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Ancient tribe of China connects with Okinawa

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-28

The people of "Hakka", an ancient tribe originally from China, have slowly climbed out of hiding and oppression to become proud of their contributions to world leadership and the business communities of the world. They celebrate their roots by holding a "World Hakka Festival" every two years in various places around the globe. The first was held in Taiwan in 1973, and the most recent one saw 2,500 Hakka gather in Singapore in 1996. Other places that have held the festival include Malaysia, Bangkok, and San Francisco.

Last week on April 10, a "Hakka Symposium", sponsored and planned by the Okinawa Prefecture Tourism and Culture Division, was held at the Okinawa Convention Center to discuss the possibility of holding a future Hakka Festival here in Okinawa. The World Hakka Festival is much like the "World Uchinanchu Festival", which brings together Okinawans from all over the world. The symposium featured several panelists, who are currently living in Okinawa and mainland Japan, but can trace their roots back to the Hakka tribe.

Although the Hakka are originally from mainland China, there are over 5,000,000 Hakka living in foreign countries around the world. Most of them are concentrated in South East Asia and the Pacific Rim. Many of them have faced a history of discrimination, but have gone on to become world leaders and executive businessmen. Lee Kwan Yu, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, is a Hakka. The founder and President of Tiger Balm Ltd. is a Hakka, and so was the great Deng Zou Peng of China.

The Hakka can trace their roots back thousands of years, but were forced to flea their original homeland because of war. Invading Mongols that swept through northern China pushed the Hakka further south, where they eventually settled around Canton. However, the Chinese of Canton did not consider the Hakka to be "real" Chinese, and the Hakka were often discriminated against. They often built their homes inside of huge circular walls, resembling a fortress, to help protect themselves. Other Hakka pushed on over land and across the sea to find more opportunities. Many of the Hakka living abroad are settled in Taiwan, and of the approximately 45,000,000 Hakka living in mainland China, the majority still reside in and around Canton.

Because of the Okinawa's historical trading connection with China during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there is also most likely a strong connection with the Hakka people. Trading vessels of the Ryukyu Kingdom sailed back and forth to China, forming a strong cultural bond with the larger nation. Like the Hakka themselves, the people of Okinawa have faced much historical discrimination, and are also spread out across the globe, residing in many different countries. Guest speaker, Rin Ko, who is a University Professor here on Okinawa, spoke about the historical connections and similarities between the two different cultures, mentioning that connecting the historical past would be beneficial for both Okinawa and the Hakka community.

These historical links have started a movement in Okinawa to get the Hakka to hold their world festival here in Okinawa in the year 2002. Many of the panelists from last weeks symposium expressed their excitement and desire over a future World Hakka Festival here in Okinawa. The festival would not only form stronger international ties among the Hakka themselves, but also could help promote stronger cultural and business ties with the Okinawan community.

Although it would be the first time for the Hakka to gather in Okinawa, they are no strangers to Japan. Tokyo was the site for the 1980 World Hakka Festival, and there are also several head offices around Japan representing Hakka living abroad.

Kyu Shimpuku, another panelist member, spoke confidently of the great strides forward many Hakka have made, explaining how they have overcome hardships to become world leaders. The feeling among everyone in the audience seemed to be one of a common understanding and a common goal for peaceful prosperity for both Hakka and Okinawans alike.

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