In today’s groundswell of women rising, it may be instructive to reflect on a little known kingdom that once existed in the Ryukyu Islands known today as Okinawa. Unique among modern nations was the development in that small corner of the world, of a system of equal power between men and women at the highest levels – between the king and divine priestesses.
Dubbed in antiquity as “the land of constant courtesy” and “the land of eternal youth,” the Ryukyu islands stood apart, even compared to other friendly islands in the area. Travellers noted the exceptionally high morality, the honesty, generosity, hospitality, kindness of a noble people.
Among those who remarked on this was Captain Basil Hall. In 1816, on his way home to England, he stopped by to see Napoleon at St. Helena and spoke of his discovery of “The Great Loo Choo Island.” In a book of his adventures, he wrote that theft was utterly absent though the islanders roamed freely on the ship.
Of his conversation with Napoleon, Captain Basil Hall wrote:
…”I had the satisfaction of seeing him (Napoleon) more than once completely perplexed…. Nothing struck him so much as their having no arms.
“Point d’armes!” he exclaimed, “c’est a dire, point de canons -- ils ont des fusils!” Not even muskets, I replied. “Eh bien donc, des lances –ou, au moins, des arcs et des fleches?” I told him they had neither one nor other. Ni poignards,” cried he with increasing vehemence. No none. “Mais, sans arms, comment se bat-ons?”
I could only reply that as far as we had been able to discover, they had never had any wars, but remained in a state of internal and external peace. “No wars,” cried he with a scornful and incredulous expression as if the existence of any people under the sun without wars was a monstrous anomaly.”
The Ryukyuans may have developed a culture as close to Utopia that this world has managed.
“The Okinawa Program: How the World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health—And How You Can Too” was based on a landmark 25 year Okinawa Centenarian Study. Along with statistics of health and longevity mention is made of the religion in which women, Noro, were holders of the highest office. Kings were unable to govern without them. Imagine today a world of such equal power sharing with women ayatollahs, popes, dalai lamas.
The horrors of the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 with its mass suicides remains indelibly in the hearts of the people. So too does the ongoing daily desecration of their prime lands by the much abhorred military bases.
Oliver Stone having witnessed the invasion of the military base system declared that the war in Okinawa was not over.
Incorporated into Japan by force, initially in 1609, and later into modern Japan in 1879, Okinawa continues to be considered by military interests of America and Japan to be geographically of the highest strategic importance for war. Okinawa is no less strategically important for peace.
After World War II, Okinawa was under direct US military rule for 27 years during which the Pentagon constructed its military bases, violating the will and the deep values of the people of peace. Reversion to Japan took place in 1972, with military bases remaining intact. In the years since and to this day, a reinforcing and increase of the military base system continues on the main island and stretches along its chain of southwest islands. It encroaches onto one of the most bio-diverse and fertile of marine zones, home to over 5,300 marine species, 262 of them endangered including the specially protected dugong.
After the official outlawing of the Ryukyu system of religion, and following more than seven decades of resistance to the Japanese American military alliance the Okinawan statistic of longest living and healthiest people in the world has dropped.
But what remains undimmed in the soul of Okinawa is the determination for a world free of war. If anything the resolve is growing. Knowing that once there was a thriving and health-filled peaceable kingdom gives some of us hope. Maybe it’s time for a Parliament of World Religions in Okinawa.