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.