Cho Susam – Bamboo Branch Songs on the Foreign Barbarians – Mecca

Mecca Andreus Magnus Hunglinger

Cho Susam (趙秀三, 조수삼, 1762-1849) was a Chosun dynasty poet. He was of the Hanyang Cho Clan (漢陽趙氏, 한양조씨); his original name (本名, 본명) was Gyeongyu (景濰, 경유); his courtesy names (字, 자) were Jiweon (芝園, 지원) and Jaik (子翼, 자익); his pen names (號, 호) were Chujae (秋齋, 추재) and Gyeongweon (景畹 , 경원). He was from a skilled Chung’in class (中人, 중인) family, although he did pass the first civil examination to become a literati bureaucrat at the late age of 83. Cho Susam was one of the leading poets of the non-aristocratic poetry circle known as the Songseokweon Shisa (松石園詩社, 송석원시사). He was fascinated in the world outside Seoul and Korea. He traveled around the Korean peninsula, and wrote a series of poems detailing the toils of commoners living in Hamgyeong Province (咸鏡道, 함경도). Furthermore, Cho Susam visited Qing Dynasty China six times and became acquainted with some of the literati there. After having read Fang Yu Sheng Lue (方輿勝略, 방여승략, Bang Yeo Seung Ryak), a work written during the Ming Dynasty describing 82 countries in Asia around China, he wrote 133 poems titled the Bamboo Branch Songs on the Foreign Barbarians, or Oei Jukjisa (外夷竹枝詞, 외이죽지사). A Bamboo Branch Song or Jukjisa (竹枝詞, 죽지사) is a type of lyrical poetry (樂府, 악부) — which I am not too familiar with. The following is from that work and is Cho Susam’s impression of Mecca.

天方 천방

Direction to Heaven (Mecca)

天方一名天堂. 明宣德五年入貢, 獻天堂圖.
천방이명천당. 명선덕오년입공, 헌천당도.

“Direction to Heaven” (天方, 천방, Cheonbang) is another name for the “House of Heaven” (天堂, 천당, Cheondang). In the fifth year of his reign, Ming Emperor Xuande (宣德帝, 선덕제, Seondeokje, 1399-1435, r. 1425-1435) gave tribute and offered a painting of the “House of Heaven” (天堂圖, 천당도).

其地四時皆春, 田沃稻饒, 人以馬乳飯, 故多肥美. 俗好善無盜賊
기지사시개춘, 전요도요, 인이마유반, 고다비미. 속호선무도적.

In their lands, the four seasons are all spring. The fields are abundant; their grains are plentiful. People used horse milk as food, and therefore many are fat and beautiful. Their customary preference is [towards] the good and they have no thieves.

國內有禮拜寺, 寺分四方, 方各九十間, 白玉柱黃金地.
국내유례배사, 사분사방, 방각구십간, 백옥주황금지.

Within their country, there exists a temple for ritual prostration (worship). The temple is divided into four directions. Each direction is 90 gan (間,간) with white jade columns and a golden ground.

    • 間(간) – About 180 meters (590 ft).

地中有黑石, 云漢初天降也.
지중유흑석, 운한초천강야.

In the middle of the grounds, there is a black stone. It is said that during the early Han Dynasty (漢, 한, Han, 206 BC-220 AD) [the stone] fell down from heaven.

墻壁和薔薇龍涎水泥之. 馨香不絶, 紵絲葢罩之.
장벽화장미룡연수니지. 형향불절, 저사개조지.

The walls together with roses are stained by the fragrance of ambergris. Flowery fragrances do not end. Ramie grass threads cover them.

    • 龍涎(용연) – Refers to ambergris, which is a substance found in the digestive tract of whales used to make fragrance and perfume.
    • 葢(개) – Variant of 蓋(개).

