Okinawan immigrants honor ancestral spirits in Bolivia

Okinawan immigrants honor ancestral spirits in Bolivia

On August 10 or on August 11 in Japan Standard Time, Masaji Ikehara joined his hands in prayer towards an altar, in which his ancestors are enshrined.


August 12, 2014 Masaaki Umeda of Ryukyu Shimpo reports from Bolivia.

On the night of August 10, the last day of Obon of the lunar calendar, in Colonia Okinawa in Bolivia, Okinawan immigrants held the ukui ceremony. Members of migrant families gathered at their houses and sent off their ancestral spirits. Many Okinawan people and their descendants live in Colonia Okinawa.

At the house of Masaji Ikehara, 91-year-old from Sobe, Yomitan, and 12 of his relatives, including his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, gathered. His wife passed away in 2001 when she was 86. He placed an order with a Bolivian carpenter to make a memorial tablet called Totome in Okianwan dialect and an altar for Obon. He and his relatives prayed, asking their ancestral spirits to come back on the night of ukui.

At the altar, they placed multitiered boxes in which the Okinawan traditional Obon foods such as radishes, kelp and pork were contained.
Masaji came to Bolivia in 1958 as a member of an migrant group sponsored by the Ryukyu Government. He said, “I live now in a place that is far away from my home country. Even so, we pray for the spirits of ancestors at an altar in the same way we used to in Okinawa.” He is proud of Okinawan customs and rituals.

The family placed the lanterns at the entrance of the house, so their ancestors’ spirits could go back to the future world without losing their ways.

(English translation by T&CT)

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