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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 247

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Celebrating the Tiger


Finally, a note about the title of this book. Tigers were present many thousands of years ago when the first Koreans—through the benevolence of a divine spirit were created in a country they named Choson. In fact, the Tiger who was present at the creation was so jealous of this ideal land of harmony and calm that he longed to be a human—and would have succeeded except that his impatient nature got the best of him at the last moment.

Ever afterwards, Koreans have held Tiger close to their hearts, in folk tales, legends, and rituals, and they've come to know him in all his contradictory, paradoxical manifestations. Tiger became the companion of the Mountain Spirit who founded Korea, and so acts as a messenger between humans and the divine. Tiger is ferocious, but his special affection for Koreans makes him their guardian against invaders. By nature, he is a man eater, but in folk tales he eats only the wicked, unmasks hypocrites, and protects the Golden Thread that binds all Koreans together. But Tiger endears himself not least of all because he is a playful trickster, and at the same time one who is easily tricked. He is a source of humor, and is often portrayed grinning—though we know what a good joke it must take to make a cat smile.

Because of their long association with Tiger, Koreans are like their beloved friend in many ways. Otherwise, how could they have made Tiger into a pet and a member of their family? When Koreans have their claws out, it is often in protection of their independence, their family, and their homeland. But like Tiger they also love to laugh and to celebrate. The twentieth century has tested the Korean character, especially through the decades of foreign occupations, war, and other hardships. Korean heritage and pride, however, are still strong. As a result of Korean immigration, that incomparable heritage combines with and invigorates the best qualities of America's national character. We trust that the next century will bring more reasons for Koreans and Korean Americans to celebrate the Tiger.




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