I am looking at the ocean from the far West Pacific out to my homeland: Jeju Island, South Korea. I am looking at this land where I live now – Oakland, California. Both of these places have similar cultures, beliefs and myths seeded by native peoples.
Myths are not just the things that happened long ago, but also launching points for taking stories into you and creating new myth in your own life. That was my beginning point. Finding my myth — I had to go back to my hometown, my motherland. Through meeting Mago—the ancient creation goddess of my people—I’m discovering more of who I am. And this allows me to connect to more people with deeper understanding. Connecting to the land where I live now.
Growing up, I never knew that Korea had a goddess. However, through my Korean traditional music and dance studies, which were rooted in shamanism, I was taken back to this myth time and that’s how I found Mago after so many years.
I wanted to do this project because I wish we could be empowered in our lives like these mythical characters empowered us in old times. Why can’t these myths happen in our time? I want to gather people together and try out this idea. That is why my creative journey is centered in “ritual.” I am dedicating my performance as a ritual because it carries vital messages of connection. Nature to nature, ancient myth to newborn myth, past lives to present, present to dream. Dreams take us to an unlimited imaginational world—to the future and next generations.
Through each of my projects, connections have led to new departures. And each project, each new direction, brings me to deeper understanding and learning, towards acknowledgement of the interconnection of how history and mythology affects present lives.
So, it is important to go back to my home island to feel and learn what happened there on that island.
I visited my hometown of JeJu Island, South Korea in 2014 to conduct research for The MAGO Project, as well as work on a documentary film about the 1948 Jeju 4.3 (April 3rd) Massacre, a joint action by the South Korean and United States militaries in which approximately 30,000 villagers across the island lost their lives. After that incident, the Korean War broke in 1950 and the oppression continued in Jeju through 1954. So many people got killed on land and in the ocean. An estimated 70% of the island’s villages were burned to the ground.
Many people know about The Korean War but not the 4.3 incident. Jeju is the one of tragic places in history that people and their land suffered great injustice and sorrows. For almost 50 years, mentioning the Jeju uprising in Korea was a crime punishable by beatings, torture, execution and prison. I still remember that deep heavy silence from my grandparents who never talked about this and I never asked either because I did not learn what this was, just heard about the words or number “4.3 Incident.” They did not want to pass down to their children this tragic history.
However, that long silence is breaking out from the deep buried wounded land and ocean. It is boiling out slowly because there is another 4.3 incident happening right now on Jeju Island. An uprising against a U.S. Naval base being built on this peaceful island. So much destruction of the land, desecrating the coral reefs, breaking the mythical bones of our ancestors.
I was happy not only to meet incredible activists who are fighting for justice and struggling to protect their villages—but also that I could meet shamans who are performing the annual ocean ritual for the community of divers and fishermen whose work place is in ocean.
Learning about the land, people, stories, histories and nature empowers me, giving me deeper understanding of who I am and what I can do with my gift that I have in me. It brings me deeper into the unconscious world and leads me to what I can contribute and share to the world. Learning pushed me forward to share and how I share is art.
The performance I created, The MAGO Project, was about my personal journey, but I believe that everyone has their own journey to share. Sharing as a community, this is a way we can bring our collective intentions together to support each other. ...
I think that is the power of these ancestors who loved the spirits of nature and people. Performers, singers, shamans—the indigenous peoples of this land. That is the big loss that we are living. I feel this so strongly and take it as a calling that we need to bring this back and that we have to do it together.
Read Dohee Lee's full 2014 SPEAK article here.