At the end of September, the South Korean city of Andong hosts the annual Andong Mask Dance Festival. This festival lasts 10 days and artists from all over the world come to this place to show their talent. It is no coincidence the largest mask festival in the world takes place in Andong. The masks of Hahoe, a village 25 kilometres west of the city, are on the list of important cultural heritage in South Korea. And it all started with a slightly lurid legend from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). In this article, I explain the story and answer the question why these masks are so remarkable. And finally, I’ll take you to the biggest mask festival in the world….
2021: This year’s festival will take place from 24 September until 3 October.
What is the story behind the Hahoe Masks?
The main character of this legend is a young man named Huh Doryong. He lived in the village of Hahoe. One night, he was dreaming until one of the gods called out to him. Make 12 masks for me, but make sure that nobody sees it!
Huh Doryong barricaded his house … with reeds, because that was how it was done in those days, and went to work. He worked for days and no one noticed him. Until a young woman in love with Huh went looking for him. When she arrived at his house, she made a hole in the paper window and discovered what he was doing. And from that moment on, things went wrong.
Huh suddenly became ill. He spontaneously started vomiting and developed a haemorrhage. It led directly to his death, even while he only had to attach the chin to the last mask. The gods had punished him, because nobody was allowed to see the masks before they were finished. The woman was left guilt-ridden and full of heartbreak, until the grief killed her shortly after Huh’s death.
Tip: At the entrance of the Hahoe Folk Village you will find the Hahoe Mask Museum. Masks from the region, but also from all over the world can be seen here. If you are not here during the Andong Mask Festival and want to know more about these special masks, it is worth a visit.
Hahoe Pyolshingut: The dance of the 11 masks of Hahoe
Huh made 14 masks in total, but 3 of them were lost. The remaining 11 are on the list of South Korea’s cultural heritage. They play an important role in a famous South Korean dance performance, the Hahoe Pyolshingut Mask Dance. The most important aspect of this Korean dance is to please the gods for a good harvest, for peace and for prosperity. The Hahoe Pyolshingut Mask Dance has been listed as cultural heritage since 1980 and will be performed at the festival every year.
The Pyolshingut criticises the upper class, such as the aristocrat, the scholar and the monk, in a humorous and dramatic way. The lower classes no longer accept it and demand greater understanding of their poor situation. By playing the Pyolshingut, more harmony is created between the lower and upper classes.
And of course, each mask represents its own social class. Like the chinless mask that Huh Doryong just couldn’t finish, called Imae T’al. He belongs to the lower class and is a servant of the sonbi, the scholar. Would you like to know more? On the website below, you will find an explanation of the role of each mask in the Pyolshingut: Mask.kr.
Would you like to visit the Andong Mask Dance Festival in South Korea?
The Andong Mask Dance Festival is now an international festival and not just about the famous Hahoe masks. And that makes it very diverse and colourful. Dance groups from Nigeria and Ethiopia, but also from Asian countries such as China, give great performances here. The largest part of the festival is freely accessible, because there are open stages and a public dance party is held in the evening (to show off individual dance skills?). In the theatre you can see the ‘more important’ groups for a small fee.
Finally, not only in Andong, but also in the Hahoe Folk Village daily dance performances will be held. Would you like to know more about the history of this traditional village? Read more about it in Hahoe Folk Village | Discover this beautiful village from the Joseon Dynasty.
Planning a visit to the Andong Mask Dance Festival in South-Korea?
How to get there? As mentioned, the Andong Mask Dance Festival takes place in late September to early October. The festival site is near the railway station along the Nakdong River. But during this period, extra dance performances are also held in Hahoe Folk Village and Andong Folk Village.
Do you have more tips, comments or ideas about the Andong Mask Dance Festival? Please feel free to leave a message below.