Okinawa is part of a group of islands formally known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. In 1879, during the Meiji Restoration (aka the events leading up to 'crazy imperialist Japan circa 1930'), the Ryukyu islands were formally annexed by Japan and the all-too-familiar assimilation story began. Loss of traditional culture, suppression of native language, indoctrination via compulsory education, etc. The the goal of the Meiji goverment was to make Okinawans believe they were also Yamato (ethnically and culturally Japanese). And where they handed out Japanese names and passports, they curiously would not allow Ryukyuans to hold government office. The message was clear "you are one of us, but you are not equal to us...now go sign up for the military and pay your taxes."
|photo cred to pocketcultures.com|
Modern day Japan doesn't recognize Ryukyuans as indigenous people, despite recommendation from the UN and various other third-party groups. The Okinawan language (and the other languages spoken in Ryukyu) is regarded as a "dialect" of Japanese even though they aren't mutually intelligible.
...wait, can you repeat that?
Yep. I said the Japanese government considers Okinawan language a dialect of Japanese even though they are only vaguely similar and nobody who speaks Japanese can understand a damn thing someone speaking Okinawan is saying. I can attest to the truth of this because of an experience I had trying to find the nearest Catholic church on Christmas Eve (sidenote: the church was in a barn, we were a half hour late, and it was a way cool service).
Clearly (at least to me) the classification of Okinawan as a dialect is purely socio-economical. The assimilation of Ryukyuans was motivated by politics and economics leading up to the global disaster that was the Empire of Japan. And it continues to this day because of Japan-US military interests. Unfortunately, Ryukyuan Indigenous Rights Activists have their hands so full with land rights, resource access, and anti-nuclear issues that there is scare time left for language revitalization.
Which leads me to the question of mauli. Hawaiians define mauli as "the unique life force which is cultivated by, emanates from, and distinguishes a person who self-identifies as [a Hawaiian]"(APL) How do we distinguish one group of people as being unique from another, especially when there are powerful ulterior motives for assimilation? What are the benefits of preserving mauli? When we look at the world today, with common rhetoric supporting "global that-and-that" or "internationalism", how do we reconcile that with mauli and the basic human rights of indigenous peoples?