Oldest order of female divers
Last updated: January 18, 2020 at 21:46 pm
Ama divers (海女 | Sea Women) of Japan have been diving for food and pearls for 2,000 years. Traditional Ama divers wear only a loincloth (isogi) and no diving equipment. The isogi is white to ward off sharks and bad luck. Today, it is worn mostly for tourists while others dive with masks, fins, and even a wetsuit. Ama divers are also known as Uminchu (Okinawa), and Kaito (Izu Peninsula).
In South Korea, the Haenyo (해녀 | Sea Women) of Jeju Island took over diving from men in the 18th century because they were exempt from a new tax. Many became the biggest earners in their families while the men stayed at home to take care of the children. Some have made small fortunes diving for high-priced abalone and conch. In 1950, the number of Haenyo was about 30,000 on Jeju. In 2003, there were only 5,650 and 85% were over 50 years old.
Not all Japanese ama divers (海人) are women. A minority of ama divers are men (海士).
The newly built Kosode Ama Center in Kuji City was completely destroyed with the loss of all artefacts by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. The Ama Center’s new home—a three-story building made of reinforced concrete—was inaugurated at the same location in 2015.
Rahn, H.; Yokoyama, T. (1965). Physiology of Breath-Hold Diving and the Ama of Japan. United States: National Academy of Sciences – National Research Council. p. 369.
The Mermaids of Jeju – Korean Female Divers Haenyeo | Official Korea Tourism Organization
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Jeffrey Gallant is the Editor-in-Chief and Records Keeper of the Diving Almanac. He is also a contributing editor of DIVER Magazine, and the scientific director of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). Jeffrey started diving in 1982.