Category Archives: religion

Wordcatcher Tales: Old Japanese Cemetery Kanji

I’ve been helping to decipher some old gravestones in the newly renovated Mo‘ili‘ili Japanese Cemetery (est. 1908), a candidate for the State and National Register of Historic Places. Here’s a short list of deciphering aids.

Dates

紀元 Kigen ‘record-origin’ (counting from Emperor Jimmu, 660BC)
明治 Meiji 1–45 (1868–1912)
大正 Taisho 1–15 (1912–1926)
昭和 Showa 1–64 (1926–1989)
平成 Heisei 1–? (1989–?)
行年~才 gyounen/kounen — sai ‘age at passing: — years old’
~生 ‘born (on) —’
~亡 ‘died (on) —’
~寂 ‘died (on) —’
早世 sousei ‘early death’
生児 seiji ‘just born’
嬰児 eiji ‘infant’

Names

~家之墓 — ke no haka ‘(X) family’s grave’
~先祖 — senzo ‘(X family) ancestors’
~代々 — daidai ‘(X family) generations’
法号 hougou ‘Buddhist name’
戒名 kaimyou ‘posthumous Buddhist name’
法名 houmyou ‘posthumous Buddhist name’
俗名 zokumyou ‘secular name’
釈~ Shaku ‘Shak[yamuni] (the historical Buddha)’ (in many posthumous Buddhist names)
~妙~ myou ‘mystery, miracle, wonder’ (in posthumous Buddhist names)
~信士 shinji/shinshi ‘honorific title for men’
~信女 shinnyo ‘honorific title for women’
~童子 douji ‘honorific title for boys’
~童女 dounyo ‘honorific title for girls’
~尼 ama ‘nun’ (sometimes marks posthumous names for girls)
~県~郡~村/町 — ken ‘prefecture’ — gun ‘district’ — mura/machi ‘village/town’

Mantras

南無阿弥陀仏 Namu Amida Butsu ‘Hail Amida Buddha’ (= Kannon, Pure Land [浄土 joudo] Buddhism)
南無妙法蓮華経 Namu Myouhou Renge Kyou ‘Hail the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra’ (Nichiren Buddhism)
倶会一処 Kue Issho (a phrase from the Amida Sutra suggesting) ‘we will meet again in the Pure Land’

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Not Exactly Ethnic Conflict in Sarajevo

From Logavina Street, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1206-1258:

The conflict was commonly defined as “ethnic warfare,” yet everyone comes from the same ethnic stock. The difference among people is primarily in the religions they practice, yet to explain the fighting as a “religious war” would be equally misleading, since most Yugoslavs were not religious people.

The Yugoslav (literally “south Slav”) people are mostly descendants of the Slavic tribes that wandered through the region in the third and fourth centuries. Those who settled to the west took the faith of the Roman Catholic Church in what is now Croatia. To the east, the Serbs assumed the Orthodox Christianity of the Byzantine Empire. The Muslims were Slavs who converted during the four centuries that Bosnia was ruled by the Ottoman Turks.

If you watch a Sarajevo street scene for a few minutes, you will see brunettes, blonds, and redheads, blue eyes and brown eyes, tall and short people. They are more diverse in appearance than the residents of many European capitals. You cannot tell a Serb, Croat, or Muslim by appearance. The only way to tell the difference is by traditionally Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox given names—although even that method is not fool-proof. Lana Lačević, so named because her mother liked the actress Lana Turner, once told me with her wicked sense of humor, “I’ll decide whether Lana is a Serb or a Muslim name when I see who wins the war.”

In the former Yugoslavia, religion and ethnicity are contentious subjects. Even some of the historical scholarship is slanted by underlying political disputes. Serb and Croat militants—who agree on little else—consider the Muslims to be lapsed Christians who betrayed their faith by collaborating with and taking the religion of an occupying power. The Serbs trot out historical treatises that suggest the Muslims were originally Orthodox. In this way, they have tried to bolster their claim that Bosnia is truly part of “Greater Serbia.”

