Itoman Haarii leads the dragons
By Bill Charles
A series of dragon boat races with a 500-year history are on tap for next week in Itoman City, just south of Okinawa’s capital.
The Itoman Haarii takes place Wednesday, which is May 4th on the lunar calendar, which virtually everyone in Itoman City follows. The event features a variety of boat races in different categories, including junior high school, general races and others for foreigners, and of course, a set of three races featuring rival areas of Itoman City.
The Itoman Haarii’s not one to be missed, as crowds of spectators flock to the southern Okinawa region for this day of colorful uminchu activities, folk music and of course, foods. The action takes place starting in the
morning at Itoman Fishing Port. Admission is free for the races. Vendor purchases cost money.
The most animate event in Okinawa in early summer is Haarii. At fishing ports throughout the Okinawa Prefecture, the races using traditional fishing boats called “Sabani” unfold.
Originally, Haarii was a festival for praying for the bumper fish catch and voyage safety by “Uminchu”, “Uminchu” meaning a fisherman in Okinawan dialect. “Umi” means a sea in Japanese, and “nchu” means “people”.
In recent years, it was popularized and became an event in which women, children, and also visitors can also participate freely.
For Haarii in Okinawa, it is believed to have descended from China to the Ryukyu Dynasty about 600 years ago. Since it was a great event of the Ryukyu Kingdom to pray for a bumper crop, good health, and voyage safety, while fishing, it spread to virtually everywhere. It is said that Haarii spread in Miyako and Yaeyama district by the fishermen of Itoman.
Although “Haarii” tradition has been interrupted at times because of the influence of the establishment of prefectural system carried out in the Meiji Era, and the Battle of Okinawa of World War II, it remains alive as a fisherman’s culture of Okinawa.
Throughout Okinawa, things are often different, even if the event is labeled Haarii. The style of “Haarii varies, such as “Ugan Haarii” which wishes voyage safety and big haul prayer, “Occupation Haarii” to whom the residents of the area perform a confrontation game according to occupation, “Overthrow Haarii” in which the boat is raised again after it is overturned intentionally and a race is continued, and even “Madonna Haarii” which is a female confrontation. On top of that, “Getting duck competition,” in which a swimming participant aims to catch a swimming duck with his bare hands.
Normally, about 42-crew-member large-size “Haryu-ship” are used for the Naha Haarii, which is carried out during the Japanese Golden Week every year. As for the features, the sculpture of a dragon is placed at both ends of the boats, and it is a vivid ornament clearly influenced by Chinese culture.
On the other hand, at “Haarii” performed in other areas, “sabani,” traditional fishing boats of Okinawa are used. Originally they were made of wood without the use of s single metal nails, but since the suitable wood has disappeared, as have the builders who mastered the art of building sabani, boats used in these races are made of fiberglass these days. Although the size of “Sabani” varies with the area, about 11 persons including paddlers, guides, bell ringers, and others are onboard.
Itoman’s not the only haarii taking place on Tuesday, but one thing they have in common is that they begin rather early in the morning. Others are:
1) Minatogawa Haarii at Minatogawa Fishing Port (Minatogawa, Yaese)
2) Kenken Haarii at Hamasaki Fishing Port (Kenken, Motobu)
3) Maeganeku Hari at Maeganeku Fishing Port (Maeganeku, Onna)
4) Nashiro Haarii at Kita Nashiro beach (Nashiro, Itoman)
5) Baten Haarii at Baten Port (Sashikitsuhako, Nanjo)
6) Oujima Haarii at Oujima Beach, (Tamagusukuou, Nanjo)
For many folks, the weekday’s not a possibility, even for a great haarii. Fortunately, there are others coming up on Sunday, June 16th:
1) Kyan Haarii at Kyan Fishing Port (Kyan, Itoman)
2) Henza Haarii at Henza Minami Port (Yonashiro-henza, Uruma)
3) Tousoe Haarii at Tousoe Fishing Port (Itarashiki, Yonabaru)
4) The 26th Kadena Haariu at Kadena Fishing Port (Mizugama, Kadena). The Kadena haarii begins at 10 a.m., and applications to race are being accepted until June 11th by calling Nankuru House at (098) 956-3053.