구럼비노래: “I’ve Got to Know Now!” Song

The intertwined history of three American folk songs, 4.3, and the struggle for peace in Gangjeong Village

gureombi feet

“Gureombi” Painting and cover drawing by Nan Young Lee (used with permission)
 jeju_islandPhoto credit: Space 4 Peace

“Farther along, we’ll understand why…”

“Why do your war ships sail on my waters?

Why do your bombs drop down from my skies?”

“I’ve got to know, yes, I’ve got to know now!”

“Get out of my hometown, get out of my village,

Your lies kill my history, your machines crush our future,

Get out of Gangjeong, and get out right now!”

 

Today is 4.3, the day when Jeju Islanders gather each year to remember the brutal genocide of their people under post-Japan, US-South Korean leadership, when right-wing youth squads were used to suppress supposed “reds” and communist sympathizers. The end result was a devastated island, with tens of thousands of villagers fleeing to Japan to survive, and between 30,000 and 60,000 innocent villagers slaughtered, either in their homes or after being found hiding in mountain caves.

“No special pleading about the exigencies of wartime will suffice to assuage the American conscience,” writes historian Bruce Cumings in his book, The Korean War. “What the formerly classified American materials document is a merciless, wholesale assault on the people of this island.”

In almost every village memorials to the slain can be seen. The ghosts are not quiet on Jeju. And the living have not forgotten.

In recent years, the South Korean government proudly took part in renaming  Jeju “The Island of Peace” as a way of recognizing the terrible heartbreak of Jeju and also to honor the people’s strong efforts to stop future war and violence.

Shortly after, the construction of a massive, joint US-ROK naval base began in Gangjeong Village, despite the vigorous protests of nearly all villagers to both the illegal start of the project and the base itself.

There are many threads from 4.3 to Gangjeong.

This week, after several years of fighting, hundreds of villager and activist arrests, and countless illegal maneuvers by the military and base contractors, the new naval base celebrated its grand opening. The existence of the base is seen as an affront to the villagers’ freedom and dignity, and proof to many that US/ROK statements about peace and Jeju’s autonomy are lies.  Villagers and activists are experiencing Gangjeong  Village’s transformation, despite their struggle, into a new front line for a potential world war.

Here is a song about this struggle. And below the lyrics is a story of where the song came from as well as how its musical roots are intertwined with the current struggle for peace in Gangjeong, which goes back much farther than the illegal start of the base construction.

gangjeong sing-along

Jeju Peace March, 2014. Photo credit: Tom Raging Smith.

I wrote this song after having spent significant time in Gangjeong on several occasions since 2012. The people of Gangjeong are some of the bravest and kindest folks I have ever met. I can’t help but ask myself, while thinking about and supporting their struggle, if I would find the courage to stand up to such a monster should it ever be in the interest of the US government to turn my hometown of 700 people, farmland and river beds into a war machine?
Gureumbi Norae (Gureombi Song)/ I’ve Got to Know Now

By Seth Martin

 

(translated by Nan Young Lee / 이난영)

(원곡 후렴구)
나는 알아야겠네 친구여 나는 알아야겠어 친구여
내가 어디를 가든 굶주린 이들이 내게 물어
동료들과 친구들 모두가 내 옆에서 쓰러져 가는데
나는 알아야겠어 친구여
나는 이제 알아야겠어

(새로운 후렴구)
우리 마을에서 나가! 우리 고향에서 나가!
나는 너무 오랫동안 기다려왔는데 이제는 아니야
너희들의 거짓말은 우리 역사를 없애고
너희들의 기계는 우리 미래를 짓뭉개고 있어

강정에서 나가! 지금 당장 나가!

English Lyrics:
1
For hundreds of years now
We’ve lived on this island
with fruit trees and fish
but no fences or thieves
In the shadow of Halla
I dove with my grandma
Now you bring in your death squads
And you crush everything

2
The crab and the dolphin
Were my childhood companions
We danced on Gureombi
And we laid in her streams
Now Gangjeong is buried
In your steel and your concrete
And you’re jailing my neighbors
As threats to the peace

(Original chorus):

I’ve got to know, friend
I’ve got to know, friend
Hungry lips ask me wherever I go
Comrades and friends all
falling around me
I’ve got to know, friend,
I’ve got to know now.

3
We always had strong winds
Strong rocks and strong women
We lived from the land
Never needed a king
But you’ve pulled up our roots and
Our boulders are hidden
Our proud mothers stand silent
With no song to sing

4
Why did you tell me
I can’t see Gureombi?
Why can’t my grandmothers dive anymore?
You promised your war base
Would bring so much money
But our village is broken
And now we’re all poor

Original chorus:

I’ve got to know, friend
I’ve got to know, friend
Hungry lips ask me wherever I go
Comrades and friends all
falling around me
I’ve got to know, friend,
I’ve got to know now.