In 1993, when fighting between Croats and Muslims broke out in western Bosnia, the Croat nationalists adopted a similar tack—insisting that the Bosnians were really lapsed Catholics and that Bosnia belonged historically to Croatia. Actually, some historians have theorized that the medieval Bosnian Church was neither Catholic nor Muslim. Some evidence suggests that pre-Islamic Bosnians were Bogomils—members of a heretical Christian sect. Under this theory, the Bosnians eagerly embraced Islam and the protection the Ottoman Empire provided them from persecution by the Bosnian Church.

In any case, the prevailing view among modern historians is that it was not the Ottoman Turks’ policy to force conversions. Other than the Albanians, the Bosnians were the only Turkish subjects to convert to Islam in large numbers. Nevertheless, under Ottoman rule, Muslims enjoyed certain tax benefits and stood a better chance of retaining large land holdings. As a result, much of the feudal aristocracy converted. This set the stage for a dynamic that would persist into the twentieth century.

Conflicts between Serbs and Muslims were often about economics—a Serb peasant class revolting against a better-educated and wealthier Muslim elite. Not surprisingly, after World War II the Serbs joined the Communist Party in disproportionately high numbers. Muslims lost out when private estates were socialized. The Chetnik militia was inspired by the Hajduk bandits—Robin Hood figures in Serb folklore who robbed Turkish merchants. In 1992, the Serb militiamen who perpetrated the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in northern and eastern Bosnia boldly carted off the Muslims’ televisions and VCRs, often in stolen Mercedes.

These class distinctions were more or less obliterated in Sarajevo by the 1990s. There were rich Muslims, poor Muslims; rich Serbs, poor Serbs—and Communists of all religions. On Logavina Street, the last vestiges of the old class order were apparent only in where people lived. The Serbs tended to be clustered in the newer apartment houses, built in the 1950s and 1960s, some of which were used as army housing. The descendants of some of the area’s oldest Muslim families—people like the Džinos, Telalagićs, and Kasumagićs—occupied the single-family houses.

Logavina Street is in the heart of Sarajevo’s old Muslim neighborhood. Nineteenth-century postcards, printed during the Austro-Hungarian period, refer to it as the Turkische Viertel—or Turkish Quarter. Along the street, which stretches less than a third of a mile, there are three mosques, their minarets piercing the distinctive Sarajevo skyline.

Under siege, the call for Muslim prayers came not from the minarets, but from behind a brick wall. Fear of sniper attacks kept muezzins from climbing the stairs of the minarets. At one mosque, a microphone and loudspeakers were installed so that prayers could be called safely from inside. The electricity went off soon after the installation, so the muezzin began summoning the faithful from within a walled courtyard. “It was better before, when you could call from the minaret. It was higher up, louder,” said Alija Žiga, head of a tiny mosque on Logavina.

Despite the faint call, more and more faithful responded. While the cosmopolitan residents of Sarajevo had always thought of themselves as just like other Europeans, the war had made them acutely conscious of their differences. As Šaćira Lačević commented, “We never knew we were Muslims before. The Serbs forced it on us, so now I try to remind my girls not to forget who they are.”

Religion was one of the few refuges for those with little hope. With most businesses closed, no movie theaters or electricity to watch television, praying at the mosque was at least something to do. “People are coming back to Islam, sort of like rediscovering themselves and their roots,” said Edin Smajović, an army officer in his late twenties who lives on Logavina. Like others of his generation, he had come of age under Marshal Tito’s Communist regime, when religion was discouraged.

“Islam is very appealing to people right now because Islam is a religion that is not afraid of death. Every day here is a game of Russian roulette—you don’t know if you will be alive or not—so you have to believe in something,” he said. “We used to say ‘Thank Tito.’ Now we say ‘Thank you, dear God.’”

