The Misery of Slavery (Ryūka Zenshū 2308)

As I mentioned in my previous post, one famous poet of ryūka was named Yoshia (ca. 1650–1688 CE).

Yoshia was sold into slavery as a prostitute as a young woman. Various forms of slavery, including enslavement as a way to pay off a debt, were common and codified in law in the various polities of East Asia. By her own admission in her writings, Yoshia’s parents sold her off as a prostitute. It was common in pre-modern Japan and, apparently, the Ryūkyū Kingdom to sell one’s daughter into slavery as a prostitute in order to cover a debt, and almost certainly the reason Yoshia was sold. The received wisdom was that Yoshia was sold when she was 8 years old (Shimabukuro and Onaga 1968: 480–1).

Original Text

SODAteranu OYA no / noyode WAMI NAtiyute / HANA ni osiIdiyati / yoso ni momasu

sudatir-an-u ʔúya=nu
raise-NEG-ADN parents=NOM.IANI

nuyudi wa-mi nachu-ti

fana n-i ʔush-i-ʔNjach-i
flower COP-INF push-INF-go.out-INF

yúsu=ni múmas-u
elsewhere=LOC suffer-RLS

‘Why did my parents who didn’t raise me give birth to me? They sent me out as a flower, and I suffer elsewhere.’

This poem appears to be metrical, and in the normal 8-8-8-6 style. Lines 2 and 3 are potentially hypermetric, due the vowel length of nuyudi ‘why’ (which may be nuuyudi) and nachuti ‘having given birth to, and…’ (which may be nachooti). As we have seen elsewhere, it is likely that vowel length did not factor in to authors’ calculation of meter in the composition of ryūka.

ʔúya ‘parents’ with the inanimate nominative-genitive case marker =nu is unexpected, as parents are humans, and thus animate. We would expect the animate nominative-possessive case marker =ga.

If the verb form from nas- ‘to give birth to’ in line 2 is ultimately morphologically simplex, nachuti is odd. We would expect nachiti. However, this form and similar forms do occur elsewhere. Okinawa Kogo Daijiten gives <なちやうて> and <なちょーて> (but not the form with a short vowel <産ちゆて> attested here) as attested forms of a compound of nas- and the auxiliary verb wu- for a 継続 (‘continuous’) form of nas-.

Nuyudi ‘why’, to the best of my knowledge, does not occur in modern Okinawan. The OKD lists the attested forms as <のよて> and <のよで>, but does not propose an etymology. The first element is likely identical to modern Okinawan nuu ‘what’, but I do not have a good explanation for the second element. Perhaps the ablative case marker より, but an isolated change of r to d is unexpected though not unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that modern Naha Okinawan, confined formerly to those of lower socioeconomic status in and around the city of Naha merges earlier *d and *ɾ into /d/.

Fana ‘flower’ is a euphemism for a woman sold into slavery as a prostitute, as the author Yoshia was.

1 – first person
ADN – adnominal
CONT – continuous aspect
COOR – coordinating converb
COP – copula
IANI – inanimate
INF – infinitve
LOC – locative
NEG – negative
NOM – nominative
POSS – posessive
RLS – realis
SG – singular

Shimabukuro, Seibin and Toshio Onaga. 1968. 「標音評釈琉歌全集」 The Complete Ryūka: Transcribed and Annotated. Tōkyō: Musashino Sho’in.

Ryūka Zenshū 16

The Ryūka Zenshū1 (「琉歌全集」, ‘Complete Collection of Ryūka2) is the largest collection of the ryūka style of Okinawan poetry. It was compiled in the 1960s Shimabukuro Seibin (島袋盛敏) and Onaga Toshio (翁長俊郎), and transcribed phonetically into the Shuri lect1 of Okinawan by the latter.

