Exchange with Local Okinawa Youth Shows Concern For Future

The morning began with a visit to a special education school in central Okinawa that is based in mainland Japan, but caters to Okinawa’s high school students with special needs.  It was a hard late morning as we constantly wondered if these students understood and enjoyed what we were presenting.  We were lucky enough to have two 3rd year students join us playing sanshin.  Some of these students have a hard time with expression, or are very shy to talk or ask questions.

After that we were on our way to Okinawa International University  to meet with students and members of a performing arts eisaa group.  It was very interesting to see this group that was formed to help kids with handicap or disadvantaged who could not join a regular eisaa group.   They performed for us a bunch of eisaa, and we in return did a few Hawaiian numbers as well as Okinawan folk music while explaining the importance of identity and culture in comparison to Hawaii.

The main part of the evening was the discussion session where we went into detail on our view of the importance of identity and the lacking or dilution of it in Okinawa.  The students felt the crisis and need for revitalization but said that there are some things that would make it hard, especially in the language area since there are many different dialects from the various areas, and also the social levels of vocabulary.  I also explained that there seems to be disagreements and  strong sentiments on who is wright or wrong in the way the language is taught or spoken.  I explained to them that the Hawaiians also had this problem but the elders and teachers sat down and worked this problem out by realizing that if the disagreements and arguments continued, the language would surely die and all would be lost.  There needs to be a medium and also lenience to perpetuate the language.  In Okinawa it seems that some elders are hard head and want things to be done one way and with the honorific levels of speech.

The youth, especially the college students seem to have a growing interest in revitalizing their identity, but due to the decades of brainwashing and cultural genocide, they don’t know where to start or how to move.  They are very concerned aobut their future and in how they can pass on the Okinawan identity, language and culture to the next generation.  We explained to them that it is the current college students and graduate level population that has the power to change things and that with this surge of interest in revitalization, it can happen with their empowerment.  They need to move and not just have discussions on the topics.  They need to go to their politicians and tell them what they want.  They need to start networking and create a fellowship with elementary and high schools to create support and leadership.  Mostly, Okinawa and Okinawans on the outside must say “Let’s do it!, and “Where do we start?”, in stead of “it can’t be helped”, or “maybe it can happen”.  We need to look at our ancestors.  This quote from the Hawaiian Culture Ka Wana series “Hewa”, paints the picture and explains what we need to do for our identity in relation to Hawaiians.

“Knowing how our ancestors behaved begs the question of whether we are doing the same.  If we are practicing our culture in a way similar to how they did, then we know that Hawaiian culture is very much alive today.  If we do things differently we have to ask if those changes are to our benefit, and whether we can reclaim what has been forgotten, lost, or suppressed.

…..indigenous peoples (identity) is more than just behavioral controls….If we cannot (or do not) live as such(traditions, language etc) we do not live as such and do not exist as a People, and are just like everyone else.”

So far we have seen more and more riding the wave to bring Okinawa back to its roots.  Language connects and lives in a peoples culture, and history.  Once this changes or is taken away, so will the culture and identity of the people.