Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

4/1/2004 - 12/31/2004

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

The Case of the Sash: A Search for Context in Okinawa

FAIN: FB-50454-04

Amanda Mayer Stinchecum
Unaffiliated Independent Scholar (Brooklyn, NY 11201)

For 300 years the women of Yaeyama, Okinawa, Japan, wove narrow, cotton sashes to give to their beloveds as tokens of their love. The design of the sash, known as minsa-, incorporates a combination of motifs read as a rebus, meaning "Yours forever more" and "Please visit my bed often." Or so local legend has it. In fact, beneath this simple story and the putative ritual associations of the sash, layers of complexity conceal its history, production and consumption, and multiple meanings. The earliest records documenting the sash clearly associate minsa- with the gentry class of Yaeyama. Nevertheless, Yaeyama islanders today have come to use the legend to clarify and enrich their own identities as "simple island people." They wear the sash in religious and secular performances. It has come to play a major role in the development of tourism in Yaeyama. Local government bodies and commercial establishments have appropriated this symbol to promote sales and tourism. Discovery of Okinawa by members of Japan's Folk Craft Movement in the early decades of the 20th century, and later of Yaeyama, helped to fashion essentialized visions of these "southern countries." This image of Yaeyama paved the way for the creation of a new Yaeyama identity, and the adoption of minsa- as its symbol. Transformations of consumption, class, and value have marked the changing context of this unassuming sash. Adopting methodologies from history, anthropology and archaeology, my study will uncover the multivalent meanings to be found in a single object, illuminate the roles of people within a minority culture and of the dominant society in transforming identities, and explore themes common to many cultures facing assimilation into larger national or trans-national entities.