From our participation in the National Theater Show, to the last school a Makabi Elementary, Ukwanshin gave the message of revitalization focused on the language. The coinciding of the Worldwide Uchinaanchu Taikai also brought new connections and networking to expand the movement and work to help save Uchinaaguchi, and look at how it connects to cultural revitalization also.
At the National Theater show, we were able to participate with many Okinawan traditional performing artists from North and South America, Okinawa and Hawaii. The performing artists were great, and showed that the music and dance of Ryukyu is still alive and well in the places our ancestors took it to. At least for the next few generations, the performing arts will be passed on and connection to Okinawa continued.
After the two shows at the National Theater, we were finally able to really focus on our main reason for being in Okinawa. We hit 11 places in about a week. We visited 4 universities, 1 high school, 4 elementary schools, and 2 symposiums. Takaesu Elementary in Gushikawa gave hope for the future. The children gave their greeting in Uchinaaguchi, and many said they still live with their great grandparents. They were very receptive and said they want to learn more from their elders at home. We also had a very productive and emotional group discussion at the Christian University where Okinawa NGO, various university students, and teachers attended. The focus for this symposium was on Hawaiian language immersion and language revitalization in Okinawa. As in all of the areas we spoke, the discussion covered the same ideas and comments on how to save Uchinaaguchi and why. There was also the introduction of Hawaiian immersion school topic and seeing how it could benefit Okinawa. The most impact however came with Keith closing with his comment on starting action. “It’s great we talk about these things but it cannot stop here. After we leave, you have to decide what you are going to do and do something or our being here today doesn’t mean anything.” This hit the guts of many of the students there and brought some to tears, as they realized that they have been deprived of something that is theirs. They also felt so ignorant of their culture and language and realized there is a crisis. “I see now how we have been given only what Japan wants us to know, and in the process it has made us only become more Japanese. Our language and history has been kept out of the educational system, and we have been deprived of our connection to our ancestors and identity. We have to take it into our own hands and work to educate ourselves and reconnect”, said one student who is active in one of Okinawa’s government affiliated NGOs.
Naha Mayor Declares Uchinaaguchi Use at Session Openings and Closings
With comments and influence from the visiting Okinawans for the taikai, the Naha Mayor announced in the Ryukyu Shimpo Newspaper that they will begin the use of Uchinaaguchi in the opening and closing sessions for Naha City. This a a great step as the support of Uchinaagushi by politicians would help to boost and support use in other public forums and political programs. The next step is to get the language into the schools as a regular class, and then to push for immersion schools.
Our concert at the Tenbusu Theater in Naha brought young and old alike, who came to enjoy both Hawaiian and Okinawan music connected with our message of revitalization, especially of language. It was great to feel such a warmth from the audience, as emotions were definitely affected as tears flowed and hearts connected with the love and concern for Okinawa. Both the Okianwans from Okinawa, and those from the outside, including us, were all one family without anything separating us, as the music brought us together with our similar understanding and love for our ancestors. It was an awesome feeling. At the end of both shows, the audience chanted and cleped for encore, and wouldn’t leave until we came out again. We had alerady changed and were going to meet everyone in the lobby when we hear this unexpected chorus, and the Tenbusu staff told us we should go back out. We ended up with kachashii and “achame”, where at one point almost 100% of the audience was dancing with each other and didn’t want to stop.
Taikai Brought Glitz and Hype to Worldwide Uchinnanchu, But Many Voiced Lack of Traditions and Language
The Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times Newspapers, interviewed participants young and old at the taikai. Everyone enjoyed some part of the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the shows and festivities at the taikai. However, there were also many that felt that the modern production for the taikai, and the lack of Okinawan language brought concern. Some elders also felt upset that traditional dance and music were either missing or at a minimum. The theme song for the taikai was a modern song sang in Japanese. “We are so happy and grateful that Okinawa has put on such a festival to welcome us home, but to spend so much money to get here and not find Okinawa dance and music represented in the opening and closing is a bit saddening.” said one participant from Brazil.
The Base to Survival of Traditions and Culture Will Lie In the Revitalization of Uchinaaguchi.
In all, the language needs to come back strong so that the identity and culture of Okinawa will survive. Okinawa can go on to evolve, but without its connection and preservation of traditions, the connection to our ancestors will also be cut off as it may become unrecognizable as Okianwan. If we look around, other people who speak their own language have no problem with their identity, and can move on to evolve while still being able to connect to their traditions. In order for realization and action to happen we must ask our selves “Why?” Why did our language decline 96% in 60years? If we can understand this, we will see that it was not the decision of the Okinawans, but a forced movement implemented by Japan, to inculturalize the Okinawans and change their identity and culture. From this we will be able to also understand why performing arts are changing, why the war cam to Okinawa, and why Okinawans are against the bases. The Okiawans still have no voice in decisions, and there is still the continued effort to wipe out the identity and traditional practices which makes Okinawa so different and unique. This was a hard weeks with non-stop visits, eating convenience store food on the go, and lack of sleep. However, it was all worth it and we were strengthened by knowing that this is the work of our ancestors. Thank you to all of our Okinawa friends who made it possible, and also to our Hawaii supporters who share in our work. Ippe Nifwedebiru!