Jeju has a very strong and unique oral folk tradition, especially in the bonpuri (the main themes of shaman songs told in story form) and nodongyo, the traditional work songs of farmers or fishermen.
Oral traditions can be categorized into legends, folk songs, proverbs, riddles, and so forth This introduction is limited to folk songs and legends.
Jeju Special Self-Governing Province is often called "a treasure house of folk songs" because the songs of this province are rarely found in other provinces. Folk songs have relation to the way of life of the local residents and reflect the real facts of their living. This province has long been famous for its "many-women, few-men" demography and the women have actively participated in the manual labor activities Consequently, there are many folk songs about women, and their poetic sentiment isclearly shown.
Nodongyo is classified into nodongyo, jebunyo, eoeopyo, gwanmangyo, beolchaeyo and jabyeokyo.
"Nongeopyo (Farming Songs)"
These Farming Songs are about ttabijil (plowing), breaking up lumpy soil, harrowing, treading fertilizer in barley fields, treading a dry field to prevent wind erosion, weeding, threshing, cutting barley, and driving the cattle/horses.
Jebunyo (milling and grinding songs)
These songs are about stone mills, treadmills, and yeonjamae (millstones).
"Eoeopyo (Song of fishing)"
These songs concern the life of the women divers, working the oars, rowing a boat, launching a new boat, fishing hair-tails etc.
"Beolchaeyo (Song of Lumbering)"
These are songs about cutting down trees, bucking timber into logs, sawing timber into boards, splitting wood, shaving wood and unloading wood.
Gwanmangyo (Hat Song)
These songs are about yangtae, tanggeon, and manggeon, mentioned above.
Jabyeokyo (miscellaneous work songs)
Songs of rolling a millstone from the quarry, ttokdakbulmi, tobulmi, installing roof ropes, beating straw, working clay, tramping down a house site, Kaebyeokjil, santaejil, and making yarn.
Among the songs listed above is "Song of the Stone Mill and Treadmill", a most popular Jeju folk song. This song consists of two parts: the "Song of the Grinding Stone" is concerned with emotions while turning the large grinding stone and "Song of the Treadmill" is about the nambangae (a mortar where the crushing stone is attached to the end of a foot operated pestle). Each part has a different tune but they are treated as one song.
The large grinding stone is rolled to grind various cereals, especially barley, throughout the year and has brought forth many folk songs. Because one or two women roll the stone around and around in the mortar hour after hour in the grinding shed, silent except for the sound of the grinding stone, they have ample time to enumerate the harshness and chores of their lives. Understanding the songs that are comprised of real aspects of the conditions on the island leads to an understanding of the island.
The women divers traditionally sang when they propelled a raft or boat and when they were diving along the Jeju coast, such when swimming with the taewak (a ball-shaped floating device) to or from the dive site. The powerful and dynamic tunes and words are reflect their attitudes toward living.
"The Song of Weeding a Dry Field" is a popular work song, sung to various melodies. These types of songs are usually called "sadae" or "sadi" which are classified into "choreun-sadae," "junggan-sadae," and "jin-sadae". Songs like "awegi" and "hongaegi" that belong to this group are also widespread.
Such songs as mentioned above form the mainstream of Jeju folk songs and reveal the robust and never-say-die faith of the Jeju people.