Most of the Muslims on Logavina Street did not follow the religious strictures. Some didn’t eat pork, but very few were averse to an occasional beer or brandy. Ekrem and Minka Kaljanac showed me their old photo album filled with pictures of the boys sitting on Santa Claus’s lap. “I celebrate all the holidays—Christmas, too,” Ekrem said.

Muslims visited their Catholic friends for Christmas dinner, and celebrated Christmas again with their Orthodox friends in early January. For Bajram, the most important Muslim holiday, Muslims hosted their Christian friends and neighbors.

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Burma’s Student Nationalists, 1940s

From Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, by Thant Myint-U (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), Kindle Loc. 1280-1290:

When the British left Burma in 1948, they left the country in the hands of the men who had been on the extreme fringes of the student nationalist movement just a decade before. They were almost all Buddhists (by background if not practice) and ethnic Burmans. Before the Japanese invasion, they were not particularly important, but the war had radicalized society and they had seized the opportunity, first to collaborate with the Japanese and then to turn against them, in March 1945, just in time to avoid being arrested and hanged as Quislings. They included men like Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi. They were immensely popular and even though they were still in their late twenties and early thirties stood head and shoulders above the older politicians, who were tarred as not having been daring enough. Aung San and many of his colleagues were then gunned down in 1947 in a still puzzling assassination plot, but others from the pool of ex-student radicals formed the first independent government. They would take Burma out of the British Commonwealth and launch the country down what was to be a not very happy path through the rest of the twentieth century.

Some on the British side had been worried about the fate of the Shan and other ethnic minorities in an independent Burma and suggested detaching the upland areas and keeping them as a British crown colony. British frontier officials were particularly fond of the hill peoples, such as the Karen along the Thai border, who had fought consistently and often very courageously against the Japanese.

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How Yunnan Became Chinese, and Muslim

From Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, by Thant Myint-U (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), Kindle Loc. 2475-2501:

Seven hundred years before the present wave of tourists was an altogether different wave, of Mongols, Turks and Islam. The Mongol conquest of Yunnan in the thirteenth century brought this hitherto independent kingdom for the first time under Beijing’s control and began a process of integration into ‘China proper’ that has continued to today. The Mongol conquest also brought an astonishingly diverse influx of mainly Muslim peoples, from across their Eurasian domains.

Though the invasion forces were ultimately under Mongol command, many of the officers and most of the soldiers were Turks or people from further west. The force that invaded Burma for example is said to have included no fewer than 14,000 men of the erstwhile Persian Khwarezmid empire, under their own commander Yalu Beg. Others came to garrison the new possession. They included Turks from Samarkand, Bokhara, Merv and Nishpur. They also included tribal peoples like the Kipchaks and even Bulgars from the lower Volga. Yunnan itself had been conquered by the Mongol Prince Uriyangkadai who had also conquered Baghdad, and his forces most likely included captive soldiers from the Abbasid caliphate as well as southern Russia and the Ukraine.

There were even more exotic immigrants. They included the Alans–a Sarmatian tribe today known as the Ossetians–who had submitted to the Mongols and had provided a thousand warriors for the personal body guard of the Great Khan. A son of the Alan chief, Nicholas, took part in the conquest of Yunnan, and men from the North Caucasus were posted along the Burmese borderland.

A member of the Mongol imperial clan, Prince Hugeshi, was appointed ‘prince of Yunnan’ whilst the old ruling family, the Duans, were allowed to stay in Dali and keep the title of ‘maharaja’. The Muslim newcomers, based at Dali, became extremely powerful and the most powerful of them all was a native of Bokhara named Sayyid Ajall Shams al-Din Omar. He claimed descent from the emir of Bokhara (though some say his family were originally from Cairo) and by the late 1250s he was a rising star in the Mongol establishment. He served in Baghdad and in China and was appointed as the top administrator in Yunnan in the 1270s. Today the Muslims of Yunnan regard him as the founder of their community, a wise and benevolent ruler who ‘pacified and comforted’ the peoples of Yunnan.

