As a part of Memorial Committee for the 70th anniversary of the Jeju April 3rd Uprising and Massacre peace tour programme, Jeju Dark Tours conducted a peace tour for foreigners on 15-16 September 2018. This is the second tour for foreigners after the first one in May. Lauren Colegrove who participated in the tour sent us her reflections after the tour. Thanks :)
“Moral duty has weight, things that have weight have gravity.” -Paul Kalanithi
The word “duty” is usually associated with the obligation to one’s own circle of concern. Duty to one’s family. Duty to one’s country. Duty to one’s beliefs. But as humans, we also have a basic duty to other humans – past, present, and future – even if the connection isn’t as direct. When this relation isn’t as blatant as, say, your blood relative or nationality, the web that binds us is the both fluid and tenacious act of storytelling.
Jeju Dark Tours exists to honor the duty of sharing our collective yet intensely personal human story, particularly one that happened between 1947 and 1954 on Jeju Island known as the “April 3rd Uprising and Massacre”. After Korea gained independence from Japan, many people on Jeju Island (as well as on the mainland) wanted Korea to remain a united peninsula rather than divided countries, and to avoid having another external ruling power; when these ideals was considered unacceptable, widespread violence across Jeju was used by those in power against those labeled as “communists,” as well as against entire communities assumed to be supporting them. Within the picturesque landscape better known for its beaches than bloodshed, Jeju Dark Tours encourages both Koreans and foreigners to embrace their duty to remember those who lost their lives due to state violence.
Just as the duty of sharing stories carries weight, so do the words through which we frame those stories. The “massacre” and the “uprising”. Those “innocent” and “informed”. Those “responsible” and “irreproachable”. These words connote either self-awareness or passivity by those affected, accountability or the shift of blame by those in power. This point is emphasized during the tour, as those being guided through history are encouraged to reflect on what agency means in a time of indescribable fear. Even the avoidance of words from those who should be held accountable has a powerful pull, as the gravity of a vacuum can sometimes be the strongest.
The ways these stories are told draw us in and invite us to share in the pain, often in an exhausting way. How do you hold your gaze when you see images of an island burning with flames that were fueled by arson and hate? What do you feel when you listen to a villager calmly explain, as the ocean breeze passes through the town that cradles the grief of massacre, how his relative was murdered because of a misunderstanding over his name? How do you remember to breathe when an aging survivor recounts how as an eleven-year-old she wasn’t sure if she would live to see daylight again, as she lifts a wrinkled hand to point in the direction of the caves where, hiding in the darkness, she was so scared she didn’t realize she was starving?
A patronizing report of history can make you feel contempt or pity; an empowering recounting, which Jeju Dark Tours excels in, provides space for questioning and empathy. Throughout the weekend-long tour led by passionate activist Gayoon, those given the gift of learning more about this piece of history were reminded that state violence isn’t a relic of the past, and that it is our duty to listen to and share the stories of people and events that some would rather remain silenced.