This book will make you angry, and sad, and want to act, at least it did me.
Coming from a small country where people were made to wear a sign around their neck if they spoke their native language (Welsh), I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the same linguistic colonialism on the other side of the world. I knew very little about the Okinawan Islands of Protest south of Japan, and nothing of the Ryukyuan languages and kingdom there, until I got hold of this book.
Davinder Bhowmik and Steve Rabson have collected a wide range of Okinawan poetry, fiction and drama from the 1910s to the 2000s, translated by a team of scholars from across the United States, another power that occupied the islands. Their introduction is brief, but makes an impact. Did you know that more people died in the Battle of Okinawa than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, for example? Chinen Seishin’s play The Human Pavilion, translated by Robert Tierney, sets the scene:
The women, Oikinawan, Korean or Taiwanese, suffered sexual violence on these islands. Their stories show that closeness to nature and the sea is far from saccharine:
Death of language and culture is not a new threat for the Ryukyu islands:
But the sea holds the stories and the memories of the people:
It is the women who keep traditions like this going, but when even they are not able to do this any more, it is the old men who tell the stories. The least we can do is read them.