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Onarigami: Holy Women in the Twentieth Century

Monika Wacker
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
Vol. 30, No. 3/4, Feminism and Religion in Contemporary Japan (Fall, 2003), pp. 339-359
Published by: Nanzan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30234054
Page Count: 21
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Onarigami: Holy Women in the Twentieth Century
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Abstract

This paper intends to show how the belief in onarigami, that is, the spiritual power of women, which gave the Okinawan women an important social and political role in the dual rule characteristic of the kingdom of Ryūkyū, is still relevant today for the rebuilding of Okinawan women's identity. The ambilineal descent groups recruiting members from both the father's and the mother's side was ideal in fostering an egalitarian society, albeit with a rather strict division of labor, with opportunities to wield power open to both sexes, for the women as state or village priestesses. The need to investigate the matter from an historical point of view is underscored by the recent publication of two works, which will be reviewed here, by a female and a male, a Western and Japanese scholar respectively, who both interpreted Okinawan material without taking the local history into account. Based on her own research, the author shows the roots of the belief in onarigami, traces the steps of historical decline of female religious power throughout the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, and discusses the revival of the identity of women as onarigami towards the end of the last century.

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