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East meets west at Yonabaru tug-of-war

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-08-13

Throbbing drumbeats, the clanging of bells and highly vocal chants will fill the streets of Yonabaru Sunday afternoon for one of the islandís largest tug-of-war events.

Itís all part of the 27th Yonabaru Festival, the Yonabaru Great Tug-of-War. The festival stretches across Saturday and Sunday at the Udun-yama Youth Square in Yonabaru Town, with the big tug-of-war coming at 5 p.m. Sunday.

The festival, which has been staged in Yonabaru Town for 400 years, is a prayer for good harvests. It began in the Ryukyu Kingdom era of King Sho-ei, who reigned from 1573-1588, as the king chose the festival for good luck, and to pray for everyoneís prosperity, including his own. The tug-of-war pits the east side of the town against the west side, each side grabbing either the male rope or female rope linked by a Kanachi bar. The two sides begin pulling hard, to the sounds of the drum and bugle corps, and lots of ringing of gongs. The festival traditionally falls on the lunar calendarís weekend after June 26th.

The festivities begin with a parade Saturday at 10 a.m. and opening ceremonies at 3 p.m. Group dances, a childrenís sumo wrestling tournament, adult sumo and eisa dances fill the afternoon and evening. The evening picks up the tempo with live bands and a childrenís Taiko drum fest.

The childrenís tug-of-war takes place Sunday at 10 a.m., followed by the kids performing Eisaa dances and another parade at 4 p.m. The great tug-of-war begins at 5 p.m., and victors and losers alike celebrate at 7 p.m. with more Eisaa dance, live music on stage, and then the final crescendo, fireworks at 8:45 p.m.

Further to the north, the All-Okinawa Eisaa Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday in Okinawa City, commemorating Obon. The events during the weekend festival pay homage to spirits of ancestors, a Buddhist tradition. A parade runs along the streets by Koza Music Town. Even further north, the 20th Nago Eisa Festival runs Sunday, with plenty of Eisaa groups from Nago City and its northern neighbors participating. The events take place at the Nago City Athletic Field.

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