Okinawan Poets

The Story of Un'na Nabii

Nabii was born in the early 18th century in On'na Village to a farmer. She grew up to become one of the most famous poets on Okinawa, although she could not read or write. How? At that time it was a common thing for men and women to get together for some fun outside the village. This activity was called moo-ashibii, when they would enjoy singing and dancing to samisen (Okinawan three-stringed instruments) until late in the evening. It is believed this is where Nabii and her friends created their poems. But moo-ashibii became illegal, by an ordinance issued by one of the advisors to King Sai-On. Government officials feared these gatherings would corrupt public morals. Naturally, Nabii protested the regulation and composed the following poems as part of her protest:

Poem One:
How lucky my sisters were!
They could enjoy shinugu festivities
In our time, however
We cannot enjoy such felicities

Poem Two:
Beyond the mount of Un'na
Lies the village of my lover
Pushing the hill aside
I'd have him by my side

When King Sho Kei visited On'na village in 1726, he was welcomed by the villagers at Manza-moo (so called because the grassy area was large enough for 10,000 people to sit on). Nabii composed a poem for this occasion as follows:

Stop wailing. Oh waves, stop wailing!
Stop whistling. Oh winds, stop whistling!v Now we hail with hearty welcome
Our holy King from Shuri

This poem is thought to imply that Nabii had not only a strong will, but a supernatural power as well.

Yoshiya Chiruu

Yoshiya Chiruu was born in the middle of the 17th century in Yomitan Village. The daughter of a poor farmer, she was sold to a ward named Nakajima when she was eight years old. Forcibly separated from her family, Chiruu spent her days in what she felt was a treacherous world. She hated her parents for selling her and felt she had no one to rely on. So she turned to writing and singing and soon became a popular poet.

But Nakajimi forced her into prostitution to make money for his habits. She soon fell in love with a poor government officer, but was sold by Nakajima when he found out, to a rich man named Kurogomo-Dono. Chiruu became so depressed she refused to eat. She soon became ill, then died when she was just 18-years-old.

The following are four of her poems:

Poem One:
Oh, the hateful bridge of Hija!
Is it made by a heartless man
Only to let me cross it over?
The above describes how she felt when she was taken from her home to be sold to Nakajima

Poem two:
Short and sad is the life of flowers
It's like willow leaves swinging
Swinging only to the directions
Where the wind is blowing

Poem three:
Fortunate are my pa and ma
For they're at their comfortable home
But I am alone like a worthless grain
In the midst of the prostitute ward of Nakajima

Poem four:
I wouldn't listen to the audible sounds
But I listen to the unaudible voices
Ah, is my life here on Earth
Becoming closer to the life hereafter?
This was composed on her deathbed, which is thought to mean she would only listen to the things her heart allowed her to.

NOTE: Japanese poems are called "waka" and consist of 31 syllables of 5/7/5/7/7, while Ryukyuan poems are called "ryuuka" and are composed of 30 syllables of 8/8/8/6.