Dangsannamu, Jocheon-eup, Jeju Island, South Korea

Dangsannamu located in Jocheon-eup, Jeju Island, South Korea. Photo Courtesy of Gang Jeong-Sik, Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture

Dangsannamu located in Jocheon-eup, Jeju Island, South Korea. Photo Courtesy of Gang Jeong-Sik, Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture

Name of Site: Dangsannamu

Where is it: At the entrance of each village or on the grounds of a village shrine South Korea

Who Considers it Sacred: The Korean and the village people
Why: Dangsannamu is worshipped as a village guardian deity tree, sometimes serving as a village shrine itself that is perceived as a sacred place called Dangsan. It can be also refer to the tutelary deity embodied in the tree. Dangsannamu has been regarded “a medium between the heavenly and earthly worlds, an altar where rituals are held upon receipt of the gods’ messages.”1

It has been revered as the sacred guardian of a village and has been a place where rituals are held for greeting the god of heaven and wishing the peace and well-being in the village.2 In this sense, it is a central axis of communal solidarity for the villagers.3 Dangsannamu is featured in a mythology about Dangun’s founding of Gojoseon, the Ancient Korea; Hwanung, the father of Dangun, descends from the heavens and lands under the divine altar tree connecting the heavens with earth.4 Therefore, Dangsannamu is a living witness that tells the history of traditional Korean popular belief or religion.

The threat: A great number of Dangsannamu were lost in the 1970s due to the government attempting to dispel superstitions.5 In addition, a lot of Dangsannmu have suffered in the course of the spread of Christianity in South Korea, since worshiping the trees was considered a form of idolatry.6  Dangsannamus are still threatened by rapid industrial development and urbanization.

Preservation Status: The preservation status of Dangsannamu varies from village to village, but most of the remaining trees are protected and monitored based on environmental regulations; the local Forest Service department has been designating valuable trees as “protected trees” and protecting them from damage by humans, harmful insects and weather.7  Industrial development is still ruining the trees in the case where they are not designated as “protected trees” so that they are unable to receive legal protection.

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Footnotes:

  1. As quoted in Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture, “Village Guardian Deity Tree”, http://folkency.nfm.go.kr/eng/subjectindex.jsp?d=folkbeliefs&tit_idx=2385&f=O3. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  2. “Natural heritages in which peoples’ wishes are dwelling become religion of the village”, Bong-Kwan Park, Daejeontoday, February 3, 2016,  http://www.daejeontoday.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=395709. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  3. Korean popular religion dictionary, “Dangsannamu”,
    http://folkency.nfm.go.kr/minsok/dic_index.jsp?P_MENU=04&DIC_ID=5079&ref=T2&S_idx=18&P_INDEX=2&cur_page=1.  Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  4. Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture, “Village Guardian Deity Tree”,
    http://folkency.nfm.go.kr/eng/subjectindex.jsp?d=folkbeliefs&tit_idx=2385&f=O3. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  5. “National cultural symbol 100: Geunjul”, Nam-Seok Kim, Kids Hankooki, May 31, 2009,
    http://kids.hankooki.com/lpage/news/200905/kd20090531163312103230.htm. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  6. “Destruction of the ecosystem by holding Olympics”, Jae-Pil Kim, Sisaweek, September 29, 2014, http://www.sisaweek.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=28763. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  7. Korea Forest Service (KFS), http://www.forest.go.kr/newkfsweb/cop/bbs/selectBoardArticle.do?bbsId=BBSMSTR_1004&mn=KFS_03_05_03&nttId=54479.
    Retrieved June 16, 2016.

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