Monday, 16 June 2008

Japan Recognises AINUs – First Colonizers of America


Mainstream cultures assimilate minorities. It’s a bit like big fish eating small ones. 

History is full of countless examples. Some of these happen right before our eyes. Tibet has received much attention recently but very few people know about the AINU of Japan.


Are Ainus the First Americans?
Ainus - The first Americans? 

The theory that the Ainus were the first to settle North America is based largely on skeletal and cultural evidence among tribes living in the western part of North America and certain parts of Latin America. 

The controversial conclusions of Anthropologist Joseph Powell of the University of New Mexico after examining the 9300 year-old remains of Kennewick Man also support this. More about Ainus being the first Americans here.
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Who are the AINU People of Japan?
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Who really are the AINU? Only about 15 people today speak native Ainu, a language not related to any other. The 150 000 AINU still alive can be found in Hokkaido island of Japan, the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin belonging to Russia now. Many of them may not even know that they are Ainus, as parents and grandparents had to become Japanese and hid their origins to protect children from racial discrimination. 

Many Ainus dislike the term Ainu because of a common derogatory pronunciation of the word in Japanese (A! Inu!, which means "Ah! A dog!" in Japanese) and prefer to identify themselves as Utari (comrade in the Ainu language).


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Origin of the Ainu People of Japan
"The Ainu lived in this place a hundred thousand years before the Children of the Sun came" 
is told in one of the Ainu legends (Yukar Upopo). In the Jōmon period (14 000 BC – 400 BC) the Japanese people came probably from Korea and drove the native Ainus to the northern periphery islands of Japan. The word ainu means human as opposed to kamuy, a spirit.


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One Ainu myth says that the Ainu, who have a great deal of body hair, are descended from a bear god. A bear sacrifice ritual is still practised by the Ainu in which the sacrificed bear is sent “home” to the ancestors. The bear is probably the oldest form of deity known to primitive man in the northern regions and common in Britain, Celtic Gaul, and North America. 

The Greek goddess Artemis transforms Callisto, one of her maidens who has angered her, into a bear and assigns her to the heavens as the constellation Ursa Major or Great Bear to watch over humans rom the sky.

The Beliefs of the Ainu People of Japan

The Ainu believe that everything in nature has a kamuy (spirit or god) inside. Most important is grandmother earth (represented by fire), then comes the kamuy of the mountain (animals), then kamuy of the sea followed by kamuy of everything else. 

The Ainu have no priests but give thanks to the gods before eating and pray to the deity of fire when they are in trouble. Believing their spirits to be immortal, the Ainu hope to ascend to kamuy mosir (the Land of the Gods). Curiously the Ainu also have a deluge myth in which a very few people escape to a mountaintop.
Kutune Shirka, is the great epic of the Ainu people. It is a 10 000 word long first person narrative that ends abruptly. Yukar is the collection of Ainu native songs.


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Close Genetic Relatives of the Ainu People
Genetic testing of the Ainu people has shown them to be close to the people of Tibet and the Andaman Islands. The Yamato Japanese and the Ainu probably had contacts from earlier than 2000 years ago. Around 700 AD, the Japanese began “subduing” the Ainu and were somewhat unsuccessful for a long time. 

We can also think that this warfare between the two groups created the foundation of the Samurai class in Japan. 

  • The Ainu lost wars with the Japanese in 1457, 1669, and 1789. 
  • The language was outlawed
  • Ainus became labourers in the Japanese fishing industry. 
  • In the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the Ainu received the status of "former aboriginals", which meant that they could only exist as Japanese.
Shigeru Kayano (1926-2006) was the first Ainu politician to sit in the Kokkai or Japanese Diet (parliament) and one of the last speakers of Ainu language. He also wrote 100 books about Ainu culture.


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Japan Recognizes Ainus as Indigenous People
On 6th June 2008 the Japanese Diet or parliament adopted a non-binding resolution calling the Japanese government to recognize the Ainu as indigenous to Japan and end all discrimination. Things are changing for the Utari.

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