Gang Bak – On the Customs of the New Year Morning

Yutnori

Gang Bak (姜樸, 강박, 1690-1742) was a Chosun dynasty literati bureaucrat. He was of the Jinju Gang Clan (晉州姜氏, 진주강씨); his courtesy name was Jasun (子淳, 자순); and his pen name (號, 호) was Gukpo (菊圃, 국포). In the year after he passed the civil examination, Gang Bak was exiled for attempting to impeach a maternal relative of the King, Min Jinweon (閔鎭遠, 민진원 , 1664-1736), Eo Yugu (魚有龜, 어유구, 1675-1740), and others. However, he was released about a decade later and attained high posts. He was well known for his prose writing and poetry compositions.

The poem below, along with the annotation, is just one in a series of poems about the various customs of the new year. In this poem, he describes the playing of Yutnori (윷놀이), which in Classical Chinese is written as Cheoksa (擲柶, 척사) meaning “to throw sticks.” At least during the Chosun dynasty, this game was associated with gambling, as Gang Bak notes, and with fortune telling. The origin of Yutnori is uncertain, but it is thought to have been played during the Three Kingdoms of Korea Period (三國時代, 삼국시대, 57-668). Yutnori is similar to another game known as Jeopo (樗蒲, 저포).

元朝紀俗(癸丑) 其九
원조기속(계축) 기구

On the Customs of the New Year Morning (Gyechuk Year)
Poem No. 9

官家放禁巷閭遊 관가방금항려유
件件綾羅僭不愁 건건릉라참불수
少婦分曹爭踏板 소부분조쟁답판
羣兒擲柶賭先籌 군아척사도선주

The official’s household has let go of prohibitions and at the gate to the village alleyway they frolic.
Task by task, in their fine patterned silk, they are presumptuous and do not worry.
A young wife breaks the group, quarreling and stepping on the wooden plank;
The group of children throw sticks and gambling  they have in advance schemed.

國俗歲時, 小兒有四木之戱. 名之曰柶.
국속세시, 소아유사목지희. 명지왈사.

In the years and times of the customs of our country, small children have a game with four pieces of wood. They are called “Sa” (柶, 사).

或曰: “古有高農與汙農.
명왈: “고유고농여오농.

Someone said, “Long ago, there were Go’nong (高農, 고농) and O’nong (汙農, 오농) methods.

歲時闘柶. 高農勝則其歲高農穰, 汙農勝亦如之.”
세시투사. 고농승즉기세고농양, 오농승여여지.”

Throughout the year, there was a dispute over Sa. If the Go’nong method won, then that year the Go’nong method would be throughout. If the O’nong method won, then likewise it was so.”

柶戱之設, 始於高汙農云.
사희지설, 시어고우농운.

The foundation of the Sa game began with the Go’nong and O’nong methods, and so forth.

Notes:

  • Go’nong (高農, 고농) and O’nong (汙農 or 汚農, 오농) refer to methods of playing Yutnori during the Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 912-1392). The former was used by farmers in highlands, while the latter was used by fishermen by the coast.

Characters:

  • 閭(려) – Refers to the gate at the entrance of a village.
  • 綾羅(능라) – Refers to thin silk and thick silk that are patterned.
  • 僭(참) – To be presumptuous (주제넘다).
  • 擲(척) – To throw (던지다).
  • 柶(사) – Here, it refers to the sticks (윷) used in Yutnori (윷놀이).
  • 賭(도) – Gamble (賭博, 도박).
  • 籌(주) – To plan (꾀하다).
  • 穰(양) – To be ample (넉넉하다).

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