Bin Sangyeo Nori
A custom simulating a funeral by carrying an empty bier on the shoulders the night before a burial.
The Bin Sangyeo Nori is a performance by an apsorikkun (lead vocalist of funeral songs) and a group of sangdukkun (pallbearers) the night before carrying the coffin out the next morning in order to familiarize themselves with carrying it properly during the ceremony. Once the preparation of the coffin room is complete and the Seongbokje (a rite given before the funeral) is performed, the host family sets a table of food for the deceased during the morning and night, and welcomes the mourners while openly expressing sadness. The funeral would continue for either three, five, or seven days, while the three-day funeral is the most common form found today. The day before a burial is called Deuneun Nal, when mourners perform bunhyangjaebae (the burning of incense and bowing twice before the deceased) and console sangju (the chief mourner). For hosangs (funerals for wealthy and/or old people who died peacefully), an event called Daedotum is conducted during the night before the burial, wherein the Sangdukkuns enjoy the Bin Sangyeo Nori, carrying an empty casket, singing the Sangyeotsori (pallbearer’s dirge). Bin Sangyeo Nori is performed by young adult males from the village, using the actual casket for the burial, mostly in cases of a hosang. Every Sangdukkun is involved in this carrying out of this custom together in the yard of the house of mourning, or in the side street in front of it.
While a group of sangdukkuns carry an empty bier on their shoulders, apsorikkun sing apsori (the first part of a song) and the rest of the sangdukkuns repeat the choruses as they march forward. The hosts of the funeral host the sangdukkuns singing Sangyeotsori in the yard with food and drink. The sangdukkuns stay awake through the night, having drinks and snacks, kkojitteok (a variation of Korean rice cake), red bean porridge, and chicken soup. They try to make the sangju laugh through various means, such as by requesting for more food and drink by giving a ride for a son-in-law of the sangju in the bier, having a playful friend of the sangju pretending to wail and grumble in a humorous manner, or repeating the process of offering condolences several times.
If the deceased was older than 70, and the sangju is aged around 50 and wealthy, the villagers enjoy various performances at the funeral instead of observing the formality of the custom. During the night before the burial, the sangdukkuns gather around, carrying an empty bier on their shoulders, and sing Sangyeotsori to apsori just like an actual funeral procession. Daedotum (another name of the Bin Sangyeo Nori) is conducted out of respect to the will of the deceased, saying “I gave everything I had to raise you all. Don’t you think you must do the same for my departure?” In order to perform Daedotum, sangju and the relatives officially invite sangdukkuns and village elders, saying “We are inviting everyone, even distant relatives of the parents of my daughter-in-law.” The excitement during Daedotum depends on the apsorikkun. The performers even dance around carrying a bier on their shoulders when they get excited.
However, the lyrics of apsori are more sad than funny and is believed that the essence of humor is to understand sadness.
Daedotum is not only about causing a hilarious fuss, but also about embracing the empathy that stems from sadness.
In some cases, Daedotum is performed as a way to boast the sangju’s wealth. Some people criticize them for that reason, saying “Daedotum is nothing but a display of wealth to save face, ” as many families cannot afford Daedotum even if they wanted to conduct a performance. The lyrics of apsori, sung during Daedotum, are the same as Sangyeotsori, and the bier is decorated the same as on the actual burial day, only without the casket. Apsorikkun sing apsori on the ground at first, then climb up on the bier to sing it. When Sangdukkuns sing choruses, they often dance by extending both arms to the sides, then raise and fold them repeatedly. The Sangju bows twice to the casket, places money beside it, then stands by it. The people performing Daedotum would not dare wear the mourning apparel of the sangju, so they wear a borrowed one from neighbors and imitate the grumbling of the sangju, standing beside or in front of him. For example, if one person expresses sadness, yelling, “Oh, what a tragedy! What a joy!” then the sangju pushes him away with a cane. The person then approaches the sangju once more right away, saying, “I’m today’s sangju, ” and keeps playing the role. A more mischievous person wears a skirt made of hemp cloth, such as the wife of the sangju, pretending to wail while walking in a zigzag pattern, before grumbling aloud, “Oh dear, oh dear. / What a joyful death anyway / What a joyful death.” As such, the outward expression of emotion is too awkward to simply go unnoticed. The friends then offer alcohol to the sangju, or drag him out to the yard for a dance. Someone then takes away the cane and bandana from the sangju and puts them on, walking around inside the coffin room, saying, “This room is too small. How can you live in a house like this?” then falls out from the room, making the sangju cry and other people laugh. The sangju needs to perform solemn rituals, thinking about the death of his parents. However, the sangdukkuns and mourners from the neighborhood care more about the life of the sangju, and perform humorous acts to let the mourner forget about the sadness. Bin Sangyeo Nori features the properties of both the informal and the formal of Korean traditional funeral.
The Bin Sangyeo Nori is played to relax and practice before the laborious task of carrying the bier. Also, it is a way to comfort and help the sangju overcome sadness and difficulty through various gags. The sangju has to think about death, and conduct a solemn and reverential ritual, resulting in sangdukkuns, or their neighbors, performing Bin Sangyeo Nori to prevent the sangju from being overwhelmed withby the grief and agitation of mourning. The custom also helps sangdukkuns practice carrying the bier before the burial, which is the reason of using a real bier and imitating the funeral procession. Finally, the Bin Sangyeo Nori can also be played as an inspection of the quality or parts of a newly-purchased bier. The Bin Sangyeo Nori is seldom witnessed today due to the changing of the times, and the fact that most funerals are held within hospital funeral halls or other types of funeral halls, while cremation is preferred to burial.