Palau presidential chief of staff explores his Okinawan roots

Palau presidential chief of staff explores his Okinawan roots

Palau’s presidential chief of staff, Secilil Eldebechel (far right) visiting the hometown of Nabesuke Yamashiro, a man who may have been his grandfather, on February 6, in Mihara, Nago City.

February 7, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Mariko Nakamura, Shohei Tsukazaki

Secilil Eldebechel, 51, chief of staff to the president of Palau, visited Okinawa to strengthen Okinawa-Palau ties, but he had another reason to visit—to discover his grandfather’s Okinawan roots. Indeed, Eldebechel had a grandfather named Nabesuke Yamashiro, who was born in Yambaru in Northern Okinawa.

Nabesuke Yamashiro was born in Yambaru, Okinawa sometime between 1897 and 1902, and emigrated to Palau where he worked as a farmer and fisher. During World War II, Yamashiro served the Japanese Imperial Army. He continued to live in Palau after the war and passed away in 1970, when Eldebechel was two years old. The Palauan official has limited memories of his grandfather: “I have faint memories of him. He carried me in his arms sometimes.”

Yamashiro had eight children and 40 grandchildren in Palau, but Eldebechel is the first family member to visit Okinawa. “I waited too long to visit, mainly because of the distance and concerns about the language barrier. I’d like to find my relatives in Okinawa on behalf of my family back home.”

Librarians at the Okinawa Prefectural Library had conducted research prior to the chief of staff’s arrival in Okinawa, and found the name Nabesuke Yamashiro recorded in a government publication of Okinawan history (Okinawa kenshi shiryō¬ hen, Volume 17, [pt. 1] Kyū Nanyō guntō kankei shiryō [kindai 5]). This man was born on Aug. 16, 1900, and had a registered permanent address in the village formerly known as Mihara, Kushi-son. According to records, he was later conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army in Palau in 1944. Based on this man’s age and name, he is likely Eldebechel’s grandfather.

On the morning of February 6, the Palau chief of staff visited the Okinawa Prefectural Library, where he was briefed on this new information. Eldebechel’s eyes welled with tears as he studied landscape photographs of Nago City taken after the war. He sounded hopeful as he said, “Each step brings me closer to unveiling my roots.” He traveled to Mihara with a prefectural staff and spoke to residents near Yamashiro’s birth home, but they were unable to locate any of his relatives. Eldebechel said, “I would like to continue searching.” He appeared to be reminiscing the grandfather of his memories.

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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