When I first heard of the Pumba Festival I had no idea what to expect. Was it some crazy concoction by Disney to promote the Lion King or the Disney Brand in Korea? Was it some sort of mixture between punk and rumba, some sort of singing a and dancing festival?And if not then what in the world goes on at a Pumba festival?! The answer, dear readers, is pretty strange!
Pumba, in Korean, refers to itinerant street performers from the Joseon Dynasty, a sort of tramp or street entertainer. An old man who travels from village to village, sleeping rough and knocking on doors to beg for food and money. Pumba’s don’t really exist in that sense these days, but they do still perform at events and festivals through song and dance.
The Eumseong Pumba festival celebrates these street performers and also lets foreign visitors like yours truly a chance to dress in tramp-like clothes and face paint and pose for hundreds of photographers; It is one of the most photographed festivals in Korea! I went along with 40 other foreign teachers through Adventure Korea, and spent the day feeling like a superstar!
First we were given beautiful, traditional and brightly colored cloaks to wear and were then led to the make-up ladies who made us look something close to street entertainers but probably closer to clowns! We were then paraded around the festival grounds as photographers clicked their cameras, pushing cameras into our faces, making us jump or smile or frown or pose in whatever which way they pleased!
Next we had the chance to pound rice, the traditional way of making rice cake candies. (Turns out rice can be made into everything and anything in Korea!) We were given heavy mallets and had to bang them down in unison flatten the mixture!
We were given traditional bibimbap (mix or rice, vegetables and spicy chilli sauce in a bowl) for lunch and plenty of bottles of ice, cold water to cool us down from the hot sun. Finally we all took part in a korean singing and drumming session and a candy breaking competition for all us crazily dressed foreigners as the locals looked on in delight!
It really was one of the most fun things I’ve done in a long, long time. So very random, but well worth the trip!