Maui Okinawa Community Awakens Its First Shisaa: Over 1,000 Witness Rare Event

Beginning the awakening
Beginning the awakening

The Maui Okinawan community came together August 22nd for the rare treat of awakening its first shisaa/lion.  What made it more special was that the shisaa was made entirely in Maui, by Maui members of maui Ryukyu Culture Group.  The Shisaa awakening ceremony was the prelude to the Paia Rinzai Zen Mission’s Bon Dance Festival, which is the only existing all Okinawan bon dance in the state, and possibly the U.S.   The abbot for the temple said that there were over 1000 in attendance.

Representing the ancestors in Kageyadefu
Representing the ancestors in Kageyadefu

The Ceremony kicked off with the gong, cymbals, taiko, and bamboo conch, calling attention to the beginning, and heralding the entrance of the Maui Okinawan community, led by the chosen spiritual leader to give the prayers and ask the ancestors to be present and help celebrate this auspicious event.  The classical and ceremonial “Kageyadefu” was danced to represent the ancestors and bring auspiciousness to the event.  This was followed by the prayers of the “ugaminchu’, and offering of incense and paper money.  The new shisaa was then purified with Okinawa sea salt, and the senses of the shisaa were opened with chicken blood.  Finally the ancestors were asked to bring the breath of the shisaa to give it life, and the shisaa slowly awakened.  “It was so moving”, said Maui’s Janet Miyahira.

Purifying with Okinawa sea salt
Purifying with Okinawa sea salt
Karate kata before the shisaa awakens
Karate kata before the shisaa awakens

As the shisaa began to move for the first time after taking its breath, the firecrackers were lit.  The crowd gasped in amazement and wonder, as many had to take their eyes away from the cameras to look to see if they were really witnessing something that everyone talked about after the event and till today.  “I had to look off the view monitor of the camera because I couldn’t beleive it. ” said George Fujita of Maui. ” The wind was trades all day, but at the point the shisaa began to make its first moves, the smoke from the firecrackers blew against the trade winds, entered the stage, encircled the shisaa and the prayer lady, and went up and totally disappeared.  It was weird.”

“It gave me chicken skin” said Yuki Shiroma of Honolulu.  “It was as if you were in a theater and watching some kind of pyrotechnics special effect.”

Shisaa mooya getting ready to enter the lion
Shisaa mooya getting ready to enter the lion

The shisaa showed its strength and life as it jumped and strutted on the stage for a few minutes untill it jumped from the stage and exited, to lead the way for the entrance of the bon dance.  It was a great end to a new beginning

This ceremony was a culmination of the hard work during the past year to put the shisaa together.  It wasn’t just something to do to create a mascot for the community.  The Maui Okinawans understand that the shisaa is its guardian and a symbol of connection to the ancestors and their roots. Workshops were also done to make sure of the understanding and care that needed to be given even after the shisaa is used, and also to make sure that it is not a novelty or showpiece.  This is what makes this shisaa so unique.  It is real and has a life with many connections.  It is part of the LooChoo identity.  Congratulations Maui!

For pictures and slideshow of the event, you may visit akisamiyoh at youtube.com.

The grand shisaa of Maui
The grand shisaa of Maui