Sayyid Ajall was officially the Director of Political Affairs of the Regional Secretariat of Yunnan, about as bureaucratic a title as one can imagine in medieval times. According to Chinese records, he introduced new agricultural technologies, constructed irrigation systems, and tried to raise living standards. Though a Muslim, he built or rebuilt Confucian temples and created a Confucian education system. His contemporary, He Hongzuo, the Regional Superintendent of Confucian Studies, wrote that through his efforts ‘the orang-utans and butcherbirds became unicorns and phoenixes and their felts and furs were exchanged for gowns and caps’. There were many other civilizing missions on China’s periphery but only in Yunnan was one conducted under Muslim (and essentially Turkish Muslim) leadership.

In this way, Yunnan became known to the Islamic world. When Sayyid Ajall died in 1279 he was succeeded by his son Nasir al-Din who governed for five years and led the invasion of Burma. His younger brother became the Transport Commissioner and the entire family entrenched their influence. There were still very few Han Chinese in Yunnan and the growing Muslim community began to excel as long-distance traders as well. In the early fourteenth century, the great Persian Jewish historian Rashid al-Din Hamadani stated that the Dali region had become exclusively Muslim.

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Born and Bred in the NK Gulag

From Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 119-134:

In stories of concentration camp survival, there is a conventional narrative arc. Security forces steal the protagonist away from a loving family and a comfortable home. To survive, he abandons moral principles, suppresses feelings for others, and ceases to be a civilized human being.

In perhaps the most celebrated of these stories, Night, by Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, the thirteen-year-old narrator explains his torment with an account of the normal life that existed before he and his family were packed aboard trains bound for Nazi death camps. Wiesel studied the Talmud daily. His father owned a store and watched over their village in Romania. His grandfather was always present to celebrate the Jewish holidays. But after the boy’s entire family perished in the camps, Wiesel was left “alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.”

Shin’s story of survival is different.

His mother beat him, and he viewed her as a competitor for food. His father, who was allowed by guards to sleep with his mother just five nights a year, ignored him. His brother was a stranger. Children in the camp were untrustworthy and abusive. Before he learned anything else, Shin learned to survive by snitching on all of them.

Love and mercy and family were words without meaning. God did not disappear or die. Shin had never heard of him. In a preface to Night, Wiesel wrote that an adolescent’s knowledge of death and evil “should be limited to what one discovers in literature.”

In Camp 14, Shin did not know literature existed. He saw only one book in the camp, a Korean grammar, in the hands of a teacher who wore a guard’s uniform, carried a revolver on his hip, and beat one of his primary school classmates to death with a chalkboard pointer.

Unlike those who have survived a concentration camp, Shin had not been torn away from a civilized existence and forced to descend into hell. He was born and raised there. He accepted its values. He called it home.

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Romanian Democracy, 1920s–1930s

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2799-2815, 2865-2899:

The 1930s was the decade of crisis for Romanian democracy. The world depression exacerbated existing economic problems and sharpened social tensions and thus gave impetus to those forces hostile to the prevailing parliamentary system. The crisis enhanced the appeal of anti-Semitism among certain elements of society, who used it to rally support for their particular brand of nationalism. Foremost among organizations that made anti-Semitism the ideological core of their new Romania was the Iron Guard, which reached the height of its popularity in the mid 1930s. The accession of Carol II to the throne in 1930 also boded ill for democracy, as he made no secret of his disdain for parliamentary institutions and of his intention to become the undisputed source of power in the state. Nor can shifts in the European balance of power be ignored. The rise of Nazi Germany and the aggressive behavior of fascist Italy combined with the policy of appeasement adopted by the Western democracies encouraged both the declared opponents of democracy and the hesitant in Romania to conclude that the future belonged to the authoritarians. The leading democratic parties themselves seemed to have lost much of their élan of the preceding decade. They proved incapable of withstanding the assault from both within and outside the country and acquiesced in the establishment of Carol’s dictatorship in 1938, an event which marked the end of the democratic experiment in Romania for half a century.

