Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Okinawans inhabit the Ryukyu Archipelago, a chain of 146 islands, stretching in a 1200-kilometer arc from Kyushu, Japan to Taiwan. The islands to the south of make up Okinawa Prefecture and those to the north are part of Kagoshima Prefecture. The Ryukyuan languages and Japanese diverged about 1300 years ago. Young people speak only Japanese. Before 1960 about half of Okinawan families were farm families, but today it is a minority occupation. Fishing is a major occupation of coastal villages. The major commercial activities on Okinawa are food processing (sugar and pineapples), oil refining, and tourism.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --East Asia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Okinawa file is strong on kinship, religion and history, although there are no English studies after the 1972 reversion. Glacken (1953, no. 1) has written the 'classic' ethnography of Okinawan village life based on research in three villages. However, his study is weak on the family system, in spite of a lengthy discussion on the subject. Subsequent works by several authors make up for this deficit (Matsui 1987, no. 16; Newell 1988, no. 17; Oda 1987, no. 15; Itoh 1979, no. 11; Omoto 1980, no. 18), especially Tanaka (1974, no. 22). Akamine (1983, no. 4) discusses the systems of social organization in two different locales prior to the imposition of a patrilineal descent system. Religion is another area for which Okinawa stands out, especially the predominance of female religious specialists. Lebra provides a comprehensive discussion of Okinawa religion (Lebra 1966, no. 13) and shamanism (Lebra 1982, no. 14). Sasaki (1981, no. 20) writes about shamanism and spirit possession. The three major historical studies in the file include Hall's journal of the first British visit to the island of Okinawa (Hall 1840, no. 9), Kerr's comprehensive history of Okinawan with an emphasis on foreign relations (Kerr 1958, no. 12), and Sakihara's study of the Okinawa song poems (Sakihara 1987, no. 19). Pitts et al. (1955, no. 3) examine the impact of the United States occupation on Okinawa society and culture. Christy (1993, no. 7) provides a study of Okinawa identity under Japanese rule. Taira (1997, no. 21) writes a politicized account of Okinawa identity, making a claim for Okinawa uniqueness, one deserving of nation-state status. Haring (1969, no. 10) has translated a 1896 Japanese magazine article on Okinawa society and customs that conveys the Japanese attitude towards their 'backward cousins.' The Maretzkis (1963, no. 2) provide a culture and personality study of Okinawans. Two articles (Akimichi 1984, no. 6; Akimichi & Ruddle 1984, no. 5) discuss fishing practices and rights, and Combs (1980, no. 8) writes about an Okinawan folk dance.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

The culture summary was written by Ian Skoggard in February, 2001. We thank Linda Angst for preliminary suggestions for sources to include in the file.


ANJI (AJI)-territorial lord-631

BUNKE-household branch-592


FUJO-village priestess-793

ICHI-MABUI-soul of living person-774

JIWARI SEIDO-land reform-423

JURI-hostess, singer, dancer, prostitute-548

KAMIDARI-mental disturbances associated with spiritual possession-154, 787


MANNA-spell, formula-778

MANNASAA-person who uses magical spells in curing-791

MOAI-mutual loan association-452


MUNCHU-consanguineous descent group-614

NEYA-founding household-554, 592, 621

NORO (NURU)-priestess-756, 793

OMORO-song-533, 5310

OTAKI-sacred grove-778


SHII-supernatural forces within a person-778

SHIJI-supernatural power-778


TAARI-personality disorders associated with shamanism, see KAMIDARI-154

UJI-patrilineal sib among commoners-614


YABUU-medical practitioner-759

YAGO (YAANAA)-house name-552, 592, 613

YUTA-medium, shaman-756, 791

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