Aboriginal Culture in Haiku

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following material contains the name of a person who has died.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (1971-2017) was a highly acclaimed Aboriginal singer/songwriter. He was blind since birth.

Gurrumul Yunupingu’s songs, usually sung in the Yolŋu languages of his land, have a calming, contemplative quality that is almost hypnotic. His music has a soothing effect on the body and the mind, like the sound of rain falling gently on a corrugated iron roof. Listening to Gurrumul Yunupingu’s self-titled album, Gurrumul, led me to write the following haiku:

Gurrumul night
we listen to the rain
in darkness

(Published in Windfall, Issue #5, January 2017)

Australian haiku poet, Leanne Mumford, recently featured this haiku on the Australian Haiku Society (AHS) website. In doing so, Leanne noted the paucity of Australian haiku that reference Aboriginal cultures. One reason for this might well be that non-Aboriginal people (such as myself) do not generally have a strong understanding of Aboriginal stories, beliefs and practices.

Having said that, Aboriginal people clearly have enduring ties, not only to the plants, birds and animals of their land, but also to the shapes, contours and make-up of the land itself. For this reason, it would seem there is the potential for haiku, with their inherently nature-based character, to be effective in depicting or reflecting aspects of Aboriginal culture.

You can read the AHS posting here, in which Leanne has included some links to video of Gurrumul Yunupingu performing.

The death of any Yolŋu person is usually accompanied by strict traditional protocols which prohibit the use of the deceased’s name.

Hence, following his passing in July 2017, Gurrumul Yunupingu’s family initially asked for his full name and face not to be used for cultural reasons. However, several months later, following the final funeral ceremony, his family gave permission for Gurrumul Yunupingu’s name and image to be used publicly so as to ensure his legacy will live on. See the link here which includes a further video of Gurrumul Yunupingu performing.

Please take the time to visit the links above and enjoy the unique talents of this great Aboriginal musician.

Aboriginal Place Names in Haiku

Japanese haiku writers often reference locations by name, thereby inviting the reader to bring their knowledge of place into the poem. Take, for example, this haiku by Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902): biting into a persimmona bell resoundsHōryū-ji While Shiki did not write this haiku at the Hōryū-ji Temple, it’s thought he referenced the temple because it…