Nuchibana: Lei of Aloha

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Nuchibana was one of the 7 classical women’s dances of the Ukwanshin Udui or dances for the crownship. It was created by the court’s dance magistrate, Chokun Tamagusuku over 300 years ago. After the abolishment of the monarchy in 1879 by Satsuma, dances became mor comon in the villages, and fwa udui were created, which depicted the life of the hamlets. Nuchibana was adapted to a more lively set of songs and was called Nuchibana gwa, to distinguish it from the classical Nuchibana. Later on in the early 1900’s, the classical Nuchibana was given the title “Mutu Nuchibana” and the folk version, just “Nuchibana”. In this dance, the performer uses a lei prop which she had made form sakura blossoms floating in the river. She gathers them to make the garland, and floats them down the river hoping that her sweetheart in the next village would receive it. In the past, there were prohibitions on members of one village marrying with another village, so in this story of Nuchibana, the girl is secretly sending her token of love to the next village via the river. Okinawans used to string flower lei for special occasions and sometimes to decorate graves for designated memorials. They also gave it to the children as a sign of purity and for hopes of the children blossoming with knowledge and values, as children were also called “hana” or flowers. There is this similarity we see in Hawai`i as well, although in Hawai`i its a common practice and not uncommon to see lei being given for many occasions. Lei is a symbol of love as it is in the shape of a circle which has no end. It is also symbolid of a child’s arms that wrap around its parents, encircling them with their love. An open lei is used at graves and funerals as it is open and untied. As graduation comes, I hope you can think of some of these things, and also remember that its also an Okinawan cultural gesture to give lei.