The word bojagi or bo for short, refers to square hemmed cloth of various sizes, colors, and designs, which Koreans used to wrap, store,
or carry things. Bojagi was not only a practical and versatile items in the
daily lives of Koreans, but also very artistic. Bo attests to the artistry that
Koreans seek even in the most mundane aspects of their everyday lives.
The use of bojagi in Korea dates back to time immemorial, and historical records
show the many ways in which they have been used. Although bojagi was created
for everyday use, they also added flair and style to various ceremonies and
rituals. During the Joseon Dynasty, the patterns and designs became particularly
colorful. Because they are so easily folded and take up such little space, they
could easily fit into, and become a colorful part of, everyday Korean customs
Bojagi's place in Korean culture began in part with the folk religions of ancient
times, when it was believed that keeping something wrapped was tantamount to
keeping good fortune. A typical illustration would be the use of bojagi to wrap
wedding gifts. Elaborate needlework is applied to such wrapping to wish the
bride and groom luck in their new life together.
bojagi quilts particularly reflect Korean artistic flair. Bojagi was born out
of the habit of Korean housewives to make good use of small, otherwise useless
pieces of leftover cloth by patching them up into useful wrappers. As time went
by, the patchwork itself became a highly creative and artistic craft.
Embroidery of various figures and characters also adds to the beauty of bojagi.
The handicraft can often reach the beauty of levels of artistic accomplishment.
Embroidered bojagi is known as subo, the prefix su meaning "embroidery."
A popular motif for subo is trees, which to Koreans have represented the most
sacred of living things. Since ancient times, Koreans have worshipped trees
as the physical embodiment of sacred spirits and miracles. The trees on subo,
therefore, bespeak of the prayers of their creators for good fortune.
favorite motifs for subo, include flowers, fruits, mandarin ducks and other
symbols of goodness, which reflected the Korean well-wishing that goes into
the making of bojagi. Each symbol represented something; for example, pomegranate
stood for many births and many sons. The basic colors of subo are blue, red,
yellow, white, and black, the fundamental colors of nature as postulated in
the eum-yang, theory of five primary elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and
earth), an important element in the way Koreans understood the workings of the
universe. Bojagi have thus been closely related to the everyday beliefs and
practices of Koreans. They are convenient and safe carriers and protectors.
As such, they perform the same functions as western bags, but are far more versatile.
Bags and luggage generally have standard sizes, but there was no standard size
for bojagi. It would be difficult to find a western bag that can fit a watermelon
without the loss of much space; however, a bojagi will do the job splendidly.
Koreans have farming origins, and in the quiet, peaceful existence of their
agricultural communities, they have always had a tendency to find playfulness
and beauty in the most mundane things. The colorful bojagi culture is one result
of their inclination to combine the practical and the pleasing. As the centuries
went by, the craftsmanship became even more elaborate and diverse, and bojagi
came to embody the artistic sensibilities of everyday Koreans.
The many uses of bojagi can be categorized as follows:
1. Sangyongbo (daily use bo):
(money belt bo) to wrap things (such as money) in and tie around the waste or
Bobusangbo (backpack merchant bo) used by petty merchants to carry their goods;
Sangbo (table bo) a tablecloth;
Ibulbo (blanket bo) to wrap blankets in;
Ppallaebo (laundry bo) to wrap laundry items in;
Beoseonbo (socks bo) to keep socks in;
Chaekbo (book bo) a bookbag;
Hwaetdaebo (hanger bo) to cover clothes racks with;
Ganchalbo (letter bo) to keep letters and documents in;
Gyeongdaebo (dresser bo) to cover a dressing stand with.
2. Hollyeyongbo (weddingbo):
(gift chest bo) to wrap the ham in;
Gireogibo (wild geese bo) to wrap the ceremonial pair of wild geese in;
Yedanbo (ceremonial present bo) to wrap gifts from the bride's family to the
members of the groom's;
Pyebaekbo (bowing bo) used when the new couple offers ceremonial bows to the
members of the husband's family.
3. Bojagi used in Buddhist rites:
used to wrap food offered to the Buddha;
Gongyangbo used when providing elders with food;
Gyeongjeonbo (scripture bo) used to keep scriptures in.
4. Bojagi for special uses:
used to cover the official recording of the deeds of the deceased during a funeral;
Yeongjeong bonganbo (portrait enshrining bo) used when enshrining the portrait
of the deceased;
Giujebo (prayer-for-rain rite bo) used when praying to heaven for rain;
Jegibo (ceremonial dish bo) used to keep the dishes used during rites.
Bojagi can also be categorized according to their make-up, color, material,
and design as well as the different classes of people who used them.
1. Different users:
Minbo (folk bo) used by peasants.
Gungbo (palace bo) used within the confines of the royal palaces.
Hotbo (single layer bo) made of a single sheet of cloth without inner lining;
Gyeopbo (double layer bo) made with inner and outer sheets;
Sombo (cotton bo) made with a cotton inner lining;
Jogakbo (pieces bo) made by sewing small pieces of cloth together;
Sikjibo (oil paper bo) made partially or entirely of oiled paper;
Nubibo (quilted bo) made by quilting the materials.
Cheongbo (blue), Hongbo (red), Cheonghongbo (blue and red), Osaekbo (five colors),
Acheongbo (dark blue), etc. depending on the color.
Sabo (silk bo) made of light and thin silk;
Myeongjubo made of particularly fine silk;
Hangnabo made of silk gauze;
Mosibo made of ramie fabric.
or flower figure bo;
Sumongmunbo, or plant-and-tree figure bo;
Yongmunbo, or dragon figure bo;
Unmunbo, or cloud figure bo.
In all of their diverse manifestations, bojagi have been ubiquitous and indispensable
in the daily lives of Koreans. When a daughter was married off, the parents
made sure that she took with her dozens of bojagi made with the utmost care
and well-wishes. Through her and the generations of Korean women that went before and after her, bojagi use has flourished in Korea.