二獅子守中門, 每歲十二月十日, 各番回回, 雖萬里之外皆來. 割罩葢一方以爲記
이사자수중문, 매세십이월십일, 각번회회, 수만리지외개래. 할조개일방이위기

Two lions guard the middle gate. Every year, on the tenth day of the twelfth month, each time, all the Muslims, even though [they reside] ten-thousand Li away, come. They cut the [ramie grass] covers and use one side as a record.

    • 回回(회회) – Refers to Muslims. The Sino-Korean word for “Islam” is 回敎(회교).

日熱常, 爲夜市, 有幕底城. 王墓夜放光. 物產纏花樹阿必糝水.
일열상, 위야시, 유막저성. 옥묘야방광. 물산전화수아필삼수.

The weather is hot always and for night markets they have a city of sand floors. The King’s tombs at night emit light. Goods produced are Jeonhwa trees (纏花樹, 전화수) and Apilsam (阿必糝, 아필삼) well waters.

    • 幕(막) – Here, means “sandy plains” (모래 벌판, 漠也).
    • 王墓(왕묘), 纏花樹(전화수), and 阿必糝(아필삼) – Descriptions of these were found in The Records of Paying Tribute in the Kingdoms of the Western Oceans (西洋朝貢典録, 서양조공전록) by Huang Xingzeng (黃省曾, 황성증, Hwang Seongjeung, 1496-1546):

城之東曰: 謨罕驀德神人之墓. 墓頂有五色光, 旦夕輝煌不絶.
성지동왈: 막한맥덕신인지묘. 묘정유오색광, 단석휘황불절.

East of the city, it says, “Mohammed (謨罕驀德, 모한맥덕), the divinely inspired man’s tomb.” At the top of the tomb, there are five colored lights. During dawn and even, [the lights] are glittering and dazzling without end.

墓後有泉, 其名阿必糝糝. 其味甘美, 其泉能息波濤.
묘후유천, 기명아필삼삼. 기미감미, 기천능식파도.

Behind the tomb, there is a spring. Its name is Abisansan (阿必糝糝, 아필삼삼, Apilsamsam). Its flavor is sweet and beautiful. The well can quiet large waves…

其花有纏枝花, 樹如大桑, 高二丈, 歲二收.
기화유전기화, 수여대상, 고이장, 세이수.

Among their flowers, there is the coiled branch flower. The tree is like a great mulberry tree. Its height is two jang (丈, 장) (about 6m or 20ft) and on its second year [can be] harvested.

天方自古號天堂 천방자고호천당
極樂圖成傳十方 극락도성전십방
春風不老纏花樹 춘풍불로전화수
幕底城中望墓光 막저성중망묘광

The “Direction of Heaven” was from long ago called the “House of Heaven.”
Their plan for paradise was formed and transmitted in ten directions.
The spring winds do not become tired of the coiled blossom trees.
In the middle of the sand floored city, there is a famed tomb’s light.

Heaven • direction • from • old times • to call • heaven • house
Extreme • joy • illustration/plan • to achieve • to transmit • ten • directions
Spring • winds • not • to be tired • to be rolled • flowers • trees
Sand • floor • city • middle • to be famous • tomb • light

    • 極樂圖(극락도) – Also refers to a painting with Buddha and his disciples.
    • 十方(십방) – Literally “ten directions.” Refers to all directions. Islam was spread to Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

獅子中門夜市開 사자중문야시개
何年黑石降天來 하년흑석강천래
絲籠競割馨香壁 사롱경할형향벽
歲歲回回禮拜回 세세회회례배회

At the lions in the middle gate, the night market opens.
In what year did the black stone fall and come from heaven?
Threaded baskets contend and cut the flowery fragrance wall.
Year after year, all the Muslims return for the prostration rites.

Lions • grammatical particle • door • middle • night • market • to open
What • year • black • stone • to fall • heaven • to come
Threads • bamboo basket • to be high • to cut • flowery • fragrance • wall
Year • year • Muslim • Muslim • ritual • to prostrate • to return

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1 comment
  1. enkiae said:

    It’s always fascinating to look at how people in the past regarded other cultures around them. Great post!

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