Arirang represents Korean folksongs

Korean folksongs

By Pang Un Ju

Every Korean loves and enjoys singing folksong Arirang.

Many legends tell of the origin and etymology of Arirang. Typical of them is the folktale "Songbu and Rirang".

Once upon a time, a farm servant named Rirang and a girl called Songbu took part in a failed uprising in a year of famine and took shelter in a remote mountain from the chase of the government army.

There they tied the knot and lived happily for a while.

And then, Rirang made up his mind to fight against exploiters, said goodbye to his beloved wife and crossed high and low mountains to the battlefield.

At that time, Songbu, looking fixedly at the passes he crossed, sang a song of yearning, which was said to have been passed down by word of mouth as Arirang.

As it was widely spread among Koreans, the song got to have many regional varieties.

Among 36 Arirang varieties known so far are Sodo Arirang, Phyongando Arirang, Jonchon Arirang, Kangwondo Arirang, Haeju Arirang and Tanchon Arirang.

Their lyrics reflect commoners’ grudge against exploiters and their fervent desire for a happy life through the depiction of affections between man and wife, sorrow of parting, yearning for the spouse and hope of reunion.

Arirang became known to the world as symbol of the Korean nation after it was adopted as the theme song of silent film Arirang in 1926.

During Japanese military rule, the song aroused among Koreans the spirit of resistance to the Japanese imperialists who deprived them of national sovereignty and the sense of national independence.

As Korean marathoner Son Ki Jong breasted the tape at the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany with a Japanese flag on his chest, Korean spectators were said to have sung Arirang in chorus.

After Korea’s liberation, the song got even more popular while preserving its national characteristics.

It was arranged as symphonies and dance music pieces and themes of grand artistic performances and concerts. Many new types of Arirang were brought out in reflection of the aesthetic sense and demands of the present time, including Arirang of Reunification and Arirang of Prosperity.

The Kim Il Sung Prize-winning grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance Arirang was put on the Guinness World Records in August 2007 and honoured with orders and medals from different countries.

Folksong Arirang was inscribed as national intangible cultural heritage element No.1 and put on the UNESCO’s Representative List of ICH of Humanity in November 2014.

Music Dance Poem 《Story of Arirang》 Ponghwa Theatre Sept 9, 2016

(Pyongyang Times - May 19, 2019)
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