The Shimanchu people are an indigenous island people often confused with being Japanese, though the language and culture are different. While the United Nations recognizes the “Ryûkyû/Okinawa” (Uchinanchu/ Shimanchu) people as Indigenous, the Japanese government does not. The Shimanchu identify by a few names, adding to the confusion. Uchinanchu, Shimanchu, Lewchoo… all are names of the indigenous people of Okinawa Prefecture, formerly known as the Ryûkyûan Kingdom.

The language spoken is Uchināguchi, spoken primarily in the southern half of the island of Okinawa. Central Okinawan distinguishes itself from the speech of Northern Okinawa, which is classified independently as the Kunigami language. Both languages are listed by UNESCO as endangered. Uchināguchi is a verbal language with no written version.

I’m third generation Shimanchu. Thanks to imperialism, much of the Shimanchu culture has been eradicated by governments. The Shimanchu people ask for their land to be returned to them, and the US military bases to be removed. As long as the world thinks the Shimanchu people are “just Japanese” they continue to be occupied, discounted and voice-less.

5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About “Okinawans”

  1. Okinawans are actually Shimanchu or Uchinanchu. “Okinawa” is the name of the prefecture, not the people.
  2. The Shimanchu are egalitarian as opposed to patriarchal or matriarchal. They have always treated the sexes as different, but equal.
  3. Despite the cultural oppression, the Shimanchu have retained their animistic beliefs. Women tend to be the spiritual leaders with the responsibilities divided between yuta (a shamanistic witch) and noro, the priestesses. The women in my family were a mix of yuta and noro.
  4. The Ryukyuan islands have star shaped sand in some places.
  5. The Shimanchu have guardians particular to them called shisa. It’s always a male and female (egalitarian!) and they protect, bring luck and balance.