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Tug-of-war pulls Yonabaru together

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2010-08-05

Prayers for a good harvest set the stage for Yonabaru Town’s traditional tug-of-war Sunday, as thousands gather for one of the island’s largest festivals.

The 28th annual Yonabaru Festival has evolved from more than 400 years of inherited traditions, where residents called upon the gods to provide a bountiful crops harvest and to chase devils away. This year’s tug-of-war takes place in Yonabaru Town Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m. Before the townspeople and tens of thousands of visitors grasp the rope, though, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

The Yonabaru Festival is a two-day affair, with opening ceremonies at 3 p.m. in the Main Festival open space in Udun-yama Youth Square in the town’s downtown. The Yonabaru Junior High School brass band will perform, and children begin a sumo wrestling tournament at 3:30 p.m. The festivities kick into high gear at 4 p.m. Saturday with a children’s Taiko drum performance and the Yonabaru Shishimai, the lion dance. At 5 p.m. it’s eisa, followed by Okinawa traditional dance at 5:50 p.m. and Aloha Hawaiian dance at 6:10 p.m. Another Taiko drum performance at 6:30 p.m. leads into break dancing and then live music on stage at 8 p.m.

A children’s tug-of-war gets things going 9 a.m. to noon Sunday, followed by children’s eisa in the afternoon and adult presentations in the evening. Throughout the festival there are dozens of vendor booths offering food, fun and products for sale. Fireworks cap the evening at 8:45 p.m. The pre-festival tug-of-war dance parade kicks off at 4 p.m., following by the tug-of-war history parade.

It’s the tug-of-war that draws like a magnet though. The festive event follows the historical precedent, with east and west villagers, both male and female, coming together. In olden days, men of the villages gathered and carried the rope around the community before the tug-of-war. All who attended the tug-of-war were assured of a safe life, free of accidents and injury from natural disasters.

Following the great tug-of-war, an eisa dance group performs at 7 p.m. at the main festival site, and the festival caps with fireworks at 8:45 p.m. Elsewhere downtown, live music begins at 3 p.m., running together with dancing until the Yonabaru Fighter 3 show at 6:30 p.m. More music follows at 7:30 p.m., with the Yamakawa Mayumi artist show rounding out the second-site entertainment.

The festival’s history in Yonabaru Town goes back for 400 years, having begun in the Ryukyu Kingdom era of King Sho-ei, who reigned from 1573-1588. The king chose the festival for good luck and to pray for everyone’s prosperity, including his own.

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