By Robert Kajiwara
All Ryukyuans (Luuchuuans) trace their genealogy back to Amamichuu, the matriarch of the Ryukyu Islands, and her husband Shinirichuu.1 According to tradition and the Umuru Usooshi (Omoro Sooshi – the written compilation of ancient Ryukyu oral traditions), Amamichuu was sent by God (Chinmamun, in the Okinawan language – literally, “Heaven’s Emperor” or “Heavens Supreme Lord and Protector”) to populate the Ryukyu Islands. Legend has it that God placed them on Kudaka, which is one of the close neighboring islands just to the east of Okinawa Island. The date of this event is not known, though modern archeological evidence suggests the Ryukyu Islands were populated as early as 32,000 B.C.2 To this day Kudaka is considered one of the most sacred locations in all of Ryukyu, and Ryukyuans regularly make pilgrimages there to pay homage to their ancestors and give thanks to Heaven for bringing them to Ryukyu.
My ancestors lived in the town of Yuntanja, or Yomitan, located around the west-central part of Okinawa Island. During the early 1400s Yuntanja had a leader known as Gusamaru (or Gosamaru) who proved to be extremely well-liked by the public as well as a capable leader and engineer.3 Around the year 1440 Gosamaru was asked by the Ryukyu Kingdom court to move to Nakagusuku to improve its castle and region. Several families from Yuntanja, including my own, chose to follow Gosamaru to Nakagusuku.4 My family genealogy can be found in the ancient records stored in the Nakagusuku Village and Yomitan Town archives. As with most Ryukyuans, my written genealogical records can be traced back to around 1,000 years ago.
Ryukyu experienced two golden ages, the first around the 15th – 16th centuries, and the second between the 18th – 19th centuries.5 Around the 15th century Ryukyu banned weapons in order to promote peace, and Ryukyu had friendly diplomatic relations with all of its neighbors. Ryukyu became a center for international trade, particularly with China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, and modern day Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Ryukyu government had requested that China send people to assist with the Ryukyu government administration, to teach Chinese studies to Ryukyuans, and to act as diplomats between Ryukyu and China. In 1392 the famous 36 Min Families arrived in Ryukyu from Fujian, China. They were given the district of Kuninda (Kumemura), located close to the royal court at Shuri, to inhabit. Overtime these Chinese scholar-bureaucrats eventually intermarried and assimilated into Ryukyu society, and today many Ryukyuans can trace partial lineage back to them.
In 1879 Japan invaded Ryukyu using modern Western-style military weapons, and annexed it against the will of the Ryukyuan people. Japan, of course, went on to do the same to many other countries, such as Korea, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and more. The annexation devastated Ryukyu’s economy. Ryukyuans, who up until this point had been wealthy and prosperous, suddenly found themselves living in poverty. Particularly impacted were the government workers of the Ryukyu Kingdom, who now found themselves out of a job. This sparked the Ryukyu diaspora, in which thousands of Ryukyuans would flee into exile overseas to China, Hawaii, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, and elsewhere between the late-19th through the mid-20th centuries.
Meanwhile the Hawaiian Kingdom found itself in a crisis due to the massive decline in the Hawaiian population. Hawaii’s King Kalakaua worried that his people would eventually become outnumbered by haole (foreign, or white) settlers who were attempting to colonize and take over the Hawaiian Islands. Kalakaua saw Asians and Hawaiians as cousins, and requested that Asians and Pacific Islanders come to Hawaii to help replenish the Hawaiian population and assist the Hawaiian Kingdom. In 1881, just two years after the annexation of Ryukyu, Kalakaua traveled to Japan where he met with the Meiji Government, and requested that Japanese and Ryukyuans migrate to Hawaii, to which Japan agreed.6
In 1893 a small group of white American businessmen conspired with the United States Ambassador to overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom monarchy and establish their own oligarchy in what is often considered the single most traumatic event in Hawaiian history.7 Hawaiians to this day have struggled to re-establish Hawaii’s de facto independence.
The first Ryukyuans would arrive in Hawaii in 1900.8 Ryukyuans in Hawaii are often called Okinawans, or Uchinaanchu, since the majority migrated from Okinawa Island. In 1907 my great-grandfather Seitoku Fija (Higa) arrived in Maui from Nakagusuku.9 Ten years later my great-grandmother, Kamata Fija (Higa) would also arrive.10 They would eventually move to the Hakalau plantation village, located on the Island of Hawaii. Like most Okinawans, they would send money back home to their families in Ryukyu. Eventually they saved enough money and moved to the Island of Oahu. To this day Okinawans in Hawaii maintain thriving communities and relations with our friends and relatives in Okinawa.
Armstrong, Nevins Williams. Around the World With a King. New York: FA Strokes. 1904.
Coffman, Tom. Nation Within. Duke University Press: 2003.
Nakagusuku Village Historical Records.
Omoro Sooshi. 1531.
Sai On. Chuzan Seifu. 1697.
Sho Shoken, Sai Taku. Chuzan Seikan. 1650.
Hawaii Tomari Doshi Kai History Book.
Kyuyo. Tei Heitetsu, et. al. The Ryukyu Kingdom. 1745, 1876.
Uchinanchu: A History of Okianwans in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1981.
Yomitan Town Historical Records.
Yousuke Kaifu, Masaki Fujita. “Fossil record of early modern humans in East Asia.” Quaternary International. Volume 248, 18 January 2012, 2-11.
1Omoro Sooshi. 1531.
Sai Taku. Chuzan Seifu. 1697.
Sho Shoken. Chuzan Seikan. 1650.
2Yousuke Kaifu, Masaki Fujita. “Fossil record of early modern humans in East Asia.” Quaternary International. Volume 248, 18 January 2012, 2-11.
3Yomitan Town Historical Records.
4Nakagusuku Village Historical Records.
5The exact start and end dates of Ryukyu’s two golden ages are up for debate by scholars.
6 Armstrong, Nevins Williams. Around the World With a King. New York: FA Strokes. 1904.
7 Coffman, Tom. Nation Within. Duke University Press: 2003.
8Uchinanchu: A History of Okianwans in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1981.
9Hawaii Tomari Doshi Kai History Book.