Gotjawal, a Giver of Life, Mystery and Magic

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Gotjawal (“goht-jah-wahl” – in Jeju dialect, meaning “forest” and “rubble”) is one of the more unique and mysterious features of Jeju, for centuries deeply significant to the island’s people.

Densely forested regions over rocky volcanic soil, these areas provide both an oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange to purify the air and an aquifer system to purify, recharge, and control the flow of fresh water. Numerous plants traditionally used for medicine grow here, along with a variety of edible greens, roots and fungi, and wild fruits. Game was once hunted and trapped in gotjawal areas, including pheasant, boar, deer, and badger; wood was gathered as firewood and building material, and kilns erected for the making of pottery and charcoal. In all, gotjawal provided the basic necessities of life.

Refusing to be tamed, however, this bramble – called ‘wasteland’ by would-be developers – is unsuitable for residence or agriculture. Providing a rich and safe pasture for horse and cattle grazing, it is rife with low stone walls once containing livestock and marking boundaries. A slash-and-burn style of small-field farming was possible and popular, which, coupled with the need for wood and making of charcoal, replaced old-growth with secondary trees.

These mid-mountain regions of Jeju, 200-600m above sea level,  represent an astonishing biodiversity and a unique landscape, including volcanic sinkholes and vents which regulate the temperature and allow for plant varieties of both northern and southern hemispheres. Development, however, has removed great swaths of this forested land. Government and civic initiatives to protect these areas are underway; in 2012, at the World Conservation Congress [WCC] of the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN], held on Jeju, an international resolution was passed for their conservation.

Gotjawal, a giver of life, magical and mysterious – under threat, and in need of protection.

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