5
Who are all these people
Now flooding my hometown?
Their shiny apartments rise up to the sky
The base workers’ families
They see me as dirty
And my village has walls now
To protect them from me

Original chorus:

I’ve got to know, friend
I’ve got to know, friend
Hungry lips ask me wherever I go
Comrades and friends all
falling around me
I’ve got to know, friend,
I’ve got to know now.

6
I haven’t slept well
Since you blew up Gureombi
I keep my head down
And I try not to see
The home I grew up in’s
Becoming a prison
Since you built up your war base
On the island of peace

7
At night when the wind blows
I still hear their voices
Ancestors angrily talk with the sea
Are your waves really too small
To wash out these base walls?
They’re crushing your children
And our memories

Original chorus:

I’ve got to know, friend
I’ve got to know, friend
Hungry lips ask me wherever I go
Comrades and friends all
falling around me
I’ve got to know, friend,
I’ve got to know now.

8
Why did you save a small piece of Gureombi?
Circled with walls, guards, and pounding machines
How did you get an award from the government
For saving the rock that I saw you destroy?

9
How can we live with
The shame that you’ve brought us?
You smother our homeland
And you silence our dead
How can you tell me
That I am the enemy?
You work for invaders / But you’re calling me Red!

Original chorus:

I’ve got to know, friend
I’ve got to know, friend
Hungry lips ask me wherever I go
Comrades and friends all
falling around me
I’ve got to know, friend,
I’ve got to know now.

(New chorus):

Get out of my village!
Get out of my hometown!
I’ve waited too long
but I’m not waiting now.
Your lies kill my history
Your machines crush our future.
Get out of Gangjeong
and get out right now!

 

(Translation by Nan Young Lee)

1

지금껏 수백 년 동안

우리는 이 섬에서 살아왔지

한라산의 그림자 안에서

어떤 울타리도 도둑도 없이

열매와 물고기를 나누면서

나는 할머니와 잠수도 했는데

이제는 너희들이 죽음의 무리를 데려와

이 모든 것을 짓밟아버리는 구나

 

(원곡 후렴구)

나는 알아야겠네 친구여 나는 알아야겠어 친구여

내가 어디를 가든 굶주린 이들이 내게 물어

동료들과 친구들 모두가 내 옆에서 쓰러져 가는데

나는 알아야겠어 친구여

나는 이제 알아야겠어

 

(새로운 후렴구)

우리 마을에서 나가! 우리 고향에서 나가!

나는 너무 오랫동안 기다려왔는데 이제는 아니야

너희들의 거짓말은 우리 역사를 없애고

너희들의 기계는 우리 미래를 짓뭉개고 있어

강정에서 나가! 지금 당장 나가!

 

2

게와 돌고래는

내 어린 시절의 벗이었어

우리는 구럼비 위에서 춤추고

그녀의 개울에 드러누웠어

이제 강정은 파묻혔어

너희들의 강철과 콘크리트 속에

너희는 평화에 겁을 주며

이웃을 감옥에 보내고 있구나

 

3

지금 내 고향에 넘쳐나는

이 사람들은 다 누구지

저 빛나는 건물들은 하늘을 찌르고

기지 관계자들은

내가 더러운 듯이 쳐다보네

우리 마을에는 이제 벽이 생겼구나

나에게서 저들을 보호하려는 벽이

 

4

난 잠을 이루지 못했어

구럼비가 폭파된 이후로

머리를 숙이고

애써 보지 않으려고 하지

내가 자랐던 집은

감옥이 되고 있어

너희들이 이 평화로운 섬에

전쟁기지를 세운 이후로

 

5

우리에게는 항상 강한 바람이 불었고

강한 돌과 강한 여자들이 있었어

우리는 살아왔어

왕이 필요 없었던 이 땅에서

너희들은 우리의 뿌리를 뽑아버렸고

우리의 바위는 숨겨졌어

우리 자랑스러운 어머니들은

부를 노래 하나 없이 침묵 속에 있어

 

6

어떻게 그렇게 말할 수 있지?

내가 구럼비를 볼 수 없다고

우리 할머니가 왜 다시는 잠수할 수 없다는 거지?

너희들은 약속했지 그 전쟁기지가

부자로 만들어 줄 거라고

하지만 우리 마을은 깨어지고

지금 우리는 다 가난하지

 

7

왜 너희들은 구럼비의 작은 조각을 보호하고 있지?

벽으로 둘러싸고, 감시하고, 기계로 마구 부숴놓고는

어떻게 구럼비 바위조각 하나를 지켰다고

정부에서 상까지 받았지?

 

8

밤이 되고 바람이 불면

나는 여전히 그 소리를 들어

조상들이 화가 나서 바다와 얘기하는 소리

“이 기지 벽을 씻어버리기에

자네의 파도는 정말 너무 작지 않는가!

그들은 자네의 아이들을 짓밟고 있어

우리의 추억들도!”

