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Harusā and Uminchu


Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Farmers are called harusā in Okinawa. An Okinawan language, out and out. The definition of “haru” is not spring (春), but a field. “Haru” becomes “Pari” in Miyako language of the Miyako Islands. Hence, in Miyako, “to go to pari” does not mean to travel to France, but to go to the fields. “Sā” means “ one who does” a specific thing. Interestingly enough, “sā” suggests a degree of esteem like one given to a professional. In Ryukyu language, the sound of “er” is often added to stretch the termination of a word in order to express respect towards a specialist. 

For example, harusā, umi-acchā (one who goes to the sea), ashibā (one who plays around)…and so many more. Curiously, it does have a similar nuance to English words just as “teacher,” “doctor,” or “player”.

By the way, my parents were typical harusās. The basic industry in Okinawa is said to be sugar manufacturing; accordingly, my parents grew sugar cane. Nonetheless, their haru was small and they had no other choice than to aim for self-sufficiency. They grew potatoes as the staple food, with soybeans, Japanese radish, and cabbage.  

They also kept pigs and goats to trade and gain cash, or consume them as a valuable protein source. On the other hand, they worked as umi-acchā and caught fish, shellfish, and seaweed to help the family finances. Living could not be made with farming only, in effect. Common people were called tami or hyakushō (people, peasant) in the age of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Hyakushō were sometimes harusā, and at other times, umi-acchā.

Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Among the umi-acchā, full-time fishermen of such places as Itoman or the Kudaka Island are called uminchu (people of the sea). Literally, uminchu could live on the sea for a week or a month without any problem. Therefore fishermen are also called ichimanā (Itoman people) or kudakā (Kudaka people) in the Amami Islands. Uminchu of Itoman or the Kudaka Island used to make great voyages to the Philippines or Malaysia from the Amami Islands of the Kyushu region of Japan, chasing after bonito, flying fish, and gurukun.

Compared to uminchu, most umi-acchā work in the coastal fishery. It is well known that when a reporter asked the world boxing champion, Gushiken Yoko, about his father’s occupation, Gushiken answered “He walks on the sea.” Indeed, Gushiken’s father was a umi-acchā—people of the Ryukyu Arc go out to the mudflats at low tide, and there, they all walk on the sea.