Nongak (farmers’ music) played while the communal farm labor groups called dure actually worked in the rice paddies in summer.
It is estimated that durepungjang was developed some time after the transplanting method of rice cultivation became widespread during the latter half of the Joseon Dynasty. When the transplanting method was spread throughout the country in the 17th and 18th centuries, dure also spread and the music that was played when they worked was seemingly established in the process. Nongak would have been a useful tool in the organized activities of the dure. The rice transplantation method first began to spread in Korea during the first half of the 16th century, mainly in Chuncheong-do, Jeolla-do and Gyeongsang-do provinces. From the second half of the 17th century, dure were developed as a type of organization suited to the needs of the transplantation method of rice cultivation and one was formed in every village. In contrast to hwangdu, the communal farm labor group that existed for the direct seeding method of rice cultivation, dure worked in an organized manner under a farming flag (nonggi) representing the village.
As a communal farm labor group, dure operated in organized fashion with a system of strict rules and punishment for breaking those rules, and also taught the farmers the agricultural techniques that they needed as well as folk songs and nongak, which were part of their activities. Those who broke the rules of the dure or did anything that went against morals and good customs could be beaten or rolled up in a straw mat and beaten as punishment. Whenever the dure (or durepae) was on the move they held a flag at the front and played nonagk as they went, so durepungjang naturally developed in the process. When dure disappeared in the 1950s and 1960s, the transmission of durepungjang also came to end. Today, the durepungjang tradition is preserved and passed on through nongak performances such as Miryang Baekjungnori, Buyeo Sedo Durepungjang, Iksan Gisebae, and Gimpo Tongjin Durenori, all of which have been designated Important Intangible Cultural Heritage of Korea.
Dure were active in rural areas with wide plains. The village dure was generally formed each year after the planting of the seedlings. It was obligatory for all adult men to take part in order to carry out tasks such as weeding, which means most of the dure members were young men. Whether they were at work or at rest or on the move, they always carried a flag and played nongak. When tasks such as weeding were carried out in the rice paddies, songs were sung and nonagk played for accompaniment. Such singing and instrumental music played while the dure worked are collectively known as durepungjang.
In Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do Province, after the weeding was finished a day was selected around Baekjung (15th day of the 7th lunar month) to hold a rite to the god of farming (nongsinje) and enjoy a variety of folk performances and entertainments under the title of baekjungnori (also known as homissisi). A spirit pole representing the farming god (nongsindae) was made and stuck in the ground. The durepae circled the pole several times while playing music and held a rite to the farming god. To the accompaniment of the buk (barrel drum) ritual songs (gosasori) were sung and a rite held to chase away sundry spirits. Then some of the food on the ritual table was thrown onto the fields for the gods as the farmers shouted “Gosire” and ate the ritual food. Then the farmers tied pouches filled with votive items such as rice, beans, or money onto the spirit pole and made their wishes. Once again, nongak was played in front of the spirit pole as a variety of performances, games and entertainment took place. These include mojeongjanori (nongsapuri), the mimicking of farming procedures, riding a horse made of wooden sticks (jakdumal), the dance of the nobleman (yangbanchhum), dance of the commoner (beommuchum), and the dance of five drums (obukchum).
In the Goyang region of Gyeonggi-do Province, when the durepae go out to the fields to work they march along playing a processional piece called gilgunak with their percussion instruments, the farming flag in front of them. They stick the flag in the levees and play the same piece as they do the weeding and when they enter the village. When the weeding is finished a day is set for the rite to the farming god, which is also called homigeori (lit. hanging up the hoe). On this day food is prepared by having the well-off households in the village donate a jar of liquor or a side dish each. Led by the farming flag, the villagers play the percussion version of gilgunak as they proceed to the village shrine, where they hold a rite. After this rite at the village shrine, nongak is played in the yard the nongak troupes from neighboring villages begin to gather. The durepae of different villages greet each other with their flags (gisebae). Then they all eat lunch together and after the meal play nongak together.
In Sedo-myeon in Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do Province, when the dure was formed the members would gather and put up the dragon flag (yonggi) in a corner of the yard and then hold a rite in front of it. From the day the dure started work to the day it finished, a rite is held at the flag every morning before starting the day’s work. In the evening, when the day’s work was finished, they report to the flag that all is well and then go to their separate homes. After the rite to the dragon flag, the farmers perform nongak on their way to the fields. When they arrive, they play the durepungjang rhythm (nonpungjang garak). When the weeding is finished they return to the village behind the command flag (yeonggi), performing nongak on the way. If the durepae happens to meet the durepae from another village, they start to pick an argument with each other and fight for supremacy in various ways such as wrestling (also called homigeori), flag battle (gissaum), and performance of nongak (pungjangssaum).
Dure nongak is particularly well developed in the Gimje region of Jeollabuk-do Province, where vast plains spread in all directions. At weeding time, the jisimmaegigut rhythm is played. The command flag and dragon flag are installed at the entrance to the village, the dure farmers gather to play music and dance and then set off for the fields. The bachelor dure assistant oversees the work with a club hanging over his shoulder, and the weeding is done to the accompaniment of nongak percussion music. When the weeding is over the dure from several villages gather in one place and play music together, an event called the gimajigut (flag greeting rite). The dure members play music and choose the best farmhand and take him back to his master’s home on the back of an ox, where the master treats the group with liquor and chicken.
In Yeosu, Jeollanam-do Province, the dure was divided into two groups, sodongpae and daedongpae. Youths aged between 16 and 19 belonged to the sodongpae. They were taught songs and how to play the nonagk instruments and took part in the dure activities. Both the sodongpae and dadongpae, to go out to work in the fields early, set up the command flag in front of the village and played the sogo (small hand-held drum) to call the workers. After breakfast, the farmers gathered at the command flag and played the sogo on their way to the fields. On their way, if they met the dure from another village they began to fight for supremacy by exchanging writings in a battle of learning, wrestling, running a relay, and holding pushing contests.
Along with the New Year village rites, durepungjang was one of the pillars supporting Korean nongak. In every village a dure was formed and when the group went to work in the rice paddies a rite was held before the farming flag, and music was played on their way to work. They continued to play music when weeding the rice paddies and when returning to the village. In addition, when the weeding was over they would perform nongak or play homissisi or homigeori, and the durepae of different villages would compete for supremacy after the flags greeted each other. Such communal performances and entertainment (nori, lit. play) related to summer season farming were performed through the durepae, and all these kinds of events combined can be called durepungjang. Currently, each city or county is making efforts to preserve and pass on the art of durepungjang by designating their local versions as important intangible cultural heritage.