|From: email@example.com (Milan Hejtmanek)
Subject: Re: Koreans With Red Hair
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 11:57:25 -0800
In article , firstname.lastname@example.org
(Jae K. Kim) wrote:
A long time ago, as a boy, I read an account of ship-wrecked Dutch
sailors who lived on an island off Korea (Chejudo
perhaps) during the
; 17th century. The book mentioned that Koreans with red hair occasionally
; are born on the island today. Now, I admit, I read this book when
; was president, so it was a LOOOOONG time ago, but I'm still curious
; this story. Can anyone tell me more about this?
; Jae K. Kim
You're likely referring to the 17th-centry Dutch sailor, Hendrik Hamel
(~1630-1692), who was shipwrecked in 1653 on Chejudo and who lived
until escaping by sea in 1666. His was an amazing story indeed, told
to the European world through Hamel's account published after his
return: *Hamel's Journal and a description of the Kingdom of Korea*
From Chejudo, Hamel and his crew mates were soon sent up to Seoul
, where they
became objects of great curiosity in the court of the Korean king
(r. 1649-59) and among the leading yangban officials of the day:
[from Hamel's journal, 1654]
"Daily we were bid to come to the homes of important people,
as well as their wives and children were curious to see us. The common
people of of the island (Cheju) had spread rumours that we were more
monsters than people. They said that in order to drink something we
to place our noses behind our ears, and that since our hair was blond
we looked more like underwater creatures than humans, and so on....
All in all, in the beginning we hardly could use the narrow streets
where we lived, and even in our homes the crowds would not give us
a little rest. Finally, the general forbade us to visit anyone who
not received permission from him. Sometimes even slaves, without their
masters knowing about it, would take us out of our homes and make
The sailors attempted an escape in 1655 through an appeal to a visiting
Manchu envoy. This effort failed, and the precarious political situation
at the time (the Manchus had seized Peking in 1644 and were in the
of consolidating control over all of China )
made a number of officials
nervous of the presence of these foreigners:
[from Hamel's journal, 1655]
"...in the beginning of the year some members of the state council
other prominent people, who were fed up with our presence, urged the
King to do away with us. For three days the authorities discussed
The King, the brother of the King, a general and some other important
people who sympathized with us were very much against this. The general
proposed it would be better, instead of killing us, to let each one
fight wil equal arms against two Koreans, letting the fight last until
we all were dead, by which the King would not be known among his people
to have strangers publically killed. All this was secretly told us
friendly people.... The brother of the King presided over these
meetings, and on his way to and on his way back he had to pass through
neighborhood. When we saw him, we fell down in front of him, highly
complaining to him. He told the King about it. In this way, thanks
the King and his brother, against the agitation of many, our lies
saved. Because of the urging of those who wer not in favour of us...
the King decided to exile us to Cholla province,
to our joy, for we were
saved. The King would give us 50 catties of rice per month from his
For the next ten years, until his escape from Yosu, Hamel and his
fellow sailors lived in Chollado, formally attached to provincial
garrison at Pyongyong (now in Cholla Namdo).
Their lives went through
a number of twists and turns. Over time both the court and local officials
lost interest in them and to suuport themselves they turn to begging:
[from Hamel's journal, 1657]
"In the beginning of the year the commandant, because of some
committed in his service to the country, was called away by order
King. He was in great peril of his life. He was much loved by the
ordinary people....For us, as well as for the inhabitants, he had
been a very good man. In February we got a new commandant. He was
like his predecessor. He very often made us work....But in September
we were freed from him. He died of a heart attack, which made us and
people rejoice very much because he had been a harsh ruler."
"In November the court sent us a new commandant who did not
us at all....Since our clothers were worn from the continual gathering
of wood and the cold winter was at hand, realising that these people
were very curious and very eager to hear something exotic and that
there begging is no shame, our distress forced us to beg. We accecpted
and put up with that profession...."
 "We continued and managed as we used to. We found our
with the monks , since they were very generous
and they liked us very much,
especially when we would tell about the manners of our country and
other nations. They are very eager to hear about life in other countries.
If it had been up to them, they would have listened to us whole nights
 "The new one [commandant] was very sympathetic to us.
said that if he had his way, or if it were in his power, he would
sent back to our country, to our parents and relatives. He gave us
freedom and the burden put on us by his two predessors was lifted."
And so it went. In 1663 Hamel's group was split into three parts:
men to SaesOng, five to Sunch'on, and five to Namwon .
Hamel was sent with the
group to SaesOng, on the coast, where they suffered first under a
commandant before he was replaced by a new official Hamel whom liked
"We gave thanks to God for having been delivered of such a cruel
and having received in his place such a good man. The new man did
good to us. He showed us great friendship. He often sent for us,
giving us food and drink, always pitying us. Often he asked us,
why, living at the seaside, did we not try to go to Japan."
In 1666 the good commandant was replaced by a tyrant who once
again treat the Dutchmen abusively. Eight of the sixteen surviving
men were able to steal a boat and arrive safely at the Dutch enclave
in Nagasaki. Of the eight left behind, three were in Namwon
in Sunch'on, and two in SaesOng. Seven of these men were later repatriated
(there is a an somewhat unreliable account that the eighth chose to
behind, but more likely he had died in the interim). It seems quite
possible that during their prolonged stay in Korea the Dutch sailors
left behind some descendents.
A footnote: a Korean grandmother, in whose house I lived for a number
of years in Boston, often related an incident from the 1920s, when
she was residing in Honolulu. A visiting Korean protestant minister
aroused great interest due to his completely caucasian features.
Obviously used to discussing his antecedents, he explained that he
was from Chollado , and that occasionally children
with western features
were born there; they were termed "huin sae" ("white
birds"). It was,
he reflected, fortunate that he had been born in this age and not
earlier one, for previously children such as him had been killed at
birth, a process he called "huin saerul chapneunda" ("grabbing"
"butchering"] the "white bird"). Though I lived
in Chollado for several
years (Koheung), I never heard this from anyone else. Also, Prof.
Kim T'ae-jin of Chonnam University in Kwangju had made it his personal
interest to research the topic of Hamel's group in Chollado, and he
had not heard of this custom, either. So perhaps the moksa was
exaggerating for rhetorical effect, or the tradition was very localized.
Hamel's diary (and his account of Korea: "A Description of the
of Korea", which is filled with many fascinating observations
rural Korean life in the 17th century), has been translated into English
at least twice. The better version is the new one by Br. Jean-Paul
*Hamel's Journal and a description of the Kingdom of Korea, 1653-1666*,
Royal Asiastic Society, Korea Branch, 1994. An older version, plus
interesting related material is included in Gari Ledyard's, *The Dutch
Come to Korea*, Royal Asiastic Society, Korea Branch, 1994. A Korean
translation (by Yi Pyong-do) is available as *Hamel p'yoryugi*, and
a Japanese one by Ikuta Shigeru (not sure of the title).
I hope that one day all this gets made into a movie--much more interesting,
potentially, than Shogun!
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