Uchinanchu

Monday Musings from Melinda by LHS Contributor Melinda M.

Ok. At the risk of being offensive, I will admit that, until I moved here, I didn’t know what or where Okinawa was. I certainly didn’t know it was once a country that Japan conquered and I didn’t know that it was an island (actually a chain of islands), and a tropical one too.

And now here I am with a daughter who is 1/4 Okinawan.

Hawaii readers already know this but for those who don’t, there is a large population in Hawaii with Okinawan roots. In the early 1900s, waves of people came from Okinawa to work in Hawaii’s sugar plantations. Some earned their way back but many put down roots and stayed. My mother-in-law, husband and daughters are extensions of that history.

From what I understand, the Japanese immigrants, they didn’t look too favorably on their Okinawan neighbors in the plantation. So I imagine that when my Okinawan-American (because she was born in the Territory of Hawaii) mother-in-law married my Japanese-American father-in-law, it didn’t go over very well. But they did and here we are.IMG_9071And now my daughter is a proud Uchinanchu (“Okinawan” in the Okinawan language). Every year, she counts down the days until her Okinawan summer day camp begins. Sponsored by Hui Okinawa, the camp fills her week with language, craft, music, martial arts, food and games. She comes home proficient in the card game of hanafuda and armed with a handful of Uchinanchu phrases that she teaches us with pride.

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Happy campers with Uncle Lloyd.

She rekindles her summer friendships with girls from across town who she somehow only sees this week and is ready to cook us a traditional snack or two.IMG_9076The 50 or so campers range in age from 5 to 12 after which they can transition to junior leaders and then leaders, who work under the caring hand of aunties and grandpas. So the intergenerational interactions are a special part of this memorable experience. Nearly all have some Okinawan heritage and most come from Hilo, though some are here because they are staying with family for the summer.

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Homemade taiko drums and Mr. Miyashiro, camp director.

At the end of the week, the campers perform a sampling of all that they learned. It’s always bittersweet for us — ba-chan would have LOVED this. The pride that many people have of their Okinawan heritage is palpable and grandma was one of them. So for one special week in June, we feel her presence strongly. We feel connected to the past and are proud of our daughter for carrying this part of her history into the future.

The week ends with a potluck for and by the families.  Maasan! (Delicious!)

Guburi sabira! (good-bye!)

Note: One of the young adult leaders put together a segment on this fantastic program for Na Leo TV. Tune in to learn more:

  • Channel 53:  Tu. 6/21 @8:30a; Th. 6/23 @11a
  •  Channel 54: Sa. 6/18 @9p; Mo. 6/20 @5:30p; We. 6/22 @11a; Fr. 6/24 @10a
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