History, Haikus and Homage to the Past

What do the Daniel Island Historical Society, of Daniel Island, South Carolina (DIHS), and a Haiku have in common?

On the surface, it would appear as if they were unrelated. Yet digging deeper into our past reveals that history may be their common thread. Despite today’s ‘modern-day’ era which continuously shouts, ‘What’s next? And what’s new?’ history is one of the most fascinating and still often overlooked areas of interest. Similar to the riddle of Kevin Bacon’s six degrees of separation, which shows that we are all somehow connected or related, history can bring together the most diverse of topics, and in the most fascinating of ways.



The history and origin of Haikus may supersede Daniel Island by a thousand years dating back to the 7th century; however there is still a mélange of differences worth exploring.

The township of Daniel Island is a relatively new community established in 1996, although its origins date back to the 16th century. Located in Berkeley County, Daniel Island is situated between the Cooper and Wando Rivers. It is named after its former inhabitant, the colonial governor of the Carolinas, Robert Daniel. Once owned by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and used primarily for farming, cattle ranching, and as a private hunting retreat, the island remained wholly undeveloped until the early 1990s, when the newly constructed I-526 expressway around Charleston was completed.

At this time, the Guggenheim Foundation sponsored the development of a plan that would guide the island’s development as a natural extension of this affluent suburb of nearby Charleston. Development of the first residential properties began in 1996, and in 1997 the island was purchased by the esteemed developer, the Daniel Island Company. Today, it is a master-planned community complete with residential neighborhoods, parks, trails, recreational amenities and a downtown that is home to shops, restaurants, schools, churches and offices for businesses… and my home now for the last two years.

To be true to history, however, the island’s chronicle actually goes back a bit further, to the 16th century, when it was first inhabited by a Native American tribe of Indians known as the Etiwan. The first written record of the Etiwan occurs in the reports of Spanish Captain Francisco Fernandes de Ecija, who sailed from St. Augustine, Florida, and entered Cayagua (pronounced Kiawah) or today’s Charleston Harbor in August 1605 and again in 1609. Both reports make careful note of the names of the tribes in the area which included the Cayagua, Xoye (Sewee), Sati (Santee) Oriesta (Edisto), Ostano (Stono) and the Ypaguano (Etiwan). The earliest English reports referred to the occupants of present day Daniel Island as Ituan (1670), Ittiwan (1671) Etttowan (1672). journal of socho

Now, to bridge the relational link between this Island and an ancient form of poetic referred to as Haiku, we must first explore the even longer history of Haikus.

As early as the 7th century, Japanese narrative poetry that included short lyrical poems called “uta,” or songs, were written as part of pre-Buddhist or early Shinto ceremonial rituals. Prayers, celebrations, formal eulogies, courting, planting, and harvesting were among the form’s earliest subjects. The most popular of these forms, waka, spread beyond the temples and courts and into the countryside. Beginning in the 9th century, waka was refined into a specific 5-7-5-7-7 form called tanka, a term still used today.

Then, by the 17th century (parallel to the origins of the Etiwan Indians stateside) haikai master Matsunaga Teitoku decided to reprise and popularize the elegance of tanka throughout the country. He taught the classic elements of the form to his finest Taoism and classical Chinese poetry student, Matsuo Basho. Basho would travel throughout the countryside as a wanderer-poet, writing hakkai, hokku, and travelogue, practicing a life of karumi, or lightness. In books like Narrow Roads to the Interior, Japan’s most famous literary work, Basho used prose and 49 hokku. In many cases, he set up travelogue narrative with hokku. This is considered the first large collection of what we know today as haibun, and featured gems such as:

Lightning flash–
what I thought were faces
are plumes of pampas grass


Matsuo Basho (wikimedia)

By the time of his death, Basho, who is considered the ‘king of the Haiku,’ had created more than one thousand verse-poems and had trained more than 2,000 students. He was declared the saint of Haiku one year later by the Shinto religious headquarters, and then by the imperial court when he became the most famous poet in Japan. Despite centuries of trade between our countries and continents, it’s interesting that it wasn’t until the 1950s that Haikus finally became known and written here in the United States.

So with history shared, this leads back us to the opening question of how these two seemingly separate entities could connect… and that answer is through ‘little ol’ me’.

Each year, the Daniel Island Historical Society puts on a wonderful event called Art in the Park, in which members of the community are encouraged to pay homage to the many Live Oak trees around the Island by artfully capturing them on paper through pencil, paint, etc. It is worth noting here, for those who are not familiar, that a Live Oak is not one that is not yet dead, but rather a large, spreading oak native to the southern United States that has leathery, elliptical evergreen leaves. Live Oaks typically support a large quantity of Spanish moss and other epiphytes, and their long-standing presence towers over inhabitants of Daniel Island in their majestic beauty.

I, however, have nary an artistic bone in my body when it comes to drawing and painting, and choose to produce art through writing instead. So, always the one not merely to think, but rather jump, outside the proverbial box, I offered to write a poem to honor our Live Oak trees.

Today, this poem is represented through the Historical Society and has been read at their events. The poem follows the structure of the Haiku in multiple verses. It represents connectivity for us all–for the Etiwan Indians, who once lived on the Island, to the trees that still do, as well as artists throughout the ages that have been inspired, uplifted, moved, and even catapulted, to create something on paper of beauty and grace… Not only to represent the present, but to honor the past, for the future ahead.

Oak trees rising high

Their sturdy trunks, winding branches, draping leaves

Tower over all


Children playing ‘round

Ducks waddling, people strolling, bikers whizzing by

Smiles, laughter abound


Trees offer us shade

Yet so much more with their support, hope and life

Protecting, guiding


All those who go by

Nurturing the souls of the park and all her guests

To stand tall, rise high.


–Crystal Klimavicz, Board Member for DIHS



Art appears in many forms. What’s yours, and how could you use your artistic abilities to honor the past?




2 thoughts on “History, Haikus and Homage to the Past

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