March 20, 2011
Last nights special Gakumun Kai was one of the most interesting and interactive sessions experienced, and showed a genuine concern for the Okinawan Language and Performing Arts, and how it would be passed on into the next generations.
Dr. Masahide Ishihara and Dr. Manabu Oshiro of the University of the Ryukyus presented separate papers, but both connected to the need for understanding language. Ishihara sensei presented statistics by a recent Ryukyu Shimpo Newspaper poll of about 1000 people, concerning the use, understanding and value of Okinawan language. Under the theme of Ryukyu Languages Endangered, he basically showed that besides the older generation in their 70’s and 80’s, those in their 20’s and younger have a very small percentage of speaking and understanding Okinawan. When it came to how much of the population would like or think its important to preserve the language, only about half thought it was important or that they would like to see the language continue. Ishihara sensei also brought up the fact that many in his age range, who went to school after the war and through the 70’s were punished and reprimanded for speaking Okinawan in school. “The principle told me ‘You are Japnanese so you should speak Japanese. Don’t speak Okinawan’. explained Ishihara sensei.
Recently however, efforts have picked up for revitalization, as Okinawa students who came to the University of Hawai`i to study and receive their degrees, have collaborated to begin Okinawan language immersion school. Under the Project name “Kutuba Suriija Ninufwabushi”, the first of the immersion school for pre-school children will open next month. The idea and model for the project came from the `Aha Punanaleo, Hawaiian immersion program. The work in the beginning will be hard, but this will hopefully be the catalyst to other schools opening in the future, and the language being alive in the homes once again.
Ishihara sensei agrees that it will be an uphill battle, but they are willing to give what it takes to try. The Okinawa people must be deprogrammed and learn how to decolonize. They have been brainwashed and culturally cleansed through prejudice, discrimination, and colonization by both japan and America. Like the Hawaiians have done to reclaim their language and identity, Uchinaanchu must also educate themselves, take pride and reclaim what is rightfully their language and identity.
Oshiro sensei’s presentation was on his project to create a performing arts data base to include information on Hawaii, Okinawa and mainland U.S. Uchinaanchu performing artists, and their projects. He explained that during the Ryukyu Kingdom period, performing arts was meticulously documented and is now preserved and available for research at the Naha City Museum, where the Sho Dynasty treasures are housed and exhibited. Oshiro sensei’s project will arrange in detail the current performing arts events and projects that represent the Hawaii community especially.
As discussion was opened up to the audience, both in attendance and through long distance live video feed, questions concerning the language in the performing arts, and schools came up. Oshiro sensei, and Ishihara sensei both commented that there is very little if any, of Okinawa language being taught at the Performing Arts University, and in the music and dance schools in Okinawa. This brought concern that future sensei will not be able to understand the music and dances and may pass on the wrong interpretations through lack of language understanding. Another concern brought up was that Okinawa performing artists do not go out and do research or attend historical exhibits. An example Oshiro sensei gave was when he was working at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. “There was an exhibit of the life and works of Yuko Majikina, which went for 3 weeks. I watched to see who would come and can say that there were only 5 Okinawa performing artists that attended this exhibition. The local paper also reported a scathing article on the “deaf and blind” performing artists of Okinawa who don’t attend such important historical events”, said Oshiro sensei.
Oshiro sensei has said that he has approached the teachers and told them they should do more research and study, but it has mainly fallen on deaf ears. “Its different nowadays. Before, the old dance teachers used to play the sanshin, sing the songs and teach. They understood the music and lyrics. They were that bridge between the court days and now” he said.
There needs to be more active research and collaboration to pass on the traditions of dance, music and culture. The Gakumun Kai last night brought to light the urgency to learn/re-learn the language of our ancestors, and how it is not just used to speak or write, but how it connects us to the past. The songs and dances which have survived hundreds of years hold beautiful poetry and stories that can only be fully understood and expressed if we can understand them. The responsibility basically lies in us. Uchinaanchu both in Okinawa and abroad must reclaim the language, which will lead to reclaiming identity, and lead to better understanding and preservation of culture and history.
言葉わしーねー、国わしゆん。国わしーねー、親わしゆん。(Kutuba washi-ne-, kuni washiyun. kuni washi-ne-, uya washiyun.) To forget your language, you forget your country. To forget your country, you forget your parents. Basically, if you forget your langangue, you forget where your roots are from and also lose your connection to your ancestors.