-key Yoon1) Traditionally it was generally believed that the custom of forbidding water-well digging was an integral part of the geomantic belief system and has its origin in geomantic ideas. This article suggests that the custom did not originate from geomantic ideas, but from a practical desire to protect the quantity and quality of water from the existing spring or well.

2) The custom of forbidding water-well digging may well have also been a way of controlling the social structure within a settlement.

3) The Korean public well system discouraged the spatial segregation of residents (enforcing service providers and service consumers to live side by side), while the traditional qanat system in the Middle East encouraged spatial segregation of residents.

American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?

Hong-key Yoon1) Different procurement systems of drinking water seemed to be at least partially responsible for the different patterns of residential areas and social structure in a traditional settlement.

2) Many of the geomantic customs may well have non-geomantic origins.Yoon3

American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?

Hong-Key Yoon: My research suggests that a study of the culture-environment (people-nature) relationship is an essential part of geography. In understanding human geographic patterns it is important to consider the environmental (ecological) factors that are associated with human behaviors.

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