Aipalgi, literally meaning, “child selling, ” is a ritual for praying for the longevity of a child believed to possess a short lifespan or bad fortune, by designating a deity or an object from nature as the child’s foster parent.
The term is based on the idea that designating a foster parent is an act of selling the child, and variations include jasikpalgi (child selling), suyangbumo samgi (bind as foster parent) and suyangeomeoni samgi (bind as foster mother). The practice was generally observed when a long-awaited child was born in the family; when a child was born with a short lifespan; when a child’s fortunes clashed with those of his parents’; when an infant was weak and prone to illness; or when a child was born with bad fortune. The “selling” sometimes takes place as soon as the baby is born, but in most cases between ages of three and seven.
A child can be sold to a range of people, institutions or objects in nature, which include mountains, trees, rocks and bodies of water. Hanging a child’s life bridge (myeongdari) at the family shaman’s shrine, or registering the child’s name at a temple signified that the shaman or a monk at the temple had been designated as the child’s foster parent. Sometimes the child was “sold” to a neighbor who possessed a blissful fate, or to various deities, including Yongwang (Dragon King), Sansin (Mountain God), Buddha, and Chilseong (Seven Stars), who is believed to oversee a child’s lifespan.
Child selling rituals were generally officiated by a shaman or a monk. Once the foster parent is decided, the child’s family prepares simple offerings and heads to the home, institution or setting of the foster parent, accompanied by a shaman or a fortuneteller. A taboo rope (geumjul) is hung at the ritual venue, and prayers are offered for the child’s longevity. Sacrificial offerings include steamed rice, rice cake, fruits in three colors, incense, and candles. Skeins of thread (siltarae) and strips of white fabric (myeongdari) were also offered, both as longevity symbols.