Window to Our Past Closes Another Notch: Maui’s “odori lady” Yoneko Higa 1918-2009

Aunty Yone Performing Paranku yonehiga11.jpg

Another valuable resource and treasure to our culture has left us, taking with her so much knowledge and stories.  Mrs. Yoneko Higa of Maui, was known as the “odori lady” who taught Okinawan dance with her husband in Wailuku/Kahului.  Like so many other kupuna and issei of her time, she loved teaching and passing down the Okinawan dance tradition to her family members and community.  “She had a flower in her heart”, said Rev. Yoshinari, at her services held at Paia’s Rinzai Zen Mission.  “It started with a seed in her heart that bloomed….she then shared with others.”  The overflowing crowd showed how many lives she touched.  Anytime she would hear Okinawan music, her blood ran and she began to dance.  The last time I can remember is the Maui bonenenkai at the Maui Okinawa Center.  Even if she was in her wheelchair, she had people help her up and she danced.  It was important for her to show to others her love of her culture, and to pass it on.


     “Aunty Yone” was a living example of a practitioner of our culture.  She was the kind of person to be the resource to learn about our identity.  Her passing makes us realize more how fast the window to the past is closing, and with it, the knowledge.  We have an obligation to keep on this legacy and continue to be practitioners of our culture, instead of having outsiders teach through papers and books about our culture.  We need to hold on to what is ours, and become living examples.  There are those out there who don’t have the blood and inherited obligations we have, that are teaching what is ours, but don’t have the real core, or sometimes the truth.  We need to wake up and realize that its not just andagi and kachashi, but the stories and experiences of our elders which hold so much values and lessons to our identity.  Thanks to people like Aunty Yone, at least the ones who have heard her message in their hearts will continue her legacy, and hopefully pass it on.  Its like the flame of a candle the should never be extinguished.

1 thought on “Window to Our Past Closes Another Notch: Maui’s “odori lady” Yoneko Higa 1918-2009

  1. Norman Kaneshiro

    The requiem on the back of the funeral program sums up her life perfectly:

    Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.

    Happiness never decreases by being shared.


    The happiness Aunty Yone spread with her dance and loving embrace with which she took in the dance has been a blessing and an inspiration to all of us. It reminds us of not only the importance of our roles as musicians and dancers, but also of our obligation to pass on and share with as many as we can.

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