Ogasawara and Micronesian cultural exchanges – Marianas Variety

THE Bonin Islands, also known as the Ogasawara Islands, lie in the South Pacific, some 1,000 km south of Tokyo.

Hironobu Yamagami, a Japanese native who has been to Angaur island in Palau eight different times to conduct research, said Bonin or Ogasawara islanders lived in Angaur during the phosphate mining days “and they enjoyed it.”

Yamagami and his mom still listen to Palau songs like “Derebechesiil” which translates in Japanese as “Enka” music.

Cultural dance also played a great role in fostering the cultural ties between Micronesia and Ogasawara.

“Nan’yo” or South Seas performances emerged in the Ogasawaras in the 1930s, and they are considered evidence of how culture spreads between islands through the ages.

Nan’yo performers dance to the kaka, a drum carved from the wood of the tamana tree, which is indigenous to the Ogasawaras. Ukulele music accompanies the folk songs. The sounds remind the listeners of the sea, its whispering waves, the deep blue and the islanders’ spiritual communion with their surroundings.

Ogasawaras’ culture is closer to the slower pace of Micronesian life than that of mainland Japan.

According to Junko Konishi of the Shizuoka University, between 1914 and the 1950s, Ogasawara and Micronesia were part of a common political entity under Japanese and U.S. administrations, and this facilitated cultural exchange between the two areas.

Konishi said Joseph Gonzales, an Ogasawaran, visited Saipan and learned a marching dance and its accompanying songs which he taught to the Ogasawarans upon his return to Chichijima in the early 1930s.

In 1987, Nan’yo odori hozonkai or the “association for preserving Nan’yo odori” was established to preserve the dance and its songs which were also classified as among the cultural assets of Japan.

In 1999, Nan’yo odor was classified as a performing art form.

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