Culture : for the People, of the People, by the People
Culture : for the People, of the People, by the People
  • Kee Seong Eunhye
  • 승인 2008.12.05 21:33
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In the high school text book ‘Society and Culture,’ there is this explanation of culture:

We frequently hear of ‘culture’ in daily life.  In this context, culture means something artistic, cultured, and gorgeous.  When we say ‘Korean Culture is in blossom,’ people understand ‘It is successful in the areas which pursue beauty such as art and literature.’  Also, we use the word ‘culture’ when it comes to indicating well-educated people’s education and propriety. 

However, the real meaning of culture is somewhat different.  It is derived from the Latin word, ‘cultura’ and its real meaning was ‘cultivation’ and ‘raising.’  Later, it came to mean ‘art’ and ‘refined.’  Anthropological culture is divided into two parts depending on one’s view: an all-things-considered aspect versus an ideological one.  The common meaning of ‘culture’ that we usually think of is related to the former.  A famous English anthropologist, E.B. Tyler said “Culture is totality of knowledge, religion, art, morality, law and custom that people obtain as a member of community,” in his 1871 book Primitive Culture (from an article in Donga Ilbo, September 2006).

According to E.B. Tyler’s definition, culture does not belong to specific classes but to every member of a community.  Historically, there are various materials about culture for all the people which are originated by the people and continued by the people.  From now on, we will present the evidence of this concept.


Latin American Dance, Samba

Samba, Cha-cha, Jive, Rumba…do you know the common feature of these dances?  All of these dances and music styles originated from Africa.  Even though people think that they are the main events of Dance Sports and only for the upper classes, their roots lie in the humble classes.

For example, Samba, which is a famous folk dance of Brazil, originated from the body movement of African slaves who were imported from Africa for cotton plantations and who wanted to forget their pain of being driven so hard.  They danced dances such as the Catarete, the Embolada, and the Betueque to the beat of primitive music.  Europeans considered them sinful because their navels would touch each other.  However, the high classes of Rio de Janeiro (old capital of Brazil) started to accept this form of dance, with some changes of motion, in stages.  After that, it was called the Zemba Queca, and was described as a ‘graceful dance’ in 1885.  Nowadays, the samba is proudly displayed at the ‘Rio Carnival,’ the city’s annual pre-Lent festival, which is a national holiday and famous worldwide so that a number of tourists visit here and participate to learn the ‘Samba.’  (from a thesis, The Dance Sport: In Respect to the Historical Study, 2001) 





Do you like Jazz?  When someone says “I like Jazz,” other people usually think he/she is a cultured person.  For some time, Jazz implies a great cultural movement which is for the social elite.  However, it was also created by ordinary people or even worse-off.
Jazz is estimated to have started around the beginning of the 20th century in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. where
jazz is actively performed.  It was started by African slaves in the U.S. and contains specific features of African music.  Moreover, Jazz inherited a clear dose of the slaves’ quality of feeling and traditional values.  However, they were considerably affected by the White American culture because they lived in a white society.  Ultimately, Jazz was born from mixing the African-American factors and the White-American factors. 
There are four forms of early Jazz: Negro Spiritual & Gospel songs, Blues, Work songs and Ragtime.  Negro Spiritual & Gospel songs are closely related to religion and people’s ordinary life.  When it was mixed with European church music, it was reborn as Gospel.  African-Americans sang their painful life through the Blues.  It was gloomy like the color ‘blue’ alludes to.  When they worked, they had a special habit of continuing to sing.  They increased efficiency of work and delivered news by singing. The last form is Ragtime.  Rag means ‘dislocated’ and time means a phrase of a score.  To understand this more easily, it is completely composed piano music, which omits ‘impromptu performance.’  (






Samul Nori


The Korean traditional performance with 4 different percussion instruments, Samul nori, came down from Nong-ak also started from ordinary people like farmers.  Actually, ‘Samul Nori ' itself was name of performance group leading by Kim Duksu started from February 1978.  However, now it means Korean traditional performance with four traditional Korean musical instruments such as Kkwaenggwari, Jing, Janggu, and Buk.

Samul nori has its roots in Nong-ak, a Korean folk genre comprising music, acrobatics, folk dance, and rituals, which was traditionally performed in rice farming villages in order to ensure and to celebrate good harvests.  Specifically, Samul nori music derives from utdari pungmul, as well as the genres of Yeongnam folk music and Honam udo gut, combined with more contemporary improvisations, elaborations, and compositions.  Such Nong-ak is steeped in traditional animism and shamanism, but also shows influences from Korean Buddhism.  Although generally performed indoors, as a staged genre, Samul nori depicts the traditional Korean culture, an agricultural society rooted in the natural environment.  (



For the Korean, of the Korean, by the Korean 

However, Samul nori is not popular culture in Korea compared with Latin dance and Jazz.  What is the reason that there’s no enjoyable culture handed down from the ordinary people?  

There are two historical reasons.  Professor Hyekyung Kang, Division of Korean history, said, “Firstly, Korea started modern times by external pressure not by itself.  Historically, after the modern age began, we came under the rule of Japanese imperialism from 1910 t0 1945, and US Army Military Government stay in Korea from 1945 to 1948.  At that time, we accepted western culture thoughtlessly and it caused the problem that Korean tradition suffered hard time to hand down.  Secondly, Korean government optionally restore traditional thing which need for them. For instance, now we know, Lee sunshin and King Sejong was chosen to restore in 1960s to 1970s and national customs were restored in 1980s.”  Also she added, "There is a solution; It is the restoration of tradition by changing modern culture, such as "NANTA."  Also, it mustn't ve the optional restoration but the right form of that." As she said, if Korean tradition to fit this age, it can become enjoyable culture for the Korean, of the Korean, by the Korean.    




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