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  • Okinawan Shaman Songs
  • Christopher Drake (bio)

The following are two kinds of traditional songs sung by female shamans in Okinawa. The first is fusa (trance song), sung by sixteen shamans from four shaman lines on the southern Okinawan island of Myāku (Miyako). The song is part of the winter festival that commemorates the island’s settlement by communicating—through the original “timeless time” that the song reconstructs—with the first great mothers who founded the settlement. In this fusa, which is part of a cycle of ceremonial songs, the shamans assert a woman’s right to control the house she lives in (including its hearth, its songs, its stores, and its economic surplus) even if that right is not recognized by Japanese civil law. Although males pray at the borders of the sanctuary where the song is sung, they are not permitted to take part in the trance or singing. (Only recently has a version of the song been transcribed by male researchers.) The fusa is a difficult song whose subjects seem to be simultaneously singular and plural—though they are translated here as plural—and human and divine. It is said to have been passed down from the timeless time of the island’s beginning, and the singers are believed not to be possessed by the gods but, rather, to be accompanied by them. Part of a dance, the song is sung by the shamans for themselves as well as for the great mothers. In the ceremony, the older shamans transfer their trance and song power to younger women, who are their nieces either by blood or by designation.

The second kind of song is omoro (shamanic “desire-song”). The ones translated here are from the Omoro-sōshi (Book of Desire-songs), an anthology of medieval Ryūkyūan shaman songs collected and transcribed by courtiers in 1531 and 1613. They are the oldest recorded Ryūkyūan songs and, though apparently edited by court officials, are regarded by most modern Okinawans as the classics of non-Japanese Ryūkyūan culture.

SONG OF THE MOTHERS: A VILLAGE TRANCE SONG

The gods peaceful the householders gentle descending from the original village [End Page 50] descending from divine Shiraji the great gods want our song they desire the god-shamans’ trance song pushing, pushing, coming down descending to this earth descending to Myāku Island since they all have come down since all the gods have gathered Machimi of the true house master of a hundred trance songs thanks to the mother gods thanks to the awesome gods blessed by their permission blessed by being filled let us dance a hundred trance songs let us dance to countless songs let us dance a hundred dances let us dance to countless songs let us dance a hundred dances let us dance countless dances let us step to trance songs and then return let us step to the dances and then return we householders and mothers we god-strong and mothers because we are child gods because we are born into a line of gods thanks to the mother gods thanks to the awesome gods blessed by their permission blessed by being filled to the voices in our original mouths to the voices of gods let us sound our voices may those around us speak their names we householders and mothers we god-hearted and mothers are as in the sky are as in the upper place and having no fine child and having no beautiful child we have received Machimi of the true house we have received our precious nieces as children born as children from inside us receiving each from Mishima Shrine [End Page 51] receiving a hundred trance songs receiving each from Shiraji Shrine receiving countless songs to Machimi of the true house to our precious nieces singing, passing to each a hundred trance songs telling, we are passing to each countless songs we householders and mothers we god-minded and mothers because we are born into a line of gods thanks to the mother gods thanks to the awesome gods blessed by their permission blessed by being filled to the voice in our original mouths to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-943x
Print ISSN
1045-7909
Pages
pp. 50-59
Launched on MUSE
2011-06-29
Open Access
No
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