National Geographic : 1945 May
Peacetime Rambles in the Ryukyus Anna has told me of a visit which she made with father to Kume, west of Okinawa. It was rainy and wooded. Mulberries and silk worms are raised there, and fine pongee is woven locally in every household. Travelers were taken ashore from the steamer in sampans, but the Americans were too long-legged to be landed on the boat men's backs without getting their feet wet after all in the surf along the beach. Father also visited Miyako, the principal island of the small archipelago of the same name. The British man-o'-war, Provi dence, wrecked here in 1797, brought the first contact of the Western World with any of these islands. Cloth from Banana Fibers Agriculturally, this area is especially fa vored; sugar, sweet po tatoes, and tobacco ripen rapidly, and there are many textile bana nas; so it supports a dense population. A "grass cloth" pro- They Can Carry Half a Pony-load on Their Heads These women, walking down a street on the island of Miyako, have only light burdens. Unlike the Japanese, they do not wear the obi, or wide sash (page 554). About 4/2 feet tall, Ryukyu women can carry heavier loads on their heads than they can lift. Sometimes they transport a tub of sugar in this fashion. A full load for an island pony is only two tubs. duced from banana fi bers is woven in many Ryukyu households. Its natural color is a light tan. This almost porous fabric is the favorite material for the summer garments of middle and upper-class islanders. The jofu is also sold in Japan as a high-priced specialty product. Until war came, the islanders still observed the custom of gathering on the cliff of Nami no ue (page 549) to wave farewell to their friends who sailed out of Naha harbor. They would raise their arms to shoulder level, and wave their hands from the elbow with a re strained and slow movement. Conditions of life have somewhat improved in this, the oldest Japanese colony, but I firmly believe the people envied all who could depart for lands richer in material resources. Many have been indentured for low pay and hard labor on the sugar plantations of the Marianas. About 80 percent of the Japs on Saipan were from the Ryukyus. A few live in Hawaii. Cut off from the outside world, the Okina wans would have to go back to making fire by primitive methods. Nevertheless, they can not forget that they once had a fair share of political independence.* * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Springboards to Tokyo," by Willard Price, October, 1944, and "South from Saipan," by W. Robert Moore, April, 1945.