Buyeo was divided into two parts: Eastern and Northern Buyeo. Most information about these kingdoms is left to speculation, but one of these kings, Geumwa, enters Korean history as a result of a hunting trip.
Hunting was a favorite pastime of the old kings. And Geumwa’s hunting expedition looked like any other, until he ran into a mysterious woman by a stream in one of the mountains. Intrigued as to what she was doing in such a place, Geumwa approached her. The woman said her name was Yuhwa. She told her story of how she was with her sisters enjoying an outing in the mountain when a mysterious man came and approached them. The man, Hae Mo-Su, seduced Yuhwa and she left her family to live with him until he disappeared one day. Her father, named Haebaek, was scandalized by her behavior and they banished her away from her home, and that was where King Geumwa found her.
King Geumwa was intriguied by this woman and her story. He brought her back to his palace, where she was confined to a dark room. One day, stuck in her dark chambers, a ray of light penetrated the room. Yuhwa basked in this tiny sunlight, her body filled with the comforting glow provided by the tiny messenger from the heavenly orb, the golden rays filling the room with warmth. It was a moment of sweet tenderness in the middle of darkness and solitude. And then she laid an egg.
As you can see, we are back to mythological time in this story.
King Geumwa did not approve of people in his palace laying eggs. He tried to get rid of the egg by throwing it to the pigs and dogs, but they refused to touch it. He threw the egg in the middle of the road, but the horses and cattle walked around it. He cast it in faraway places, but the birds protected it. Finally he tried to do the dirty work himself, but the egg did not crack. Defeated, King Geumwa returned the egg to Yunwa, and eventually a boy hatched from it.
The boy was said to be exceedingly handsome and strong, being more than a match for the men of the palace when he was only 7 years old. Most noteworthy was his skill in archery, and he was given the name Jumong, which we’re told meant “skilled archer” in the Buyeo language.
Apparently Geumwa had forgiven the boy’s audacity to have been born from an egg, since Jumong quickly became the King’s favorite. This was much to the displeasure of the King’s actual sons, who saw that this boy could threaten their position in the palace.
Meanwhile, Jumong kept on shining in court. He is said to not only be a skilled archer, but had a talent in all matters related to fighting and warfare. A story told at that time was that he had a keen eye for horses. There were two horses in particular that he had his eyes on, seeing that one was very swift and the other very slow. Jumong fed the slow horse to make him look strong, and starved the quick horse. King Geumwa naturally chose the healthier looking horse and Jumong was “stuck” with the weaker seeming horse.
This was good foresight, for one day before an outing, Yuhwa warned her son that the princes were plotting on killing him. Tearfully, she urged him to escape and never return to Buyeo. And sure enough, as soon as they were away from the palace, Jumong felt the princes’ killer intents on him. With the princes hot in his pursuit, Jumong managed to evade them until a river blocked his way. That’s when he cried out, “I am the son of heaven and Haebaek’s grandson. My enemies are upon my heel, am I to be abandoned here?”
In response, the river bubbled, and turles and all kinds of creatures gathered to make a bridge. Jumong crossed, and the princes were left behind.
Jumong continued south. Since this was after the fall of Gojoseon, the landscape was full of small clans and slightly bigger households. No doubt using his divine archery skills, the next time we find Jumong, he has managed to unite some of these clans. The founding date of his kingdom is usually recorded as 37 BCE, a few decades after the fall of Gojoseon. He named his kingdom ‘Goguryeo’ and the records say that the kingdom’s ambition was to restore the lost dignity of the land. The Sunguk Yusa (the more mythically oriented historical record, from which most of this story comes) tries to cement this connection to Gojoseon by claiming that Jumong’s mother Yuhwa also had an affair with Dangun. Retirement and a couple of thousand years did not stop this ancient king from still being active.
The land of Goguryeo was mountainous, which made it difficult for agriculture. This constant threat of starvation meant that there was little luxury, and created a hardened and sturdy people, skilled in hunting and raiding. As a result, the country became a military might to be reckoned with. In its roughly 600 years of existence, Goguryeo will challenge its neighbors, bring down the last of the Han Commanderies, and even be responsible for the fall of a dynasty. A lot of people think of these days as times of heroism, and Jumong has been subject of long, sprawling, epic TV dramas.
Hunting was an important symbol of Goguryeo. Little wonder then that King Jumong is mostly remembered by a name that emphasized his hunting skills. As founder of his dynasty, King Jumong was worshiped as a god. His mythological connection to the sun and heaven made him prominent in the shaman’s panehteon, and worship of this ‘great ancestor’ was an important festival of Goguryeo. But the worship of Jumong wasn’t limited to the country he founded, Baekje also had a festival in honor of Jumong. That’s because Jumong indirectly had a hand in creating this second of the three kingdoms, as we shall see next time.