By Jeongnam Kim
(Former Senior Presidential Secretary for Education·Culture·Society, World Korean News advisor)
A mask is made to cover the face. But it doesn't stop simply covering the face. It sometimes has the art of creatively representing an individual other than the original one, or an animal, or a god the supernatural being.
Often, people attempts to find its original in the memorial rituals of the primitive community. They put up a certain symbolic mask for a confrontation with disease and death, and some supernatural powers which the human beings themselves are unable to find a solution. In this sense, the original mask might most probably have a religious significance.
The masks can classified by their function into Hunting Masks, Totem Masks, Meicinal Masks, Soul Masks, and Performing Arts Masks. The oldest relics related to the masks is 'Moksim Chilmyeon.' Besides, 'Hahoebyeolin-game Mask,' 'Byeong-san Mask' are also very old and precious mask relics.
Of the regionally handed-down masks and mask dances, there is a 'Bukcheong Lion's Game in the Northern region, and 'Bangsan Mask Dance,' 'Kangnyeong Mask Dance,' and 'Eunyul Mask Dance' are popular in the Haeseo, Hwanghai Province, region, the place of Mask Dances' origin. And there are 'Yangju Byeolsangdai Game,' 'Songpa Sandai Game,' 'Namsadang Game' and so forth in the central area; you will find 'Haehoe Byeolsin Mask Dance' in Andong in North Gyeongsan Province. and 'Goseong Five Mask Dances,' ' Tongyeong Five Mask Dances,' and Gasan Five Mask Dances' and so forth. In addition, 'Suyeong Field Game' and 'Dongnae Field Game' find themselves in Busan.
All the mask dances are designated as major intangible cultural assets. There are an average number of 15 different masks per a mask dance; therefore there are at least some three hundred different masks.
The old heritage of the 'Hahoe Mask' has a varied line of titles. Gentleman, Classical Scholar, Grandma, and some of the titles are strange to your ear, but if you take a closer look at the masks hunger on the wall, you get to realize that each and every title is fit to its look. The mask dance being played in a particular region shows its character of the good, the weak, the cowardly, the courageous, the villain, or all shades of personalities available in the society of human beings.
For example, the mask play of "the gentleman" which follows the Pungmul, the traditional Korean farmers percussion band, shows a trace of the very original mask dance and vividly represents the process of its development. It does not have a pre-determined script; it makes fun of oir criticize the societal phenomena of the time the mask dance is performed. This play is characterized by the most real representation of the people's direct reaction to ther call of the times.
The 'Sain-nim,' or the popular name of the mask dance is a gentleman; 'Chibali' is a strongman; 'Maltuki' is a cowardice; and 'Mak-jung' is ax excommuncated monk. 'Youngno' is a starfish that eats whatever comes available, and he smacks his lips whenever he sees the gentleman; 'Hongbaek-ga' is a double-faced younger, with one side is red, the other said is white.
Even these days, the Pungmul Game, or the traditional farmers percussion band being play in villages all over the country, has a hunter on the stage who make fun of or criticize the amoral and the tyranny of the unjust powerful, thus keeping the tradition of a social drama accusing the situation of today which should be overcome.