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Well, this might not exactly be a language question but here is what I am talking about: there is a Korean children's song entitled “island village” (섬마을), and the lyrics can be viewed here. The second verse contains an expression "고깃배가 오색실 달아", which literally means "fishing boats with five-colored strings attached". But when I google "고깃배 오색실", nothing but this song comes up. I really wonder what these strings are and what function they serve on a fishing boat. (I am a beginner so please keep it simple if possible. Thanks!)


P.S. By any chance, I would really appreciate it if there is a picture of fishing boats with such strings.

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That's an old song, I think.

To understand the phrase, you should note that the five colors (red, black, blue, yellow and white) represent Five Elements. Affected by religions such as Taoism and Buddhism, Korean shamanism also uses five colors (red, green, blue, yellow and white).

To keep it simple, I'd say those strings or similar things (flags, ribbons, etc.) in Korean shamanism are used as talismans believed to bring good luck.

I couldn't find any photos of fishing boats with colored strings. For now, I guess 오색실 refers to the flags called 오색기. They will look like threads or strings if you see them from a distance. Locals in Korea will agree that 오색기 does not sound lovely. The word, 오색실, is much better to describe something beautifully. This is a probable reason the lyricist used 오색실.

But after reading a few comments, I've thought 오색실 may refer to the fishnet. If its threads under the setting sun are compared to a rainbow, the word choice sounds quite plausible. 오색 means not only five colors but also all colors existing in the universe. You can find such a world view from many words and phrases: 오색선, 오색등, 오색구름, 오색 단풍, 오색 풍선, 오색영롱, 오색찬란...

References:

  1. 오색천 (Five-Colored Ribbons) (Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture)

  2. Photos: five-colored flags with fishing boats (1) (2)

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    Thanks for your insight, which makes a lot of sense to me. This song was written in 1987, so it is indeed relatively old. – user23823 Mar 25 '19 at 14:36
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    The use of five colors, blue, red, yellow, white, and black, in connection with the philosophy of Five Elements does not originate from Buddhism, but rather from Taoism. Taoism had a massive influence on both Korean Buddhism and Korean Shamanism. – Taegyung Mar 25 '19 at 15:27
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    @Taegyung Considering that the origin is not clearly known, I edited the answer again. Thank you. – Klmo Mar 25 '19 at 15:45
  • Thank you for the edit. I totally agree that 오색 can mean not only five, but a whole spectrum of colors, as my native tongue (Chinese) has similar expressions. – user23823 Mar 27 '19 at 1:56
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고깃배가 오색실 달아 The boat has five colored threads

It can be interpreted as the following :

The boat makes waves on the surface of the set and by the subset light, the waves is like colored threads.

@ Five is accustomed to an oriental area.

오곡밥 : A meal through mixing five cereals.

오색 저고리 : A beautiful Korean clothes.

오음계 : The Orient uses five sounds.

@@ In link, by a second picture I think that 오색실 may be waves.

Further, 오색실-bracelet was a folk belief tool for a safety. Accordingly, the boat have a thread for its safety.

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    Wow, I wonder if this is the original meaning intended by the lyricist herself, nevertheless I find your explanation very intriguing and imaginative, to say the least. Actually I have seen a bunch of videos on Youtube where primary school students in Korea draw pictures to illustrate the lyrics (here is one of them), and it seems that those kids have plenty of different interpretations. – user23823 Mar 26 '19 at 4:52
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    A good point. But the interpretation like "the waves look like colored threads" collides with another part of the lyrics: "금물결 파도 위에." It indicates that the waves are gold. I guess the flags should look like threads or strings if you see them far from the boat. I couldn't find any photos showing ribbon- or thread-attached fishing boats (I do not know whether ribbons were actually attached to fishing boats in the lyricist's time.). In other children's songs, 구슬비 and 종이 접기, however, 오색실 seems irrelevant to religions. 오색실 has another meaning: threads (strings) with many different colors. – Klmo Mar 26 '19 at 21:20
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    @user23823 : I agree to the link. Net is more suitable for threads. – HK Lee Mar 26 '19 at 22:03
  • @Klmo : I agree that 오색 means many colors. 오색찬란한 봄 is a colorful spring. – HK Lee Mar 26 '19 at 22:06
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    Ah, the fishnet! That can also be the one. Its threads could shine like a rainbow when the sun sets. Seeing that in the past a rainbow was thought to have five distinguishing colors, there's a possibility 오색실 refers to the fishnet. – Klmo Mar 26 '19 at 22:25

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