Feuding Korean clans end 400-year fight over graves

PAJU, South Korea Mon Dec 24, 2007 9:12am EST

1 of 3. A wall separates the tomb of Shim Ji-won (top L) and General Yoon Gwan (bottom R) at the disputed grave site in Paju near the border with North Korea, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Seoul, December 24, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

PAJU, South Korea (Reuters) - After nearly 400 years, a few killings and scorned pleas from a king, two powerful clans have settled one of the longest-standing feuds in Korean history, over ancestral burial grounds.

The clash between the Yoon family and the Shim family started in 1614 when the two began burying their ancestors in large burial mounds next to each other, with both claiming rights to the land.

It will finally be sorted out in March 2008 under a settlement deal reached a few days ago. The Yoon family will give about 8,300 square meters (89,340 sq ft) of land to the Shim family, which will use it as a new burial ground for 19 of its ancient clan members.

"It was probably the first and will be the last family feud that lasted this long," said Yoon Pe-il, secretary-general for the Yoon Family Foundation.

A Shim family representative said: "It took a year of talks to reach this significant event".

The settlement deal from the two sides, who increased their power in ancient times by having their daughters marry into the royal family, was aided by a married couple made up of a member of the Shim clan and a member of the Yoon clan, the local daily Hankyoreh reported.

Ancestor worship has played a significant role in Korean culture for centuries and families search for sites harmonious with nature in the belief it will lead to benefits for their family for generations.

The disputed grave site near the border with North Korea and about 40 km (25 miles) north of Seoul is the resting spot for famed members of the two clans. The graves of the best known members of each clan are just a few meters (yards) apart and separated by a high wall.

The feud began when a prime minister from the Shim family destroyed part of a burial mound of a respected general from the Yoon family and buried several family members there.

About 150 years later, Yoon family members damaged part of the Shim burial mounds in return.

One king asked them to reconcile, but instead they fought more, with clan members dying in clashes. To this day, many descendants of the clans forbid marriage to members of the other.

Clan leaders decided in 2005 that enough was enough and reached out to each other to settle the feud.

"The descendents of two families have happily agreed," Yoon said.

(Reporting by Mee Hyoe Koo and Rhee So-eui in Seoul and Lee Jae-won in Paju; writing by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Jerry Norton)

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