Two parties dominated political life in the interwar period – the Liberals and the National Peasants. The fortunes of the Liberal Party never seemed brighter, as it held power for long periods, especially between 1922 and 1926. The driving force within the party came from the so-called financial oligarchy, which was grouped around large banking and industrial families headed by the Brătianu family and its allies. The intertwining of banking, industry, and political power on such a grand scale was a consequence of the state’s having assumed a crucial role in promoting economic development. Through this remarkable intermingling of business and financial interests and politicians the control of industry, banking, and government inevitably fell into the hands of the same people.

One issue, nonetheless, continued to nurture rightist movements – anti-Semitism. By no means a post-war phenomenon, it could in its modern form be traced back at least to the early decades of the nineteenth century as Jewish immigration into the principalities steadily grew. In the interwar period a leading advocate of action against Jews was Alexandru C. Cuza (1857–1947), professor of political economy at the University of Iaşi. In 1923, he formed the League of National-Christian Defense (Liga Apărării Naţional Creştine), which had as its primary goals the expulsion of the Jews from all areas of economic and cultural life and the education of young people in a Christian and nationalist spirit.

One of Cuza’s most ardent followers, at least initially, was Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899–1938), who created his own, more extreme nationalist organization, the Legion of the Archangel Michael, in 1927. Three years later, he established a military wing of the Legion, which he called the Iron Guard, a name that was soon applied to the entire organization. Outwardly, the Guard resembled German and Italian fascism with its uniforms and salutes and its glorification of its leader – the Căpitan – but all this was merely form. The substance of Romanian fascism – the anti-Semitism, the Orthodox Christian (in a distorted form), and the cult of the peasant as the embodiment of natural, unspoiled man – came from native sources. Here, the traditionalist hostility to cosmopolitanism, rationalism, and industrialization found a crude expression. But lacking was an ideology. Guard leaders ignored calls for a Romanian corporate state on the grounds that the appearance of the new man must precede the adoption of programs. Otherwise, they argued, institutions would simply reinforce the existing “corrupt” society. While there was thus a strain of idealism in the Guard’s doctrine, repeated acts of violence and intimidation against opponents revealed at the same time its thuggish nature. When the new head of the Liberal Party and prime minister Ion G. Duca outlawed the Guard in 1933 in order to eliminate the “forces of subversion,” it retaliated by assassinating him. He was succeeded as prime minister by Gheorghe Tǎtǎrescu (1886–1957), the leader of the so-called Young Liberals, who were more tolerant of the extreme right than the mainstream Liberals.

Between the elections of 1931 and 1937 the Iron Guard became a mass movement, rising from 1 to 15.58 percent of the popular vote. Its strongest constituency was young and urban, but it cut across class boundaries, appealing at the same time to peasants and rural clergy, elements of the urban working class and the middle class, and the periphery of society. The leadership of the Guard at this time, its heyday, was formed by university-educated, middle-class intellectuals, but its nationalism appealed to all those who felt alienated by a political and social system which seemed to them to have been created outside and at the expense of “Romanian realities.”

The Iron Guard appealed especially to members of the young generation of intellectuals. Its call for a national rebirth based on the simple, traditional virtues of the Romanian countryside offered salvation from a social and political order that seemed to them corrupt and adrift. They enthusiastically embraced the exhortations of their mentor Nae Ionescu, the spiritual father of the Iron Guard, to experience life, not reduce it to abstract formulas, and they proclaimed themselves the missionaries of a new spirituality. Their mission, as they defined it, was to bring about the spiritual reconstruction of Romania, just as the previous generation had achieved political unity. The Iron Guard seemed to many of them to be the embodiment of the youthful vitality needed to set the country on the way to returning to itself. But Emil Cioran wanted to accomplish just the opposite. In his dissection of modern Romania, Schimbarea la faţă a României (The transfiguration of Romania; 1936), he looked to the Iron Guard to carry out a “creatively barbarian” revolution to save the country from disintegration by substituting totalitarianism for democracy. He praised the Guard for their “irrational merging” of themselves into the nation and for their heroism, which “began in brutality and ended in sacrifice.”