Ryūka (琉歌 ‘Ryūkyūan3 poems’) are the traditional poems of Okinawa. They date to at least the 1700s CE, as the term ryūka itself first appears in the Konkōkenshū (「混効験集」, compiled 1711 CE), the earliest dictionary of Okinawan. This uniquely Okinawan poetic tradition likely dates back to even before the invasion of the Satsuma domain in 1609 CE, perhaps even as far back as the 1400s CE. Ryūka as a poetic style are not confined to the capital of Shuri, with several surviving examples from throughout the Ryūkyū Archipelago. Neither are they confined to the upper classes, as several examples exist from Onna Nabe (恩納なべ), a woman who lived as a farmer in the village of Onna (恩納村) in northern Okinawa, as well as from Yoshiya (よしや), a woman sold into slavery as a prostitute in the Nakajima (仲島) red-light district of Naha (previously on the southern banks of the mouth of the Kumoji River (久茂地川 Kumoji-kawa).

Ryūka have a set meter, most typically having three lines of 8 syllables and one line of 6 syllables, for a pattern of 8-8-8-6 (or 30 total syllables). At first blush, however, almost no written ryūka appear to resemble this meter. For example, the poem I will discuss in this post, RZ 16, is written as follows:

Original Text

kareyosi ya itumo / kareyosi do mesiyairu / tada ito no UE kara / Igiyai KItiyai

The poem appears to have 35 syllables, arranged in a pattern of 8-10-9-8. We know, however, that even very early in the history of Okinawan, sequences of vowels are reduced to individual vowels through coalescence (where CV1+V2 → CV3ː) and/or glide formation (where CV1+V2 → CGV2ː). For example, 上 ‘up; top’, which I transcribe as UE, would have likely already undergone a process of glide formation (and further changes) into something resembling modern Okinawan ッウィー [ʔʷíː] ‘up; top’. By way of these phonological changes, we can “fix”, or perhaps more accurately, reconstruct the poem as it was intended, which just happens to “fix” the hypermetrical lines, rendering all metrical, as below:

ka.i.ju.ɕi ja ʔí.tsi.n̩ / ka.i.ju.ɕi duɾu / tá.da ʔi.tu nu ʔʷíː ka.ɾa / ʔń̩.dʑa.i tɕi.tɕa.i

It is likely the case that syllables, rather than morae, count when it comes to determining the number of units allowed in a line. There is some evidence from modern Okinawan that ッウィー [ʔʷíː] ‘up; top’ is two morae: it has a clear fall in pitch over the length of the vowel, something that cannot occur with one mora words. It also has a long vowel, which means it cannot also have a geminite (or “heavy”, if you prefer) onset. But in this poem, the author is at least bending the rules, if not using syllable counts over mora counts when it comes to determining whether or not a line is metrical.

Onaga inconsitently has the more conservative karijusi (rather than the more innovative kaijusi) and the more innovative cicai (rather than the more conservative cicari)While it is unclear when the syllable /ɾi/ loses its consonant, the fact that there is variation between <ri> and <i> in the original text, with a more etymological spelling of かれよし <kareyosi> and a less etymological spelling of 来ちやい <KItiyai> (from earlier *ki-te ar-i) suggests that this had already taken place.

Interlinear gloss and free translation
kariyushi=ya ‘ítsiN / kariyushi=du mise-ru / táda itu=nu ‘wíi=kara / ‘Ndza-i chicha-i
good.fortune=TOP always / good.fortune=FOC give.HON-ADN / just silk=GEN top=ABL / go\PFV-RLS come\PFV-RLS

‘Good fortune! Always give [me] the good fortune [of travelling]! Only coming and going from the tops of silks.’

This is a poem asking for good fortune in the form of travel. As a courtier in the court of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, being assigned to be on a mission to Japan, China, Korea, or the like, was among the most prestigious duties that one could be granted.

  1. Abbreviated as RZ.
  2. Shuri is generally considered a dialect (or topolect) of Okinawan. While Shuri is geographically contained to the former capital of Okinawa, Shuri, it is perhaps better thought of as a sociolect, being spoken by the descendants of the Okinawan gentry. Compare this to the status of its neighboring Naha, spoken in an adjacent geographical area, but by the descendants of the common people of the capital region. I use lect here as a compromise, rather than choosing between the more traditional terminology of calling it a dialect, or the perhaps more historically accurate term sociolect.
  3. Or Okinawan, as opposed to waka (和歌 ‘Japanese poems) and kanshi (漢詩 ‘Chinese poems’).
  4. This is intended as a strict transliteration—not a transcription—of the original text, going from the poem as it is written. No analytic devices other than slashes, to divide lines, are used.