Hills of Olololo

The Savanna is a grass plain where all living things exist as if in a collage. Guinea fowls wander among grasses; secretary birds stride around glaring; a fierce hyena trudges on with head bowed; giraffes munch the leaves of tall acacia-trees; and there are flocks of herbivorous zebra, buffalo, impala, and gazelle scattered here and there.
Suddenly our Landrover plunges off the road into the bush and rattles along to a point where a male lion, slightly apart from a group of lionesses, is napping on its side in the shade of spikes of tall, withered grass. Our guide explains that the pride had eaten this morning – and will hunt again in three or four days’ time, when we might well see some drama.
The reclining posture of such magnificent lions, which I am watching for the very first time, is disappointingly slovenly. However, one of my companions in the vehicle says that this is precisely why the lion is called the ‘King of the Beasts’: for he alone can nap in this reckless style in a savanna so full of dangers.
The lion’s belly bulges almost to the point of bursting and distends along the ground. As ruler of this pride, he must just have devoured a large quantity of gnu or zebra, which no doubt only yesterday had been running about freely in the grassland. Right now, in his stomach and gut, the organs of the victim – such as its liver, which he probably wrenched off and swallowed whole – will be undergoing biochemical degradation by digestive enzymes, and beginning to be absorbed by his body. The victim’s dried blood still adheres to his face, about which countless flies now swarm.
One bullet would be enough to kill this animal. Human intelligence went into both the invention and the manufacture of the gun. Human intelligence has also been at work in the very act of allowing the lions to nap here. Was the intelligence behind these two quite separate things, I wonder, the result of quite different neurological wiring?

The lion turns over lazily on the soil, eyes half-closed. In the distance extend the Hills of Olololo… like a folding screen shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. In Masai, olololo means ‘zigzag’.

(From “Hills of Olololo”, Chap. 1 in ZIGZAG by HM, 2010. This excerpt was translated by HM & SG.)


17 Responses to “Hills of Olololo”

  1. Without a haiku in it, can this be called a ‘haibun’? As one editor, I decided to, but what do others think?

  2. Anonymous Says:

    As I read it I was wondering why it was here. It’s very interesting, but it’s not a Haibun. (In my humble opinion.)

  3. That “Anonymous” was me. I thought I was logged on, oops.

    • You mean that because it has no haiku in it it is not a haibun? I wonder what Hisashi himself feels?

      • Don’t get me wrong it’s a very nice piece of prose, but, to me at least, a 俳文 (Haibun) without the 俳句 (Haiku) is 文章. It’s like a banana split without the banana. It’s a very delicious bowl of ice cream with toppings, but it can’t really be called a banana split.

  4. Certainly there are comparisons of man and nature; their motives, spoken and implied.

    Revealing the simile of a folding screen with the shimmering hills draws deeper inference to man and beast’s similar chaotic nature, and the mysteries within.

  5. Hisashi Miyazaki Says:

    Thank you very much for your interesting comments. It is my opinion that haibun is a prose with haiku-taste. I can discuss more afterward if I can hear more from you. Hastily.

  6. Why is this haibun?
    To me, it doesn’t have to have a haiku embedded in it, although I prefer ones that do. It isn’t simply a matter of clipped expression. Short sentences per se do not necessarily make a haibun. In fact, unlike Japanese, the English language does not take kindly to being repeatedly clipped as if the author didn’t know how to use it to its full effect. The balance is just right here: shorter and longer sentences, a rhetorical question, natural description, daily life with profundity, parallel worlds (e.g. the enzymes at work while the author thinks about the King of the Beasts accolade). I think the leading characteristic is the connection of thought and action (phrased in the present tense) – sophisticated yet relaxed, and disarmingly frank and open-ended (prompting further thought and comparison in the mind of the reader, rather than tying the thing up with concluding remarks). To leave plenty for the reader to imagine is in the haiku spirit.
    Thank you, Hisashi, for a rare glimpse into the mind of a traveller to Africa – Africa, which resides somewhere deep in the hearts of all humans… even though few of us have actually managed to get there.

  7. Hisashi Miyazaki Says:

    Grateful for your nice, considerate appreciation, Tito. You mentioned there all that I wish to say about my opinion and there is nothing for me to add. The prose having haiku-taste is a haibun, whether it contains haiku or not, which can evoke you its spirit and/or moment. Thanks so much!
    (However, I’d like to hear a counterargument, if any.)

