Female firefighter in New Caledonia finds her Okinawan roots

Female firefighter in New Caledonia finds her Okinawan roots

Stephanie Zenkoro who works as the president of the association of people from Okinawa prefecture and as a firefighter for the Wile District

June 16, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

New Caledonia Correspondent Yumiko Yamada of Ryukyu Shimpo

New Caledonia, which is known as the “closest island to paradise,” is also one of the world’s leading nickel producers. Due to the nature of open cast mining, some of the red soil of the nickel mine mountains is exposed, making it seem like a terraced rice paddy field. There are many nickel mining towns in New Caledonia. But Wile, located 234 kilometers away from the capital Noumea, is particularly famous for being the leading mining town of the east coast and for being a key location for entering the east coast. The population is more than 4,000 people and more than 90 percent are Melanesian.

Stephanie Zenkoro is a 43-year-old 4th-generation Japanese descendant who works as the president of the association of people from Okinawa prefecture. She normally works as a firefighter for the town. Her great-grandfather was Zengorou Tamaki from Nago. Due to a mix-up when registering their name, her family’s last name accidentally became “Zenkorou.”

Stephanie grew up as a Melanesian. She was aware that her father’s side was of Japanese descent, but did not have any connection with Japan. She grew up in her Melanesian mother’s big family. But being the analytical person that she is, she always felt that something set her apart from the rest of the Melanesians.

Stephanie likes staying true to herself. At first, her father was against her taking the examination to become a firefighter after graduating high school in Noumea. Local Melanesian who were settled in the area were opposed to ideas such as attending school in Noumea or women working. Her father accepted her becoming a firefighter after seeing her ability to do the job and how it improved her way of life.

Stephanie said, “Out of the seven sisters, I was the only one that became a firefighter and was able to go to Okinawa because I earn an income. It was at that point when I realized that the reason why my personality is different from others is because I have roots in Okinawa. Next time, I’d like to take my kids to Okinawa because you won’t be able to feel that deep emotion when you find yourself unless you actually go there and experience it.” Her family members now look up to her.

The current total number of firefighters in the Wile District is 17, of which 10 are male and seven are female. According to Stephanie, there is not much gender difference with the job. As the Vice Chief of the Wile District Fire Station, Stephanie’s dream is to have a cultural exchange with an Okinawan Fire Station. Her firefighter uniform suits her well.

(English translation by T&CT and Chelsea Ashimine)

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