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Earliest Romanian Historiography

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 680-700, 728-740:

The attachment of the Romanians to the East is perhaps most visible in the persistence of Slavic or, more precisely, Middle Bulgarian as the language they mainly used for serious writing and other purposes well into the first half of the seventeenth century. The adoption by the Romanians of Slavic as their liturgical language and the language of the princely chancelleries in the fourteenth century was an event of singular importance in their development. Slavic reinforced their ties to the Byzantine cultural and religious world and served as the primary instrument for the transmission of its sacred and secular heritage. The Romanians could accept Slavic as the language of the church because it ranked with Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and they used it in the affairs of state precisely because of its prestige as a sacred language. But Slavic could not become their religious language in the full sense of the term. Spoken by a part of the clergy, the great boiers, and scholars, it was never the language of the mass of the population, who said their prayers and created a rich folk literature in Romanian.

Monasteries were the major centers of cultural activity in the principalities. Besides spiritual and educational functions, monks were preoccupied between the fifteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century with the copying of Slavic manuscripts, of which some 1,000 have survived. These copyists were thus responsible for preserving the Middle Bulgarian and, to some extent, the Slavo-Serbian versions of the greater part of the Byzantine–Slav religious literary patrimony. Princes were among the most ardent patrons of manuscript copying and embellishment. Ştefan cel Mare was always keenly aware as an Orthodox sovereign of his religious responsibilities to his own people and to the peoples of the Balkans under Ottoman rule and of his role as God’s representative on earth, and thus he was a prodigious builder of churches and monasteries and richly endowed them in Moldavia and throughout the Orthodox East with beautiful manuscripts for church services. Although the value of these manuscripts today is scholarly rather than as pieces of original literature, they reveal much about the intellectual and spiritual needs of the upper strata of Romanian society. The manuscripts were mainly religious in content, but their readers were not limited to monks and priests. It is evident from notations on the manuscripts that boiers, chancellery clerks, and the middle class also looked to them for spiritual guidance. The ascetic, mystical view of life was thus not confined to the monastery, but encompassed significant elements of the literate secular society.

Among the relatively few original compositions in Slavic or Slavo-Romanian, as it is often called because of influences of Romanian, were the earliest works of Romanian historiography.

The Protestant Reformation, though it gained few religious converts, deeply affected cultural life and the sense of identity in the principalities and among the Romanians of Transylvania. It offered further evidence that the Romanian medieval worldview was far from being impervious to influences from the West.

The absence of texts in Romanian before the sixteenth century may be attributed to the belief among the literate classes that the spoken language was not as suitable for sacred writings, legal documents, and history as Slavic. It is significant that the oldest text in Romanian that has survived is a private letter about practical matters written by a merchant in Câmpulung, in Wallachia, to the magistrate of Braşov, in Transylvania, warning of the movement of Ottoman troops. It is dated 1521, the same year that Neagoe Basarab completed his “Advice” in Slavic. The differences in the Romanian of the letter from modern Romanian are slight, and the style is polished, evidence that the language had been used in writing for some time in correspondence and even in rough drafts of official documents before their translation into Slavic.

Romanian was introduced as the written language in secular affairs in the second half of the sixteenth century, as the princely chancelleries ceased using Slavic exclusively, Moldavia in 1574 and Wallachia in 1593. The first chronicle in Romanian, an original work, not a translation, dealt with the reign of Mihai Viteazul and was composed in Wallachia about 1597. This and the so-called “Moldavian Chronicle,” now lost, composed several decades later, laid the foundations for the flowering of historiography in Romanian beginning in the middle decades of the seventeenth century.

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