Darangshi cave, where truth of 4·3 lay hidden for 50 years
Darangshi Oreum is a place of beauty that attracts visitors from across the world. The circular walking route along the crater of this volcanic cone provides outstanding views to Yongnuni Oreum and Bijarim Forest, and paragliders soar from its peak into the skies of eastern Jeju.
However, although visitors come today for leisure and energisation, 70 years ago a cave at the foot of this volcanic cone was, far from a refuge, a tomb for 11 villagers attempting to evade government troops terrorizing the countryside.
And when researchers eventually did find the bodies in 1992, they knew instantly that the history of Jeju was about to be rewritten.
They had searched the mountainous areas of Gujwa-eup, western Jeju, for a month on information from a survivor of the Jeju massacre. He said he had been there 45 years earlier and that he knew of the dead the cave concealed.
And when the researches unearthed the cave they found the bodies as the man said they would: arranged side by side.
The researchers knew the bodies meant more than resolution for the families they belonged to — they meant that no longer could the South Korean government deny what it had done here.
Although the period of violence lasted from 1947 to 1954, the worst of the atrocities were committed following the scorched-earth policy of the government, which began on Nov. 17, 1948.
This military tactic labeled everyone guilty until proven innocent, and they burned down villages looking for communists and their sympathizers. This forced villagers to search for safety in the mountains of the island.
Some found caves, but it often wasn’t long before those caves were also found by the military.
It was a month and a day after that operation began when Darangshi cave was discovered by soldiers who demanded the cave’s occupants come out. But they didn’t, rightly fearing they’d be executed. The soldiers then set fire to the mouth of the cave, asphyxiating everyone inside.
When the cave was rediscovered 45 years later, mention of the massacre came with fear of government reprisal as South Korea still denied what it had done. But the researchers knew that if handled properly the discovery of the bodies would make the massacre a global issue, and force Korea to acknowledge what had happened.
So they first went to the press, which took the story to the front pages of national newspapers.
Once the stories of the cave were printed, the government tried to cover it up. It sealed the cave and convinced the bereaved families to cremate the bodies of the dead and have the ashes scattered at sea.
But it was too late. The government could no longer deny the state violence it perpetrated on Jeju Island. A movement for truth pursued only by activists had transformed into a movement of the people who would no longer be denied their history.
Darangshi cave and the bodies it once entombed is credited by many as being the most important evidence to challenge the government’s notion of the massacre and to force it to acknowledge its actions.
In fact, it is so important to the movement that within the Jeju 4·3 Peace Memorial Hall, visitors walk through a recreation of Darangshi cave as they travel through the museum of the massacre.
It’s been 25 years since the cave was rediscovered and its importance has only been magnified with time.