Monday, May 22, 2017

Okinawan Folktale: The Origins of Shimakanka

Sketch of hand grabbing young man's hair, grave, cave, cow



Not the Typical Love Story



Shimakanka, is a ritual celebration held in some villages in the Ryukyu Island Chain.

Last year, with the help of some friends, I attended the event in Ginoza Village.

The story was published at Stars and Stripes Okinawa Feb 22, 2016.

The portion, concerning the folklore, I will re-post here as, it is an interesting folk story.



A Grisly Folk Tale


Long before this island became Okinawa, it was Ryukyu and, way before the Ryukyu Kingdom existed as an independent country, the land was ruled by Lords, known as Aji. They built castles in their territories, to defend the populations and lands, under their control, from other Aji, seeking to increase their power.

One of these Lords had an only daughter. An epidemic, raging through the islands, took the life of his beautiful young girl. Heartbroken and grieving, he buried her in a cave along the east coast of the island.

That same day, a young man who had bought a cow was heading home with his animal tied to a rope.
Dark clouds suddenly appeared and, he decided to take shelter from an approaching thunderstorm. As the rain began to fall, he tied the cow to a nearby tree and took shelter at the entrance to the cave.

From the overhang of the cavern he watched water splash as small streams flowed, carrying leaves and earth away from just outside his shelter. He shivered and thought how lucky bovines must be. Their thick hide protects them from the ice cold rain. The weather didn't seem to phase cattle. And, he started thinking, how nice some of his grandmother's hot tea, would be, to have right now.



Extremely Chilling Experience




Shaking and coughing from getting wet, he thought he may be catching a cold and wanted to get home.
As the rain slacked off, he decided to get out of the cave, grab the cow and hurry on towards home.

He knew, for sure, grandmother would insist, he change clothes and drink a steaming kettle of hot ocha.
Then something happened to really make him want to hurry out of that shelter. A voice shouted. It was a woman's scream from under a pile of stones in the cave. “Help me. Please get me out of here!”

Thinking, it was a ghost the boy began to run. On his first step to leave the cave, a hand grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head. When he tried to run, the grasp just became tighter. The voice cried out, “Help me, please. I'm a young girl who fainted with illness. My parents thought I died and buried me here. I am alive; help me!”

Assured that it was a human in need, the young man removed the rocks burying her body and rescued her. The rain stopped and he carried her outside. He scooped fresh water from a flowing spring and nourished her. Leaving the cow behind, he carried the young woman, on his back, to her father's castle.



Exuberance at the Castle


The sentries at the castle announced the miracle of the princesses return. Everyone was ecstatic, the Lord's only daughter had survived. This was an occasion for a feast and a big celebration.

The Aji announced to the lad, “As a reward, I will give you anything you desire.” Without blinking an eye the boy said, “OK. I'd like to have your daughter as my wife.”

The Lord roared, “Peasant, you can't have this woman of royal blood as a bride!” That, got everybody shaking. “Father, I have already been considered dead, once. Please, let me be this man's wife.”

The daughter's plea, touched the Lord and, he gave the blessing for their marriage.



Slaughter of the Cow



The young man escorted an entourage, from the castle to the cavern, where the girl had been buried.
The grave site in the mountain was cleaned up and the cow was sacrificed near the cavern entrance.

Pampas grass, tied in loops was soaked in the animal's blood and used to shoo away evil spirits.
Today, the loops of grass, known as, “San” may be seen placed as amulets to ward off evil.

The San may be seen at entrances to villages and, at the corners of homeowners properties.
In some locations, they may be soaked in animal's blood but, no blood was seen in Sokei, Ginoza.


Photography and text by Michael Lynch

Verbal translation by Mami Sakiyama

Text translation by Alina Rădulescu (Folklorist)

Sketch by Atsushi Maezato



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