Ellen Schattschneider - Associate Professor of Anthropology, Brandeis University
Hundreds of Okinawans still pay annual memorial pilgrimages to Micronesian island sites where their loved ones perished in the American attack in June, 1944. Their reception by indigenous communities is partly conditioned by postwar patterns of Japanese investment and tourism, as well as by widely sensed bonds of enduring kinship across many indigenous and Okinawan family networks. On Saipan, an elderly Chamorro man, who still speaks fluent Japanese learned during the Japanese colonial period from 1914-1944, explains his continuing efforts to care for a Shinto shrine on his land in terms of a mystical vision he experienced decades ago: a beautiful woman on a white horse rode from the shrine ruins towards a ravine where hundreds died in battle in 1944. He associates the woman with the farm’s former Okinawan residents, as well as the Spanish colonists who once owned his land. On Tinian, in turn, recent struggles over how to mark sites of coerced mass suicides by Okinawan civilians in 1944, as well as the pits used to store and load the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs in 1945, are framed by related battles over negotiating a Chinese-funded casino and renewed interest in local land by the Pentagon for military training. In one case, an Okinawan family brought a traditional “yuta” shamaness to help “bring back” the soul of a deceased relative killed during the fierce battle of June 1944. In all these cases, the propitiation of the unquiet spirits of the dead is intimately entangled in local and regional experiences of globalization, through which new opportunities for international linkages are opened, even as class divisions and related social inequalities are intensified.