Companion for the Deceased, “Kokdu”
Lee Kim Sooyeon  |  smt_sw@sm.ac.kr
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승인 2014.06.08  12:08:47
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In Western countries, people think angels connect life and death. Also, they think angels are companions of the deceased.  Similar to an angel are the kokdu in Korea.  Korea’s kokdu are small wooden dolls made for consoling and accompanying the spirit of the deceased.


Small Wooden Friend

A kokdu is a small wooden doll that Korean ancestors made.  Especially, a kokdu was made by common people, mostly peasants, to decorate Sangyeo, the Korean style mortuary hearse.  They believed the small wooden friend would console the spirit of the dead person and would accompany the deceased on the lonely journey to an unknown world.  A kokdu is a painted doll, reflecting contemporary clothing colors and designs.  Therefore, the kokdu are important relics that show us the costume design, colors and the thoughts about afterlife of common people in the past.  Kokdu were friends of the deceased. Let’s look at the various kinds of kokdu.

1. I Will Guide Your Way to the Other World


Our ancestors thought that the spirit of the deceased could get lost on the path to the other world and there could be many dangers on the way.  Therefore, our ancestors made kokdu to guide the spirit.  This type of kokdu rides animals like the tiger, dragon, and phoenix.

2. I Will Be Your Bodyguard


Our ancestors gave the deceased a bodyguard.  They wanted their dead friend or family member to arrive in the other world in safety.  This type of kokdu journeys with the deceased traveler and protects him/her.  For effective protection, kokdu faces and gestures were carved tough and scary, and they were equipped with weapons.

3. I Will Ease Your Burdens


Most caring kokdu were shaped as women because women are more careful and attentive than men. Because they were carved as women, their faces are bight and pure.  They were made because our ancestors wanted the deceased to be comfortable during the journey.  These kinds of kokdu deal with all burdensome work, remain quiet, and pose passively.

4. I Will Entertain You With Music and Dance


The deceased will feel miserable because they can no longer meet friends and families, and they are alone.  Our ancestors were really kind, so they did not want their friends and families to feel miserable as they made their journey.  Therefore, ancestors made kokdu that played music, danced, and laughed to remove the traveler’s miserable feelings.


Nowadays, in our funeral culture there is nothing accompanying the deceased.  People merely place the decreased in a dark coffin and then bury the coffin.  However, our ancestors were really warm-hearted; they made companions for the deceased to travel in better conditions and with better feelings.  How about learning our ancestors’ warm-heart?



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