Byron Fija Encounters Culture Shock “My heart swelled……. I felt depressed.”

Byron Fija, Okinawan language practitioner and activist, ended his vist to Hawai`i with a seminar at the UH Hilo Hawaiian Language college, and one of the Hawaiian language immersion schools.  This was an eye opening experience for him, an one that he said he cannot forget, and will forever be embedded in his mind.

The children of the Hawaiian immersion school, from elementary to high school, chanted in unison as they welcomed the visiting dignitaries.  The aloha from the keiki embraced Byron, although he could not understand what they were chanting.  “My heart swelled and tears began to flow.  It was amazing!  I felt like I had been taken away to another place”.  “It was unbelievable to see and hear children chanting in their native language, teachers who were Hawaiian, signage in the Hawaiian language.  It was just amazing! How wonderful.!”  Byron chanted back to the children in Okinawan to accept their invitation and aloha.  He said that was one of the hardest things he had done because it was so emotional.  “I felt depressed after.  Okinawa has lost so much and is not even close to that, so many younger ones don’t even care about learning their language.  They don’t realize how beautiful our language is. It makes me so sad and heavy hearted to see the Hawaiian children love their identity and culture so much, and in Okinawa we are so far behind.”  Byron said he could not believe he was in part of the United States.  “What I have learned on this visit to Hawai`i from Ukwanshin and the Hawaiian students is refreshing and healing.  I am energized to work harder to try and save the language.” said Byron.  Byron talked about how beautiful it was to experience Hawaii in that way, and that there are no words to describe the feeling he had when the children chanted his welcome.  He said that is the connection of native language, that it can be felt as well as understood.

Language revitalization is a topic of debate, as some feel that it is not the necessary tool for identity as the practicality of it does not seem to be of any importance for daily life.  With the danger of the language dying within the next decade or so, we must begin to move quickly if we are going to save it, and also network to get others involved.  For whatever our reasons, we should strive to make our language live again in every possible way.  This will help to better understand our culture, arts and history.  To be proud of who we are, and to realize that “Okinawa language is beautiful”.

3 thoughts on “Byron Fija Encounters Culture Shock “My heart swelled……. I felt depressed.”

  1. Bob Huey

    When I first got involved in “Okinawan studies,” just a few years ago (I’m still a baby!), my gut told me that language preservation was the key element, the most important piece, which is why we picked the Sakihara dictionary as our first project. I will die being proud of my role in that!

    However much I may WISH for the revitalization of Okinawan languages, it is meaningless unless Okinawans themselves wish for it as much — or more — than I do.

    Three or four years ago I visited a museum in the middle of a Paiute reservation in Nevada, and the curator, a man about my age, pointed proudly to a new school across the street and said that they were teaching Paiute to kindergarten students there, and that he, as a native speaker, went once a week to talk to the kids. (Incidentally, he told me that Paiute also had many “dialects” [sorry Bairon!], even differing on one side of Lake Pyramid from the other, and that this issue was openly addressed in the school, so that the kids learned to embrace ALL facets of their language.)
    So you are NOT alone, and like you, this Paiute man told me that his group had consulted with Hawaiian language folks at UH! Small, but infinitely-faceted, world!

  2. Keith Shimabukuro

    It looks like Byron experienced the real Hawaiian Aloha Spirit not the one for the tourists. I hope that when he returns to Okinawa and if he is on the TV or any radio station he can tell of his experience in Hawaii. I remember my stint with several members of Ukwanshin with me at a radio station explaining to the people on the airwaves to embrace their, culture, music, language because it’s a treasure that cannot be replaced. I think repetitive announcements, signage and more Okinawan shibai performances should be revitalized again so that the people can start hearing this language again. If you don’t hear it and speak it you forget about it.

  3. admin

    Huey Shinshi, Ippe nifwedebiru! Thank you for commenting and giving your insights. Yes it is true that the Okinawans themselves have to want the language. However, we must also understand that the great cultural genocide that occurred from 1879-WWII contributed immensely to the destruction of the Okinawa identity and language. More and more through our research and contacts with Okinawans both here and abroad, we are hearing directly from individuals that they never knew many things about Okinawan culture, history and language. They have been deprived of their right to local history and practices, as well as the language so much so that those brought up during the “hogen fuda” ( Okinawan language embarrassment plaque) days, find it very difficult to utter Okinawan from their mouths due to the oppression and ridicule of the Okinawan language. It is a great challenge ahead of us to help bring the pride of Okinawans back up so they are not ashamed of who they are and can truly believe that their language is one to be proud of, and a great treasure to their identity as a native people. As long as there is hope, we must fight this uphill battle to regain what is naturally ours. Thanks to the efforts of the Unuversity of Haawai`i, I hope we can continually work together to achieve this goal. Mi-shichouti kwrimisoriyo-sai!
    Eric Wada

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