SUMMIT, STORYTELLING FEST: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

It was history in the making — an opportunity for the people who drive the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, who are the wind beneath the wings of any success enjoyed by the organization to pause for a moment and reflect on the role their individual clubs play in terms of their own self-identity and also in shaping the future of the HUOA.

“Our Clubs, Our Future” was a fitting theme for the April 28 “Summit” held in the Teruya Pavilion of the Hawaii Okinawa Center. “We were very pleased with the participation of the young people,” said HUOA President Jimmy Iha. He said they seemed genuinely concerned about the future of HUOA. “I think we planted the seeds and we need to follow up with activities.”

Summit organizer and HUOA Administration Committee chair Jimmy Toyama concurred. “What was particularly pleasing was the great numbers of young people who attended and actively participated.” He said consultant Dan Watanabe’s “historicizing” exercise helped the attendees place HUOA past successes in a historical context. That also helped them understand what historical forces are currently impacting HUOA and the member clubs, and what challenges must be overcome in order to remain strong. He said the information gathered from the summit will provide a foundation to move forward.

“Much hard work remains ahead, but we now have some consensus on what direction we must go in,” Toyama said. “We need to continue reinforcing what was learned today and to impress it upon a wider audience so that the momentum generated will not falter.”

He said HUOA needs to establish a “club development” thrust so that support for the clubs remains a central focus — and so that the words, “our clubs, our future” will continue to have meaning.

Less than two weeks later, the HUOA held its second 50th anniversary project: a Storytelling Festival at the Hawaii Okinawa Center with the theme, “Building Bridges of Aloha.” The May 9-11 festival attracted about 1,000 people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It was aimed at reaching out to the larger Hawaii community and connecting between generations and cultures through storytelling. The festival was also a gift of aloha from HUOA to the people of Hawaii for the support Uchinanchu have received since their arrival just over a century ago.

The six storytellers swept the audience away to different places and times: Karen Yamamoto Hackler shared Japanese folk tales, Woody Fern told tales of old Hawaii, Nyla Ching-Fujii passed on legends of Pearl Harbor and haunting Pele stories, Dann Seki’s shared Okinawan folk tales and Bamboo Ridge adaptations, Makia Malo told chicken skin tales of living among the spirits in the isolated leprosy settlement at Kalaupapa, and Marie Solomon passed on spiritually powerful stories from her native Kohala on the Big Island.

Each evening’s program began with cultural entertainment at the entrance to the Teruya Pavilion, followed by a “call” into the hall by a thunderous taiko performance by the Ryukyu Kobudo Taiko - Hawaii Shibu.

“All of the storytellers expressed their delight in being invited to be a part of the Storytelling Festival,” said festival chair Jimmy Toyama, who hopes that the Storytelling Festival will become a regular activity of the HUOA.

“Audience comments indicated that the storytellers and the stories they told touched the audience in a positive way. Some felt that bridges were indeed built between generations and cultures,” he added. “Most importantly, people commented that they got the idea that we are all one people tied together in our fundamental humanity.”