[Editorial]Shimakutuba lesson is essential to the development of Okinawa Culture

September 3, 2014 Ryukyu Shimpo

The Shimakutuba Liaison Council has made a petition to the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly seeking to enact a regulation on the protection of local languages. The liaison council wants to restore and inherit rights to protect Shimakutuba or Ryukyuan languages. The purpose of the petition is to stipulate rules on the spreading and teaching of Shimakutuba in school education. Introducing Shimakutuba into school education is essential to pass on it to the next generations. We want to give our full assent to the petition.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) announced in 2009 that 2,500 of about 6,000 languages in the world were at risk of disappearing forever. Six Ryukyuan languages are listed in the Unesco’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. We should take this situation seriously.

The Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) carried out the Okinawan People’s Awareness Survey on Shimakutuba last year. According to the survey, around 80 percent of the residents have a sense of familiarity with Shimakutuba, and a desire to pass on it to the next generations. However, the rate of residents who mainly use Shimakutuba or use it as much as Japanese remained 35.4 percent of all residents. There are many people who want to use it, but they cannot use it because they do not have the opportunity to learn it. The results of the survey suggest it is beyond question that the educational initiative for Shimakutuba is needed.

The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly enacted a regulation drafted by local government to promote Shimakutuba and set up Shimakutuba Day, to be held every September 18 in 2006. The OPG made the Shimakutuba promotion plan after it held the Okinawan people’s Shimakutoba promotion rally for the first time last year. In this plan, the OPG warns that the annihilation of Shimakutuba would lead to a weakening of love for and pride in our hometown, and the decline of the Okinawa culture as a result.

However, the OPG has a cautious attitude towards introducing Ryukyuan language into school education programs, saying that it requires more consideration in line with the national government’s curriculum guidelines. We do not understand why the OPG hesitates to introduce Shimakutuba into public education despite asserting the disappearance of Shimakutuba will lead to the decline of the Okinawan culture.

Nakagusuku village has begun teaching the History of Ryukyu at its elementary schools from this year as part of its own education program. The OPG should think hard about this issue.

A native Hawaiian educational organization was founded in 1983 in Hawaii. Elementary, middle and high schools conducting lessons in Hawaiian language emerged. As a result, the number of people 70 years of age or younger who speak Hawaiian has increased to more than 2,000 people. Less than 50 people spoke Hawaiian in 1982. The Shimakutuba Liaison Council has suggested in its petition a plan to set up the Shimakutuba Education Center in order to train teachers systematically and develop teaching materials. We strongly recommend the OPG set up the center and start lessons in Shimakutuba in schools as soon as possible in order to regain our language as a foundation of culture and to develop Okinawan culture.

(English translation by T&CT)

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