Another nationally designated traditional handicraft, Chibana Hanaori, is a proud product of the Chibana and Noborikawa districts of the former Misato Village, Okinawa. Its history dates back to the 18th century when most Okinawa fabrics were produced under rigorous restrictions as tributes to the royalties of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Chibana Hanaori, however, was free of such restrictions and woven and worn on common occasions of local festivities, namely Umaharashi (horseback-riding, male festival) and Usudeko (ritual for good harvest, female festival).
So, the charms of Chibana Hanaori are found in the way the designs are done by how the weavers fancy at their will. Some of them lack consistency, designs different in sizes and shapes, but that’s the very essence of Chibana Hanaori. That was why it was left out of the list of articles for tribute; that was how it has retained its freedom in craftsmanship; and that was the reason why Chibana Hanaori virtually died off and had to await the last-minute restoration efforts to come back to life. I’ll discuss the restoration efforts in later paragraphs.
Usudeku is held on August 15 of the lunar calendar staging dedicatory dances by females clad in Chibana Hanaori, called Watajin and Dojin, dancing to the accompaniment of drums and songs – 6 pieces in the first half and another 6 in the latter half of the stage, altogether 12 in all. Usudeko is a living heritage of Chibana’s ancient ritual where the roots of Chibana Hanaori are visually demonstrated.
Chibana Hanaori features unique weaving skills combining two techniques called “tateuki” and “nuitori”. Unlike other local hanaoris, Chibana features vertically aligned designs. It was once considered extinct and what little left was classified as a deviant of Yomitan Hanaori. But an intensive research later identified it as a prototype of Chibana Hanaori.
The story of Chibana Hanaori never exists but for a man who chanced to bring this fabric back to life from near extinction, rather for a piece of newspaper write-up he happened to read one day on a fabric bearing the name of his hometown “Misato Hanaori”. Chibana by the way is an area Okinawa City in the former Misato district, Okinawa.
The man, Kishin Ko by name, is currently an instructor at the Chibana Hanaori Restoration Center and staff of the Okinawa City Department of Commerce and Industry, and recalls his student days at Ryukyu University graduate school when he handpicked Chibana Hanaori as the thesis of his study.
“No document to refer to, we had to every tiny sample of Chibana Hanaori to track down techniques, locate local dyes and reconstruct looms, etc. We had a series of brainstorming sessions to compare, analyze and restore traditional skills.
“Chibana Hanaori was then classified in the family of Yuntanza Hanaori. But we discovered the warp has a way of “floating” to weave out designs in Chibana Hanaori. We found out then that it was a technique already established in the 18th century.
“Small incidents added up to substantiate our ‘discoveries’. In Osaka I spotted by chance a bundle of sample fabrics, in which we found a key to our research leading to our conviction that Chibana Hanaori was fabric independent of Yuntanza Hanaori.”
Now, let’s take a moment to study just how the restoration work was carried out to revive the craft of Chibana Hanaori alongside the research undertaken by Kishin Ko.
In August, 2000, the City of Okinawa inaugurated a campaign of its own to revive the lost art of weaving/dyeing that had flourished in the Misato and Noborikawa districts known as Misato Hanaori. A century of time lost, knowledge scarce, surviving craftsmen nowhere around, and hardly any trace of skills handed down, the campaign had to rely on an extensive door-to-door survey.
In December that year, three samples of “Chibana Hanaori” were hunted out at last and designated the city’s cultural assets by Naha . That set off the restoration campaign eventually leading to the coming-to-life of Chibana Hanaori. These samples were a horseback riding outerwear, a man’s formal divided skirt also for horseback riding and a robe. Villagers were all cooperative, offering fabrics that were preserved as family treasures over a hundred years.
Chibana, the home of Chibana Hanaori, is today in the city of Okinawa of the former villages of Goza and Misato. Misato was itself an administrative unit in the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom and, further back in the 12th -16th centuries, had a castle and a town to go with it – and, of course, rich cultural livelihood with fabrics, earthenware, smithery, carpentry, etc.
In 2008 the City of Okinawa inaugurated the Chibana Hanaori Business Cooperative Association to highlight Chibana Hanaori as a local industry. Chinbana Hanaori was designated a traditional product of the prefecture of Okinawa in 2010 and a national traditional handicraft in May, 2012, for the first time in 23 years – the 14th from Okinawa.
The Chibana Hanaori Business Cooperative Association accepts some 10 trainees each year in an 8-month technical seminar. Miss Naomi Kamida, an instructor, comments:
“Chibana Hanaori is nationally designated as a traditional handicraft and now better known publicly, but we have a lot to do with its promotion. Also we need to beef up our capacity to cater for more orders now coming in. It is important that we handle not only traditional rolls and belts/sashes but other lines of product.
“Chibana Hanaori is naïve and yet brilliant. It’s Okinawa’s proud fabric worth promoting worldwide.”
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has thus far designated nationwide a total of 212 items as national traditional handicrafts and Okinawa ranks third with 14 items in the number of items after Kyoto (17) and Niigata (16) over the span of 1975 through 2012. Chibana Hanaori is the latest comer and active promotion drives are ongoing to highlight Okinawa’s yet another characteristic traditional fabric.
Chibana Hanaori is a live, breathing fabric being “restored” this moment. Chibana Hanaori is the youngest and the most promising of Okinawa’s 12 nationally designated traditional fabrics by virtue of its freer concept of designing and general craftsmanship. (Nathan Shiga)