Mouse Fire Game
Jwibul nori (Kor. 쥐불놀이, lit. mouse fire game) is a game related to the custom of setting fire to the edges of rice paddies and dry farming fields. This game is also referred to as seohwahui (Kor. 서화희, Chin. 鼠火戱) or hunseohwa (Kor. 훈서화, Chin. 燻鼠火), both names meaning “mouse fire merrymaking.” The purpose of setting fire to the field edges is to burn the grass and weeds thereby reducing insect damage to the crops. Following the burning of a stack of pine twigs known as daljip taeugi (Kor. 달집태우기, lit. burning the moon house) on the Great Full Moon Day (the fifteenth of the first lunar month), people head to the farm fields and ignite fires on the edges of the fields with torches. This practice usually takes place in the evening on the Great Full Moon Day, on the fourteenth of the first lunar month, or on the first Rat Day (Kor. 상자일, Chin. 上子日) of the year.
This activity promotes the healthy growth of crops because mouse holes, nests of grasshoppers and other harmful insects hiding amid the weeds, and their pupa are destroyed by the fire. In addition, the ashes from the burnt weeds serve as fertilizer for the crops. This burn of the fields promotes vigorous grass growth and protects the edges of the fields. Another important benefit of this practice is that the fire forces field mice, carriers of disease, to abandon the area.
Jwibul nori is a competitive game in which villagers divide into two groups and try to ignite a bigger and faster fire than their opponents. In the past, the game also served as an indirect means of divination as people believed that the group that succeeded in making the biggest flames would be able to avert misfortune in the year ahead and enjoy a great harvest. In addition to the practical benefits of the fire such as getting rid of field mice and wild swine, and preventing insect damage, the practice functioned as a vehicle for expressing a farming community’s desire for vigorous crop growth and an increase in wealth.