Kim Sul-seong’s Gwe

My Grandmother-in-law Kim Sul-seong endures her headache with wrapping her head with a towel.

The gwe recording the deathday and grave of the lady’s father-in-law
was the bequest of her husband killed during the massacre.
She survived the later years, one after another,
just to perform ancestral rites for her forefathers,
spending all those years feeding the deceased souls.

Kim looks into the distance,
with a towel over her head.

Kim has suffered from headaches since she was battered during Jeju 4·3.

Without wrapping her head with a towel, the pain remains.

She has had to live with these headaches over the past decades, wrapping her head with the towel as if sealing in her memories.

Hands put together

With these hands, Kim bred silkworms and reeled silk from the cocoons to make clothes. She even tailored her own shroud. She is now calmly awaiting death.

Kim and her granddaughter-in-law, Park Seon-hee
“One day, my grandmother-in-law, enraged, told me not to buy dolls for my children. She said that stuffed dolls reminded her of dead dogs and cattle, something that she witnessed during 4·3. She even burned all the stuffed animals we had at home.


She had three grandchildren who took turns visiting her every weekend. Staying overnight at her place, her grandchildren shared a lot with her. Naturally, she told them what she had experienced during 4·3, although she remained silent about this subject with others. Ten years ago she told me her story.


Usually, she didn’t speak a word about 4·3. But at times, she became infuriated and said she had a headache or that she didn’t want to live for much longer. During 4·3, some soldiers took her to a Buddhist temple on the coast of Taeheung and tortured her all throughout the day, asking about the whereabouts of the missing village members and of her relatives. But she didn’t tell them anything. The soldiers hit her head with the butt of a rifle, which left her suffering from headaches throughout her life. She used to say that thinking of 4·3 gives her a headache, and that it is too painful to endure without wrapping her head in a towel.


During 4·3, she recorded on the inside of the gwe’s lid the date when her father-in-law passed away and where he was buried. Her grandfather-in-law saw his son murdered. Frightened that he’d lose Kim, too, he told her to record it inside the gwe. She was 26 when 4·3 took place. Her husband soon died and all she was left with was her newborn child and that gwe. To keep it safe, she hid it in different places. At night, it was taken outside the home, and during the day, it was taken back inside. She sometimes left it under a tree in her orchard.
She worshiped her ancestors with the most sincerity she could. She created the stone walls around the graveyard and took care of all five burial sites on her own. I heard that she even managed the reburial procedures when she found a better grave site.”