The first conference for the Center For Okinawan Studies at the University of Hawai`i Manoa, was held from March 19th – 21st. Featured were distinguished panelists from Okinawa, Hawai`i, and the US mainland, with the theme of the conference being “Where Is Okinawan Studies Headed?” Attending were over 150 participants , which was a very positive sign of the interest in the center.
Reactions about the conference were mixed, but most being positive and hopeful. ” I was really happy to see and hear so many presentations from different perspectives. It made me realize how much we need to work on about our culture” , said Marrisa Oshiro of Pearl City.
The purpose of the conference was to lay the groundwork and poll the community on the developement of curriculum and research, along with how the center should move or assist in the community. One big concern that came up was the revitalization of Okinawan language, which has been designated as one of 8 endangered languages in the world by UNESCO. Kumu Naomi Loesch gave an exciting and moving commentary on how we need to preserve and learn our language now before it’s too late. Also, that the learning begins with the children who will be our future. Her presentation was so powerful, it made you feel like you wanted to go out and learn Okinawan right then and there. There was also a realization that the language and other aspects of Okinawa, are all connected by the culture and is living, instead of just being academic. “Okinawan studies is different from Japanese and western culture due to the fact that culture, politics, social structure, language, etc. are all integrated and alive, as we see in this final day of performing arts presentation.”, commented Dr. Robert Huey , of the Japanese Studies Department. The last day was well attended by about 200 people who mostly came for the entertainment portion which closed the conference.
As the Center for Okinawan Studies takes off, it is the obligation of the outside community, Okinawan cultural practitioners, and independent Okinawan Native researchers, to keep a close eye on what happens at the center, which will be a resource and focus for those who are studying Okinawan subjects, or just looking for support in their interests of Okinawa. The center also stands for our identity as an indigenous people who have made a mark and added to the beauty of the world. We wish the COS our best in moving in the right direction in the continued developement of COS, and hope that it will not only be for academia, but also for community-rooted individuals who are looking for answers about their identity.