Taboo rope

Headword

금줄 ( Geumjul )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Rites of Passage > 일생의례 > Chulsaenguirye

Writer BaeYoungdong(裵永東)
Date of update 2019-02-13

A special rice straw rope made when a child was born and hung over various significant objects or places, such as a gate, village entrance, crockery terrace and village tutelary tree, to warn unwanted visitors to fend off evil forces.
When a child was born, a straw rope was hung over the front gate of the baby’s home, announcing his or her birth. In addition, the straw rope was intended to prevent the entrance of uninvited visitors to the house under the belief that some evil forces might exploit their visit to disturb the happy event, and to admonish the members of the baby’s family to behave prudently in their daily activities. The main function of the taboo rope was then to protect the baby from all the hazards
lurking around.
The rope was hung for a set period of time starting directly after childbirth, normally three weeks, though it could be extended to as long as seven weeks. After that period, the rope was burnt at clean place or left until it decayed naturally. In this period, the newborn baby had his or her life protected from evil forces and began to learn about the order of the world.
In some regions it was believed that leaving the taboo rope hanging for too long might lead the baby to encounter an evil scene, be retarded in learning to speak, or have difficulty marrying when grown up.
The taboo rope was made by twisting strands of straw to the left and attaching a few symbolic objects such as a piece of charcoal, mulberry paper, a pine spray, an eggplant, and red peppers. The objects attached to the rope slightly varied according to the baby’s sex. A general tendency across the country was to hang red peppers for boys and charcoal for girls. This could differ according to region, because in some areas red peppers and charcoal were attached for boys and charcoal with a pine branch for girls. While ordin -ary straw ropes were made by twisting strands to the right, those made by twisting straw to the left were rarely used for daily purposes and hence believed to have the supernatural power to keep off evil. The rice straw used to make the ropes symbolized the land, purity and fertility. Charcoal was chosen because it is a material left after burning all impurities and can purify other materials. The mulberry paper strips were included because their high visibility was regarded as appropriate to mark the sacredness of an area, and because Koreans generally regard the color of paper, white, as divine. The pine branch, due to its sharp needle leaves, was believed to help frighten away evil. It was used for baby girls because it was also believed to be a symbol of fidelity, as suggested by the evergreen leaves. The red peppers marking the birth of a boy were based on the traditional belief that evil spirits were scared of the color red. In addition, the pepper has long been a phallic symbol in Korea. It was included in the symbolic objects attached to the taboo rope from the 18th century, when red pepper farming became widespread.
The taboo rope functioned as a social agreement and signal. When it was exhibited for a certain period to mark the birth of a child, it served as a cultural device not just to announce the birth of a new life, but also to protect the life from evil energy, helping it better adapt to, and be incorporated into, the order of the world.

Taboo rope

Taboo rope
Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Rites of Passage > 일생의례 > Chulsaenguirye

Writer BaeYoungdong(裵永東)
Date of update 2019-02-13

A special rice straw rope made when a child was born and hung over various significant objects or places, such as a gate, village entrance, crockery terrace and village tutelary tree, to warn unwanted visitors to fend off evil forces. When a child was born, a straw rope was hung over the front gate of the baby’s home, announcing his or her birth. In addition, the straw rope was intended to prevent the entrance of uninvited visitors to the house under the belief that some evil forces might exploit their visit to disturb the happy event, and to admonish the members of the baby’s family to behave prudently in their daily activities. The main function of the taboo rope was then to protect the baby from all the hazardslurking around. The rope was hung for a set period of time starting directly after childbirth, normally three weeks, though it could be extended to as long as seven weeks. After that period, the rope was burnt at clean place or left until it decayed naturally. In this period, the newborn baby had his or her life protected from evil forces and began to learn about the order of the world. In some regions it was believed that leaving the taboo rope hanging for too long might lead the baby to encounter an evil scene, be retarded in learning to speak, or have difficulty marrying when grown up. The taboo rope was made by twisting strands of straw to the left and attaching a few symbolic objects such as a piece of charcoal, mulberry paper, a pine spray, an eggplant, and red peppers. The objects attached to the rope slightly varied according to the baby’s sex. A general tendency across the country was to hang red peppers for boys and charcoal for girls. This could differ according to region, because in some areas red peppers and charcoal were attached for boys and charcoal with a pine branch for girls. While ordin -ary straw ropes were made by twisting strands to the right, those made by twisting straw to the left were rarely used for daily purposes and hence believed to have the supernatural power to keep off evil. The rice straw used to make the ropes symbolized the land, purity and fertility. Charcoal was chosen because it is a material left after burning all impurities and can purify other materials. The mulberry paper strips were included because their high visibility was regarded as appropriate to mark the sacredness of an area, and because Koreans generally regard the color of paper, white, as divine. The pine branch, due to its sharp needle leaves, was believed to help frighten away evil. It was used for baby girls because it was also believed to be a symbol of fidelity, as suggested by the evergreen leaves. The red peppers marking the birth of a boy were based on the traditional belief that evil spirits were scared of the color red. In addition, the pepper has long been a phallic symbol in Korea. It was included in the symbolic objects attached to the taboo rope from the 18th century, when red pepper farming became widespread. The taboo rope functioned as a social agreement and signal. When it was exhibited for a certain period to mark the birth of a child, it served as a cultural device not just to announce the birth of a new life, but also to protect the life from evil energy, helping it better adapt to, and be incorporated into, the order of the world.