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Uchinanchu: A History of Okinawans in Hawai‘i

Indigo cover with line illustration of moon, palms, Diamond Head, and sugar cane interspersed with a diamond pattern.

Book jacket of Uchinanchu: A History of Okinawans in Hawai‘i. The background depicts Okinawa, with the traditional starvation food sotetsu (sago palm) symbolizing the poverty from which many immigrants hoped to escape. The foreground depicts Hawai‘i, with the sugar cane symbolizing both the successes and disappointments Okinawan immigrants found. The ocean and sky pattern is adapted from a traditional Okinawan textile design. (Art by Wesley Kanetake.)

Uchinanchu is the term used by Okinawan immigrants and their descendants in Hawai‘i to identify themselves as an ethnic group distinct from the Naichi of Japan’s four main islands. Though Japanese, linguistic and cultural differences as well as their late arrival in the Islands made the Uchinanchu targets of Naichi prejudice in the past. Pressure from without and determination from within the group caused Hawai‘i’s Uchinanchu to pull together with pride in the face of adversity.

“They (mainland Japanese) thought that Okinawans were of a different race. They thought that the Okinawans had tails. There was a lady sitting in front of me and when I stood up, she said, ‘Ay, oru same’ (All same). After, I realized they don’t know what it was like in Okinawa.” —Baishiro Tamashiro

Some 25,000 men, women, and children left their impoverished Okinawan homeland between 1900 and 1924, hoping for a better life in Hawai‘i. Their early experiences were marked by hard, lean years on sugar and pineapple plantations. In this book, eighty- and ninety-year-old issei, first-generation immigrants, describe through interviews what it was like to pull up roots in their homeland and make new lives in the Islands.

“We used to mix Japanese and Hawaiian with hand gestures to talk to the luna (foreman) and other people. The Portuguese luna used to speak a little Japanese. ‘Niban (number two) dis you ditchee,’ and the luna would pantomime with his hands and feet what we were supposed to do. We somehow managed to communicate.” —Seichin Nagayama

The story of the gradual development and progress of the Okinawan community is unfolded through articles on labor, religion, culture, business, agriculture, government, son (village) clubs, and community-wide organizations.

“At that time, and even now, farmers from mainland Japan didn’t dance as often as Okinawans. We danced often. Naichi sang songs but were amateur dancers. At any party — if it was an Okinawan party — people danced.” —Toden Higa

Uchinanchu: A History of Okinawans in Hawai‘i supports and promotes pride in the culture, history, and contributions of Okinawans in Hawai‘i. It also adds another chapter to our understanding of Hawai‘i’s rich, diverse, multi-ethnic heritage.

“After seventy years I feel there’s no better place than Hawai‘i. When we first came, we didn’t think we could stay very long. But after all, the place one stays is the best. Everyone who comes back from Okinawa finds it is still depressed compared to Hawai‘i. Life is good here.” —Tsuru Yamauchi


Link to poemOkinawan poem by Nae Nakasone (translation by Mitsugu Sakihara)






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