Yeongyang Wonnoreum

Yeongyang Wonnoreum

Wonnoreum, a play in which young people acted as a local judge and his subordinates punishing criminals playfully. The criminals paid grains for their misdeed and the grains were used as the village's fund.
In the north of Gyeongsangbuk-do, Wonnoreum, which is a humorous play, was widespread. However, it disappeared about 70 years ago. It is assumed by many researchers that there were various kinds of traditional plays around Andong, but only Notdaribapgi and Chajeon Nori are left along with a few other plays. Wonnoreum was also played around Yeongyang and neighboring regions but is only left in Yeongyang.

Season and Location

'Wonnoreum' was played in the beginning of the lunar year. In the past, it was a custom to visit every house by the 15th of January and greet each other in the north of Gyeongsangbuk-do. It was a heart-warming celebration because people finally had time to take a rest and have a great time with their family after hard work last year.

In the beginning of a year, the village was festive and everyone enjoyed food and drink. After having tea ceremony and greeting of elders, young men gathered around and played Wonnoreum together.

Traditionally, most traditional plays took place in the beginning of the year. Wonnoreum had many agricultural aspects because it was played after hard farm work. At first, it was solely about agriculture but later it started to criticize the society of the time and caused trouble.

Some elders say that there used to be more than 100 villages around Yeongyang. Wonnoreum was play across entire Yeongyang but the biggest ones were in Jugok-dong, Ilwol-myeon and Yeongyang-eup. Wonnoreum spread to Bonghwa-gun and Mungyeong. Rather than the flat land near the south of Gangwon-do and Samcheok, Wonnoreum was play in woodland - where people make living by farming and isolated from the rest of society due to poor transportation. Therefore, it was difficult to hear about officials stealing from people. Also, the fact that Yeongyang was not promoted to the status of hyeon strengthens the argument.

It was commonly played in the large front yard of a rich farmer, in a servants' quarter and in the square or the hill of villages. The audience made a circle and watched the play being staged in it. It seems that it took place more in daytime. When the play got bigger, the actors made the rounds of the neighboring villages and even raised funds. The play could be staged anywhere and sometimes it served as a fundraiser.


There was no script for Wonnoreum. Most of the lines in the play were passed down orally and there was a lot of improvising. But the actors prepared for it more or less. It was deeply related to agriculture because it was enjoyed mainly by farmers. However, the main storyline was always based on administration, military, law and labor. After the congratulatory ceremony was over, officials investigation the criminal. There was humor and satire in their acting.

In Joseon dynasty, the trial was based on inquisitorial system and forced a confession from a suspect. Wonnoreum, to be sure, mimicked it. When it was played in 1899 and 1900, the play was modified to cater to the taste of military. Around that time, it was far from being an recreational pastime for farmers.