  8. Richard Donovan Says:

    Here is a haiku embedded in the haibun (as a quasi-acrostic):

    savanna —
    our reclining lion bulges:
    lazy bullet

  9. Hisashi-san, thank you very much for posting this interesting piece. It is full of vivid details. I have never been to the Hills of Ololo, but I felt as If I were actually there. Having said this, I have one reservation about yuour writing. Perhaps it is too crammed with details to be a piece of haibun. After reading your work, I could not help wodering where your were. In writing haibun, I think we need our own imagination to fuse all the details together. Your writing is a wonderful piece of shaseibun, rather than haibun.

    Incidentally, the existence of haiku is not a prerequisite of haibun. In Fuzonku Monzen, a traditional collection of haibun edited by Kyoriku, two-thirds of the pieces included are without haiku, The same can be said about Yokoi Yayu’s Uzura Goromo. However, More than two-thirds of Basho’s haibun contains haiku. This is because we have two different approaches to haibun. Some haibun wirters wanted to write prose with ‘the taste of haikai’ as Hisashi points out, but others wanted to write prose to accomapy haiku. Basho, Buson, and Issa seem to belong to the latter group.

    I have one question to you, Hisashi. In your opinon, what is ‘the taste of haiku’? I want to ask you this question because perhaps no two persons can agree about this. I would be much interested in knowing how you would define this rather obscure term. (Yuasa NObuyuki)

  10. Hisashi Miyazaki Says:

    Thank you very much for your precious comment, Sosui-san. First of all, I would like to answer the core of your question, ‘the taste of haikai’ (yes, haikai, rather than haiku, as you mention). Japanese dictionaries define haibun is the prose with it. Honestly saying, I cannot define this clearly. It seems for me that the definition is based on the reader’s appreciating result of the prose and not on the writer’s creating attitude: Even if the author intended to write a haibun, it may no more be haibun for some readers if they didn’t feel that taste there. (It is very close to the relation present in appreciation/creation of haiku, isn’t it?) In this mean, I suppose there are many haibun which were written by authors who might have neither known nor recognized its concept. Posted translated prose of mine rather stands on my current interest (how should be the present-day Japanese haibun?) Of course, it must have the haikai taste.
    I am half-glad you call my posted one shaseibun (literary sketch or sketch prose) as I always bear in mind to sketch (shasei) things (i.e., objectively) for writing the haibun of the real world. Shiki, Kyosi and their party members wrote shaseibun eagerly but I think that sketching is a methodology of description, not a genre comparative to haibun in classification. Cannot a prose described by sketch be a haibun? I believe it depends on reader’s appreciation. Explanation would be disappointing but I was on a safari-car, having many thoughts of admiring the wide grass-field filled with animals, praising strong lions, considering man’s karma, seeing zigzag hills of Olololo as a simile (Oh, yes, Willie!), murmuring in mind “Don’t kill this World”…; pieces of a traveling. Thanks again for your comment essentially beyond my reach.

  11. Yes, it is a very nice piece of literature. I guess, if you like killing, then it could be even thot of as poetic writing. There are some nice phrases, well chosen word plays, apt description of gastric movements, lovely commas, one fantastic semi-colon, and an exciting period or two. All in all, it brings us back to the question of whether to let WordPress evaporate into the Kyoto summer heat, or brave onward with the site.

  12. This reads to me like a good vivid description of a safari. It would fit well in a travel magazine. I don’t believe any of the above people would ever have thought of it as a haibun unless they were directed to, much as they may protest otherwise. The power of suggestion is as vital a force as the ‘king of the beasts’.

  13. All day I thot about my words, above, and wondered if the meaning was clear or not. I decided the meaning was not clear, so will try to enrich my words.
    There are two aspects of Hisashi’s contribution which upset me. The first is that is not haiku or even haibun, tho some have tried to forgive that. Nice literature, but not for Hailstone. Where’s the poetry, really? Where is the scant description which is supposed to awaken our imaginations to fill in the blanks? It is as dead dry as a researcher’s report.
    The second problem I have with it is the lengthy, detailed description of the gore. I was immediately reminded of how fascinated the Japanese are with videos from Africa that show a big cat stalking, running down, killing to shreds and eating some herbivore. These viewers, mouths agape, will get excited. What’s the point of watching this kind of video crap. What is it wtih this sick attraction to killing?
    I could go on, but I may trip myself up. So will go take a cold shower and forget Africa.

  14. It is not quite as I had imagined: the general consensus is that this is not a haibun (see comments by Richard S, Nobuyuki Y, John D, and David S above). I myself still think it might just qualify however. I will take out the tag ‘haibun’ anyway! Great to have a lively debate. Time to move on now to something else more truly haiku?

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