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Traditional Korean Masks

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Bune, the Flirty Young Concubine
Bune, the flirty concubine of the yangban

Korean traditional mask of the character Bune, the Young Woman.

Kallie Szczepanski

This mask is one of the Hahoe characters created by the unfortunate Bachelor Huh. Bune, sometimes spelled "Punae," is a flirty young woman. In many plays, she appears either as the concubine of Yangban, the aristocrat, or of Sonbi, the scholar.

With her tiny, fixed mouth, smiling eyes, and apple-cheeks, Bune represents beauty and good humor. Her character is a bit shady and unrefined, however. At times, she tempts the monks and other men into sin.

Importance of the Masks:

The original Hahoe masks were considered to be important religious relics. Huh's masks were believed to have magical powers to expel demons and protect the village. The people of Hahoe village believed that tragedy would befall their town if the masks were moved improperly from their places in the Sonang-tang, the local shrine.

This tradition prevented Huh's masterpieces being burned. In most regions, talchum masks would be burned as a sort of offering after each performance, and new ones made. This was a hold-over from the use of masks in funerals; funerary masks were always burned at the end of the ceremony.

Given the importance of the Hahoe masks to the local people, it must have been a terrible trauma for the entire village when three of them went missing. Some old stories claim that the people of neighboring Pyongsan stole the masks. Indeed, two suspiciously similar masks are found in Pyongsan today.

Other people believe that the Japanese took some or all of Hahoe's missing masks. The recent discovery of Byulchae the Tax Collector in a Japanese collection supports this theory.

If both of these traditions regarding the thefts are true, (that is, two are in Pyongsan and one is in Japan), then all of the missing masks have been located.

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