Tradition, Culture, Identity: Endangered Assets

Presently, as we look into what we really know of our identity and culture, and how many people actually understand reasons for why certain things are done in connection to our culture, we find that there are many voids to fill. It seems that in any ethnic group, there are modern and commercial aspects of culture that are surviving, but at the same time choking the real traditions to death. Its unbelievable that to upkeep traditions, you must fight hard to be who you are.

Let’s look at some examples. In Okinawa, teachers who have been taught the traditions by the “ufu shinshi” of pre-war era, had great knowledge passed down to them. However, presently, they have taken on the Japanese tradition of Iemoto, and latched on to the commercial aspect focusing on making large sums of money off their students. The dances have taken steps farther and farther away from tradition. So much so that if the “ufu shinshi” were to come back this day, what they would see would be unrecognizable as Okinawan. They also change the dances every year so that those who do not go back to the parent school will be ostracized as a separated student. Thus, if a student and cultural practitioner were to study more deeply and continue the real traditions, they would meet opposition by the ruling majority who are influenced by non-Okinawan advisors and government.

In another example here in Hawai`i, a youth group whose leader chose to present tradition once again to its organization, was met with opposition by non-Okinawans and Okinawans alike, who have no foundation in the arts or culture. The oppositions’ claim was that modern innovations make it more culturally inclusive and acceptable to the young for the preservation of the culture. However, they fail to see that by the re-introduction of tradition, the membership more than doubled and sparked interest more than within the past few years together. The most vocal against tradition and culture has come from non-Okinawans who have joined an Okinawan club. How is it that we let this happen? How is it that those without the blood have the audacity to cause trouble within a community that is not theirs?  When the modern, English music was introduced, those who would rather have tradition did not fight against it, but accepted the change.  They did not force a vote upon their leader at that time.  However, when the current leader wanted to try out going back to tradition, he is met with fierce opposition and tactics which made him look bad to the organization.  The fault for any dissension lies in those who forced the vote instead of taking care of it within their board.  However, it is very interesting that the so called group who claims to be so politically correct, to be “all inclusive”, cannot be fair for the trial of tradition. Is there a fear of what is real, or traditional?  If these non-Okinawans are uncomfortable with what is really our identity and our culture, then they should go find somewhere else to “express” themselves.  Don’t do it at the cost of what is rightfully ours.  It is important to note that many have returned for the tradition and for their identity to an “Okinawan” club, and have brought many friends looking for this connection to their blood.  However, non Okinawans, and those who are not educated or practitioners of the culture are hindering this hunger for identity.  I believe that this act of intentional hinderance is an act of cultural genocide.  

There are many other examples, such as a non Okinawan taiko advisor for a very large performing taiko group, teaching wrong information about Okinawan culture and practices.

Born with the blood and ancestory, why must we fight to protect our traditions within our own community? Is it because in this modern, fast paced world, people would rather take an easy way to pick and choose  culture without working for it or acknowledging the practitioners or kupuna? Again, its the foundation that has become almost non-existent as more and more society becomes “all about me”. Tradition, culture, and identity shouldn’t have to take the backburner, or fight the tide. Its the obligation given to us by our ancestors that we need to fulfill and realize. Lastly, we must not let those without the blood , dictate to us how we preserve our identity, culture and traditions, which are already threatened. We should feel an urgency to upkeep and protect. Swim or drown.  Umanchu tachimisooriyosai!  Namaya ichabira choode!  Uyafwafuji kutu miimanti, shimanchu nu takara.  Nmarikara Shimanchu!  Ichimadin Shimanchu!  Okinawans we must stand together! It’s now that we must work and stand as one.  We must protect the things of our ancestors, our Okinawan treasures(identity). We are born Okinawan, and will forever be Okinawan!