Okinawan Culture in Dance and Song

CulturalPerformance-8This past weekend the Okinawa cultural promotion association in partnership with the Kume Island Board of Education hosted a free night of song and dance at the Gushikawa Community center on Kumejima. The event, titled Dentou Tenou Kouen (伝統芸能公演) or Traditional Arts Performance, was a two-part evening with a mixture of traditional music, dance, and plays. The majority of the performances were in the Okinawan dialect hogen, which most people no longer regularly speak.

CulturalPerformance-3Along with the performances were subtitles in Japanese to help those who could not understand all of the speech. The various dances and music were accompanied by talented artists on traditional instruments including the sanshin (Okinawan lute), kutu (okinawan koto), kuuchou (small sanshin-like instrument played with a bow), drums, and fue (flute).

Some of the offerings were individual songs by some of the performers, while other dances were accompanied by the entire ensemble. Some of the dances told a story, such as a humorous dance between two men in which they battle over the love of a women, only to have the women revealed to be repulsive. Before the women reveals herself, both men try to pull her away, yet after her scarf is removed they push her towards the other.

CulturalPerformance-9The final offering was a longer piece delivered in a chant by the various actors. The movements were the slow studied Okinawan dance which requires precise body control. The story was of a boy and his mother searching for the boy’s father. They meet many people along the road including an entertainer and his dancing monkey. Eventually the boy finds his father, a flower salesman.

While I did not understand many of the words, I found the event interesting and the gestures and acting making much of the meanings clear. For those who can read Japanese, the subtitles further help understanding. There will be another performance in the northern part of Okinawa at the Kunigami Min Fureai Center (国頭民ふれあいセンター) on January 24, 2014 at 18:00. It is a free event. call 098-041-5308 for more information.