 

9

우리보고 어떻게 살아가라고

너희가 가져다 준 치욕 속에서

너희들은 우리 땅을 질식시켜 죽이고

우리의 죽음에는 침묵해

내가 적이라고

어떻게 말할 수 있지?

너희들은 침략자를 위해 일하면서

나한테는 빨갱이라고 하지

singing with sister stella

Singing with Sister Stella, Gangjeong 2014.

 

History:

The current struggle for autonomy and peace in Gangjeong is woven thickly into a fabric of history heavy with sadness, oppression, violence, and the brave resistance to injustice by commoners in the face of unspeakable hurt and loss.

Though in a very different context and not directly connected to the collective experience of genocide and a smothering of history by the guilty parties, the history of this song is woven into a fabric of struggle for dignity and hope amidst seemingly insurmountable odds. And it has many connections with, and has served as a disgruntled yet dignified response to, the absurd hubris and violence of  American Expansionism and Empire, in its religious and political forms, at home and elsewhere, including Korea.

 

 

“Gureombi Norae”  is an update of Woody Guthrie’s I’ve Got to Know, written during the Korean War, using the tune for Farther Along.

  1. “Farther Along”

 

“Farther along we’ll know all about it,

Farther along we’ll understand why.

Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine.

We’ll understand it, oh bye and bye.”

“Farther Along” as played by legendary Mississippi John Hurt.

 

A hymn for the suffering, Farther Along has been a popular tune with folk and root singers for generations. It acknowledges that things are hard, and that we sometimes can’t find an explanation for the absurd injustices and disproportionate loads of struggle heaped on the poor. And it promises a better future, when “we’ll understand it, oh bye and bye.”

 

2. “I’ve Got to Know”

 

But Guthrie, sick and dying as he read the reports of the US bombing innocent farmers in Korea, was no longer content with this line of thinking, so often used by those in power to keep the rest of the suffering under their boot heels.

For himself—a poor Okie and soldier-turned-populist song stealer and sharer, on his deathbed—and for the world, Guthrie was no longer content to “understand why” the rich and wicked got away with everything and the innocent suffered, “oh bye and bye”. He had no more time, and he wrote one of his starkest songs. We’d understand it “farther along”, the older hymn promised. But Woody, along with all those suffering, wanted to know “why” now. And he wanted the injustice to stop. “I’ve got to know, friend,” he demanded. “Hungry lips ask me wherever I go.”

 

“I’ve got to know, yes, I’ve got to know…

Why do your war-boats ride on my waters?

Why do your death-bombs fall down from my skies?

Why do you burn my farm and my town?

I’ve got to know, friend, I’ve got to know.”

Later, American Korean War veteran-turned-anarchist-folksinger Utah Phillips updated the lyrics to meet many of the injustices of his own times, the 1970s through early 2000s.

 

“I built your big house, (where) you hide from my people,

Why do you hide so, I’ve got to know.”

 

 

I have used the same melody along with Woody’s chorus, and new verses, to talk about the struggle on Jeju Island (Korea), where the people of Gangjeong Village have been struggling to save their lives, history and homeland in the face of illegal US/Korean naval base construction.

The farmers have faced severe violence, silenced or skewed press coverage, and hundreds of arrests from government/business forces for trying to save their home. A few weeks ago the base celebrated its completion with great fanfare. Within the walls, workers, soldiers, and their families can enjoy playing together in the massive sport facilities, go shopping in the growing assortment of available shops, and worship and pray for peace and good fortune according to their hearts’ prompting—alone or in one of the beautiful new Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant buildings constructed for those on the inside.

Meanwhile much of Gureombi, a sacred rocky place near the water where people have rested and enjoyed meals and memories together for centuries, has been dynamited and flattened to serve as base ground.

And this past week, just days after the base’s grand opening, contractors and base personnel lost no time in dealing a hammer blow to the villagers and what is left of the peace movement in Gangjeong: the villagers and activists of Gangjeong are being charged millions of dollars for their crime in recent months and years of delaying the base’s completion. They are being charged for the money lost in missed deadlines for the base construction. They are being fined an astronomical sum that they cannot pay—punishment for trying to save their village from an illegal operation that has already transformed Gangjeong from a small and peaceful fishing and farming village to one of the newest and most important military-industrial points in the aggressive US Asia Pivot Policy. Gangjeong is now a weapons holding station, waiting and ready to attack China or North Korea if or when they act in any way deemed threatening to US military and economic control of the SE Asia region.

 

But the people fight on, and demand to know “why”—and they demand to know “now.”

 

 

 

singing at gangjeong mass by joyakgol

Singing at Gangjeong Gate, 2014. Photo credit: Joyakgol.

 

Notes:

The past didn’t go anywhere,” Utah Phillips used to say. Here is a powerful story about his time in Korea as a soldier, what he did and saw there, and how deeply he was affected by the Korean people he met, who showed him kindness despite their incredible suffering and the horrible behavior of US troops in the role of occupiers.   The story has been remixed by Ani Difranco.

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