Yeongsan Wooden Bull Fight
Yeongsan Soemeori Daegi (Kor. 영산쇠머리대기, Chin. 靈山-, lit. Yeongsan wooden bull fight) is a Great Full Moon Festival (fifteenth of the first lunar month) activity of Yeongsan village (Yeongsan-myeon, Changnyeon-gun, South Gyeongsang Province). It is a war game involving the use of a tool known as soemeori (Kor. 쇠머리, lit. ox head). In 1969 Yeongsan Soemeori Daegi was designated as Important Intangible Cultural Treasure No. 25.
On the Great Full Moon Day the people of Yeongsan-myeon divided into two teams: the eastern and western villages. Each team crafted an object which looked like the head of an ax using house rafters and straw ropes. The most robust young men from each village were chosen to fight the other team. They lunged toward their opponents with the ox head, and the team whose ox head hit the ground first lost.
Before the name soemeori daegi gained currency, this activity was referred to as namuso ssaum (Kor. 나무소싸움, lit. wooden ox fight). In the old days the villagers chopped down trees in the nearby mountains in order to make the ox heads. At that time they were accompanied by a farmers’ band and started the day with a simple sacrificial rite gosa (Kor. 고사, Chin. 告祀) to the mountain spirits. The rafter and other wooden structural pieces were tied together into the shape of an ox head and subsequently the head was wound with straw ropes to create a smooth surface. This helped to minimize the force of the impact on the people who were carrying the ox heads in the fight.
On the morning of the day of battle, both camps paraded through the town with a farmers’ band. After this parade, representatives from each team headed to the homes of their leaders in a procession following a strong man who carried the seongangdae (Kor. 서낭대, the village’s spirit pole). The leaders poured wine and bowed in front of the pole asking the spirits to bring victory to their team. At the home of the captain, the ox head fighters were treated to a meal. Meanwhile, those villagers not participating in the ox head fight gathered at the village square waiting for the arrival of the ox heads. These villagers also formed a procession with a spirit pole carried at the front and were also accompanied by a farmers’ band.
After the ritual in front of the spirit pole and the meal at the captain’s home, some fifty robust men wearing head scarves for each team arrived at the village square. They carried the ox heads on their shoulders, and the captain and two other leaders would climb on top of the ox head while waiving long silver-colored swords. Prior to battle, both camps circled the square carrying the ox heads and were accompanied by music played by their team’s farmers’ band. This was intended to intimidate the opponents and the spectators cheered loudly. Another way of discouraging the opponents was to sing satirical songs, mocking the participants of the other team.