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Hachigatsu Odori in Tarama


Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Tarama Island is located right in-between Miyako and Ishigaki Islands. Tarama and the neighboring Minna Islands form Tarama Village. Hachigatsu Odori (August Dance) is an annual three-day harvest festival held in August of the lunar calendar. Previously known as Hachigatsu Ugan (August Prayer), the event made me realize that the islanders can be amazing performers. 

There are two districts on the island, Nakasuji and Shiokawa. On the first day of the festival, to give thanks to the gods for the year’s harvest, Nakasuji residents visit Tarama Shrine, Ungusuku Utaki (sacred place) and Tomari Utaki, while Shiokawa residents visit Minema, Shiokawa and Futenma Utaki. After that, people head to Ntabaru Ugan, a sacred grove where Nakasuji residents show various performances on stage while Shiokawa residents are invited as guests. On the second day, Pitumata Ugan in Shiokawa is used as a stage where Shiokawa residents perform in front of the invited Nakasuji residents. The third day is considered the day of wakare (farewell) and residents give performances in their own districts. The harvest festival is carried out in this sophisticated manner. They do not look for professional performers from outside, instead, the men and women of Tarama train to present the numerous performances.
 In order to make the biggest event on the island a success, they organize numerous teams to oversee accounting, costumes and props, musical performances, male and female dances, youth dances, kumiodori (ensemble dance), shishimai (lion dance) and stick dance, comic play, and sketch. Their efforts and passion for the preparation are incredible. One day they perform, while on the other day, they turn into honored guests. I’m always impressed by this transformation and their talents. I can vividly remember seeing a junior high school student, who was enjoying baseball a few days before, dancing elegantly at Ntabaru Ugan

When I had drinks with my friends in Hirara, the central city of the Miyako region, I noticed that they consider Tarama to be a bit different, even though they all belong to the same Miyako region. They regard Tarama as an island rich with traditional culture. Such image is established mainly by Hachigatsu Odori. Tarama residents proudly perform dances like kumiodori, which were not originally from Miyako and were traditionally performed in the Shuri and Naha areas of mainland Okinawa. Such performances give Tarama a color of its own.

Tarama residents would explain, “During the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom, cultured people from Shuri and Naha, who were trained in the traditional dance, were exiled to Tarama. That is why Hachigatsu Odori has taken root in Tarama.” But as I have studied the history of Tarama, I knew this explanation is not quite correct. According to historical documents, people exiled to Tarama were mostly from Miyako Island and other parts of the region. It was quite rare that people from Shuri and Naha were exiled to the island.
 How did the art of Hachigatsu Odori reach Tarama? Answering this question is quite difficult. In fact, there is no clear answer. Was it brought by people from Shuri and Naha, who were cultured yet ended up working on merchant ships as they could not find government posts? Or was it delivered by Tarama officials, who often visited Shuri and Naha on business?
 Hachigatsu Odori goes on solemnly and passionately, not caring about a historian troubled by such a trivial matter. “We don’t know who brought it here, but first, just feel our passion and energy, we have performed over and over again.” I felt that this was their message.