LEE Dong Ah
Senior Researcher, Munhwasalim Institute

Bamseom, located between Yeoido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, and Seogang-dong, Mapo-gu, in Seoul, is a village that used to be known as being home to boatwrights. The name, which literally translates as chestnut (Bam) island (Seom), was inspired by its chestnut-like shape.
During the Joseon dynasty, there was a governmental office, Oesa Sasuham, belonging to Jeonhamsa, which took charge of boats and warships in the Seogang area near Bamseom island.

Bamseom was detonated in February 1968, but it became an island again as the sediment of the Han River piled up. Every year, residents return to the island by boat for a memorial service a day before and after Chuseok © Lee Il Yong

It is for this reason that many boatwrights lived together on the island.
The use of watercraft as a means to carry people, livestock, and other goods has a long history also in the Bangudae Petroglyphs in the Upper Taehwa River in Eonyang-myeon Woolju-gun, Ulsan Metropolitan City. The technology of boatbuilding developed from the primitive method of using split wood into the current method, through the method of adding planks between the split wood.

A photo of Lee Il Yong making a boat © Lee Il Yong

As well as a means to travel to other regions across rivers and seas and to freight large loads at a time, the ship also has important symbolic meanings in Korean traditional culture.
It is a means to carry the deceased into the afterlife when performing Saenamgut, a shamanic ritual for the dead, and also a means to send away impurities during the village Gut (a shamanic ritual for a village). In this way, a ship was perceived as an important means of transport in both this world
and the next.
Korea is a peninsula surrounded on three sides with seas and crisscrossed with many large and small rivers. This geography required various watercraft to be built to fit the characteristics of each terrain. The boats built by the boatwrights in Bamseom were typically of the Cheomjeo or Pyeongjeo type. The hull of the Cheomjeo-type boat has a V-shaped bottom, meaning that inside it is deep and its floor is narrow.
On the other hand, the Pyeongjeo-type boat has U-shaped hull, so its inside is not as deep and its floor is full-bottomed. The depth of the Cheomjeo-type boat can prevent it from capsizing in rough conditions at sea. Meanwhile, the Pyeongjeo-type boat with its wide and flat bottom can easily sail the West Sea where the tidelands are widely spread, and it can also travel in shallow rivers.
The characteristics of the Korean boats that the boatwrights of Bamseom remember are the method of fixing the outer hull planks and use of wooden nails
and Daetgal (cedar bark used for patching holes between planks). When building a boat, the method of fixing the outer hull planks in Korea is different from that of China and Japan. In China and Japan, the carvel joint method is used to fix the outer hull planks, where the plank edges are butted seam to seam. However, in Korea, the clinker joint is used, where the edges of the hull planks overlap each other. When overlapping planks, the underside edge of the base side of the plank is cut in an L shape and is then overlapped on the plank below.

Drawings donated by Lee Il Yong. As a boatwright of Bamseom, he did not use drawings when building a boat, but rather built it with only the knowledge in his head. However, after quitting boatbuilding, drawings were made to keep alive his memory and that of boatbuilding technology © SEOUL MUSEUM OF HISTORY

The wooden nails used in boatbuilding in Korea are divided into two kinds: Gasoemot, made of wood from the mulberry tree, and Pisaemot, made from oak.
Gasoemot nails are used for connecting garboard strakes with the outer hull planks, while Pisaemot nails are used for connecting the outer hull planks to each other.
Daetgal made of cedar bark is thin and soft, making it easy to use for plugging leaks in the garboard strakes or outer hull planks of a boat. Patching up leaks with Daetgal plays a role in keeping water out when a boat runs aground. In Korean boatbuilding, use of clinker joints, wooden nails, and Daetgal offers the advantage of being able to complete partially repairs without dismantling the whole of a boat.
As part of the process of developing Seoul, explosives were detonated on Bamseom on 13 February 1968, in anticipation of which the residents moved to the
nearby Changcheon-dong neighborhood. Since the twentieth century, the development of railroads and automobiles, and the associated construction of roads and big bridges, reduced the effectiveness of water transportation. This migration from Bamseom and the decreased need for boats drove boatwrights into a crisis, as a result of which they eventually became housebuilders.

A place where the gods enshrined by villagers are brought to Changcheondong to perform ancestral rites © Lee Dong Ah

Bamseom island, the islanders, and their boatbuilding technology appear to have been forgotten and discontinued. However, people still get together in
Changcheon-dong and the newly built Bamseom island in the Han River to perform Bamseom Bugundang Gut, a village ritual that takes place twice a year (the second day of January in the lunar calendar and around the Chuseok Full Moon). At these gatherings, they talk about Bamseom, and share and transmit various knowledge (ice digging, river fishing, daily life knowledge, boatbuilding techniques, etc.) passed down on Bamseom island. This content has become widely known to the public in the form of fairy tales, museum displays, art exhibitions, images, newspaper articles, and so on. Bamseom and its related ICH is still being shared and passed down by Bamseom islanders, though not through its space.