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Itoman Haarii 'daddy of 'em all' this weekend

Date Posted: 2012-06-22

The bells atop Santinmo Hill overlooking Itoman Port began ringing a week ago, alerting everyone to the big day Saturday when the Haarii Festival gets under way with a 9:30 a.m. parade.

Okinawa is known for its festivals, but this one ranks among the most important, because it is held to mark the end of the rainy season, said to be the fourth day of the fifth month according to the lunar calendar. As to be expected, boat races are the centerpiece of the festival, which has Kunukase, a game that tests each fisherman’s ship handling skills. Each boat is capsized, leaving the rowers to turn the boat right-side up, then row back to the finish line. The final race, agai subu, pits the best rowers against each other.

Itoman’s Haarii began at least 450 years ago; the exact date it was started by a Tomigusuku castle lord who later became King of Nanzan. O Oso started the races after watching them in China, and deciding they fit the ritual of offering up prayers for a bountiful ocean harvest and safe passage for fishermen’s boats as they worked to make a living. They’re colorful, popular, and an essential part of the Itoman community’s fabric.

The Haarii, along with Itoman’s Giant Tug-of-War that takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, are the city’s big events. To preserve ancient traditions, one of the boat races pits three villages that existed in ancient times –Nishimura, Nakamura and Mijima—against one another. Each haarii boat, a sabani, is manned by 12 people including ten rowers, a helmsman and a standard bearer.

Dawn Saturday sees the Nanzan priestess and Itoman priestess conduct a religious ceremony on Santinmo. The first race, the Ugwan Bare, to begin following prayers. Once complete, members of each team head to Hakugin Shrine in the order they finished the race in, to thank Itoman’s patron god, Ibinme.

The day’s final race in Itoman is the Agai Subu, the longest of the races at 2,160 meters. It’s the best chance to see fishermen paddling hard to prove their strength. Each village approaches the race very seriously, selecting only the best, most skilled and powerful oarsmen. After the race it’s off to the Itoman priestess’s house, following tradition. Women don’t compete in the Haari, but they’re among the more than 30,000 that turn out each year to support their village’s team.

Haarii’s big. Really big. So big, in fact, that Itoman’s far from being the only community staging a haari. Some are big, some not so big. All are open to visitors. Choices this Saturday, are:

Nashiro Haarii (Dragon Boat Races) – at Nashiro Beach, Itoman. Aharen Haarii – at Aharen, Tokashiki Island. Kaijinsai – at Nishisato Port, Miyako Island. Yonaguni Kaijinsai – at Kubura Fishing Port, Yonaguni Island. Aguni Kaijinsai – at Aguni Port, Aguni Island. Ohjima Kaijinsai – at Ohjima Fishing Port, Tamagusuku, Nanjo.

Ishigaki Haarii – 8 a.m. at Ishigaki Fishing Ports, Hamazaki, Ishigaki Island. Tonaki Kaijinsai – 8 a.m. at Tonaki Fishing Port. Minatogawa Haarii – 8 a.m. at Minatogawa Fishing Port, Yaese. Torishima Haarii – 8:30 a.m. at Torishima Fishing Port, Kume Island. Gima Haarii – 8:30 a.m. at Gima Fishing Port, Kume Island. Maedomari Haarii – 8:30 a.m. at Maedomari Fishing Port, Kume Island.

Nakijin Haarii – 8:30 a.m. at Unten Port, Nakijin. Itoman Haarii – 9 a.m. at Itoman Fishing Port. Maeganeku Haarii – 10 a.m. at Maeganeku Fishing Port, Onna. Ie Kaijinsai – 10 a.m. at Ie Fishing Port.

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