The origins of the dolhareubang, translated as “stone grandfathers,” are shrouded in mystery, but they are guardians used to ward off evil spirits on the South Korean island of Jeju. They are distinguished by their bulging eyes, hands placed on tummies, and caps that are often described as “mushroom-like,” but which are decidedly phallic in appearance.
Made from volcanic basalt provided by Mount Hallasan, a 6,400-foot volcano dominating the Jeju Island landscape, the dolhareubang are cultural icons that can stand as much as 10 feet tall and are usually placed at the entrances of towns and villages. Their caps are thought to reference a shamanistic mushroom culture, making every dolhareubang a fungi to be around.
The positioning of the hands on each dolhareubang indicates its symbolic function. If the left hand is higher, he is a civil servant, and if his right hand is higher, he is a military official. But for many Koreans, they have a more fruitful purpose. Recently married women anxious to conceive a child will rub the nose of a dolhareubang if they desire a boy, or the ears if they hope for a girl. With World Heritage status and these abundant fertility advocates, it is little wonder that Jeju is the honeymoon capital of Korea.
The dolhareubang of Vienna, Virginia, are a long way from home, but as a gift from the people of Jeju, they grant jaunty authenticity to the Korean Bell Garden at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. A tranquil centerpiece for the sprawling park, the Korean garden features a hand-built pagoda sheltering the traditionally cast Bell of Peace and Harmony.
Protecting the boundaries of the adjacent verdant meadow are four playful, towering jang-seung, wooden totem pole cousins of the dolhareubang representing demon-repelling shamans. Standing near the jang-seung, visitors can look out on the botanical garden’s vista which features impressive Virginia floriculture as well as Lake Carolyn, populated with colorful koi and languorous snapping turtles. The nearby pavilion frequently hosts weddings, and brides may sometimes be seen sneaking away from their receptions to furtively snuggle a dolhareubang.
Know Before You Go
Located at the entrance to the Korean Bell Garden in the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. The gardens are open every day but visitors should check seasonal hours of operation.