Destin Hokama, 12, gets a guiding hand from instructor Shigeko Nakasone in a calligraphy session Sunday during the Children’s Camp held at Hualalai Academy and organized by the Kona Okinawa Kenjinkai.
It’s a draw between Michael Gopaul, 11, and Malama Kalawe, 9, as they, as well as other attendees of Children’s Camp, play with water squirt guns made from bamboo. The two-day was held at Hualalai Academy and organized by the Kona Okinawa Kenjinkai. (Photos by Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Jayden Kirihara, 8, of Captain Cook builds a paddle boat out of a kamaboko board, chopsticks, rubber bands and a tongue depressor Sunday morning during the Children’s Camp.
Anthony Gopaul, 11, gets a guiding hand from an instructor during a calligraphy session Sunday. Gopaul was participating in the annual Children’s Camp, held at Hualalai Academy and organized by the Kona Okinawa Kenjinkai. (Photos by Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Limbless, eyeless daruma dolls sat on a table Sunday morning at Hualalai Academy, staring blindly out at the intrigued and enthusiastic youth participating in the two-day Children’s Camp offered by the Kona Okinawa Kenjinkai.
When knocked over, these bright red, round roly-poly creations always popped back into their original position. Camp organizers hope the dolls serve as a constant reminder of optimism, determination, resilience, overcoming adversity and goal setting to the children who made them out of balloons and paper mâché.
Constructing this popular good luck talisman, modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, was just one of several hands-on projects offered last weekend. The annual camp helps preserve, promote and perpetuate the identity, culture, language and traditions of Okinawa for future generations, said Pat Nagy, Kona Okinawa Kenjinkai president.
Instructors and volunteers revealed details of Okinawans’ royal past and how they arrived in Hawaii in 1900 to work on plantations; the similarities Okinawans share with others; the significance of traditional songs, music and dance; as well as favorite cooking recipes and games. The camp was open to children ages 8 to 13 from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds who have a curiosity for and strong interest in these subjects. Fourteen West Hawaii children attended, all of which hopefully pass what they have learned to others and proudly represent the spirit of Okinawa, Nagy said.
“Some of the children here are either yonsei or gosei, fourth or fifth generation. This camp is intended to make sure they do not lose their Okinawan ties. It’s important to know your lineage and ancestry, as well as to tell the story of what our issei and nisei, the first and second generations, did in Hawaii. All of this helps you really know who you are,” she said. “For the others who do not have Okinawan roots, it’s a chance to celebrate Hawaii’s unique ethnic diversity by learning more about the spirit and cultural values of the people of Okinawa.”
The Children’s Camp was first established in 1996 on Oahu by the Hawaii United Okinawa Association. The summer program is now offered statewide by dedicated all-volunteer clubs. The 45-member Kona Okinawa Kenjinkai held its first camp in 2005, took a short break because of logistic reasons and then successfully revived it last year. Access to educational opportunities like this one helps bridge not just the geographical borders, but cultural ones too.
Waimea resident Destin Hokama, 12, said his mother encouraged him to attend the camp because of his eagerness to immerse himself in his heritage. He discovered several commonalities between Okinawa and Hawaii, including how both places are made up of islands and at one point had been independent kingdoms whose natives were great ocean navigators.
Besides learning facts about Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Hokama said he enjoyed making and learning how to use the Odaiko, a drum carried over the drummer’s side by a sash, which serves as the “heartbeat” of the song and dance. Hokama plans to continue doing performing arts like taiko drumming because “it’s really fun, and it’s a way to connect to my culture.”
For Kona resident Justyn Toyama, it was “interesting” learning about Kyuzo Toyama, a man known as the “Father of Okinawan Immigration,” who helped immigrants come to Hawaii to work more than 100 years ago.
But what this 12-year-old camper said he took away most from last weekend’s activities was “an appreciation” for what the first Okinawans endured, “especially the kids in the plantation camps” who used the resources around them to make simple toys and “still had a lot of fun.” One example is the paddle boats fashioned out of kamaboko boards, chopsticks, rubber bands and a tongue depressor, which were often raced in the gutters of plantation camp homes.
Kailua-Kona resident Anthony Gopaul, 11, said the camp was “great” because it provides children with “something different” to do over the summer and “you learn a lot.”
For more information about the camp or Kona Okinawa Kenjinkai, call Nagy at 325-0060.