The Kunigami of Japan are made up of seven closely related people groups living in the Ryukyu Islands. This small chain of islands, which includes Okinawa, is located to the southwest of Japan, between Kyushu (the southern tip of Japan) and northeastern Taiwan. The Ryukyuan peoples are of Japanese and southeast Asian descent. Their languages vary from island to island and their dialects from village to village. Although their dialects are all quite similar to Japanese, the tribes are not able to understand one another. Some of the once dominant native languages spoken include Northern and Southern Amami-oshima, Toku-no-shima, Oki-No-erabu, Southern Ryukyuan, and Yayeyama. (This profile focuses on the Oki-No-Erabu, but what is said about them also applies to the other Kunigami peoples. ) All of their languages are being replaced by Japanese among the younger Kunigami.
We don't know for certain when Oki-No-Erabu Island was first inhabited, but it was ruled by a petty kingdom starting in the 8th century. From the 13th through the 15th centuries this island was under the control of two other kingdoms. In the 1600s, Oki-No-erabu was invaded by the samarai, and they entered a time of harsh rule filled with poverty and famine. The island was used as a prison settlement.
The family is the center of Oki-No-Erabu life. Often entire families tend the fields together. The people work hard and long and have very little spare time. In general, a Oki-No-Erabu does not like being alone. Any amount of free time they can afford is spent with their families or friends. According to family tradition, a firstborn son has the greatest financial advantage. After marriage, the firstborn son and his wife live in his father's house until his parents have died. However, long before that time, he is responsible for managing the rest of the family and its finances. In times past, the fear of "dishonoring one's family" kept crime under control in the smaller communities.
Oki-No-Erabu children enter school at eight or nine years of age and continue until they reach about sixteen. Today, there are universities in the island region, and they have access to Japanese colleges as well. Formerly, their goals included acquiring an abundance of livestock, food, and friends, and having as large a family as possible. Since the Japanese took control of the islands in 1879, these goals have changed. The Japanese introduced a system of education that discouraged students from speaking their own languages and encouraged them to speak Japanese. The students were even punished for speaking their languages in class. Consequently, the Kunigami languages have been lost as the young have sought to identify with something they consider greater than themselves: the world class nation of Japan.
Progress through education and contact with the outside world has changed their lives dramatically. Many Kunigami have moved to larger islands or other countries such as Brazil and the United States in search of jobs and better living conditions.
Most sources consider the Oki-No-Erabu to be Buddhist; however, traditional shamanistic practices are still prevalent. This means that they believe in many unseen gods, demons, and ancestral spirits. They believe the spirits of their ancestors live in the tombs where they were buried. The people believe that these spirits must be regularly invited back into the lives of their descendants or they will no longer exist. For this reason, each person believes himself/herself to be an extension of the life of the family.
The people also believe that unseen powers known as kami control the ancestral spirits and other areas, including the sea and land. The ancestral spirits are honored on a community level, and the kami are also worshipped privately in the homes. They believe that if the kami are not appeased, they can bring harm to a family or individual. For this reason, they seek the guidance of the kami before making an important decision.
The father of the house maintains the religious rituals in the home and cares for the ancestral tombs. The women serve as "mediators" between the kami and the people.
The Oki-No-Erabu and other Kunigami peoples need the self-respect that comes from a relationship with the King of kings. They need to know they have much worth in the eyes of their Maker.
Pray for the Lord to somehow get through to Oki-No-Erabu elders so they can open the door to allow the King of kings to enter their lives.
There are believers among some of the Kunigami people. Pray they will take Christ to the others.
Pray for a movement to Christ among every Kunigami people.
Scripture Prayers for the Oki-No-Erabu in Japan.
|Profile Source: Joshua Project|
|People Name General||Oki-No-Erabu|
|People Name in Country||Oki-No-Erabu|
|Population this Country||3,100|
|Population all Countries||3,100|
|Progress Scale||1 ●|
|Frontier People Group||No|
|GSEC||1 (per PeopleGroups.org)|
|Pioneer Workers Needed||1|
|National Bible Society||Website|
|Persecution Rank||Not ranked|
|Location in Country||Kagoshima Prefecture, north central Okinawa, Oki-no-erabu island. Source: Ethnologue 2016|