Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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(i) Folk music.

A generic feature of Japanese music is the predominance of the voice; nowhere is this feature more evident than in Okinawa. Folk music is exclusively vocal and closely connected with ancient traditions of oral literature. Since literary traditions are primarily oral and expressed through the medium of music, a classification of the genres of folk music is similar to that of folk literature.

(a) Sacred songs (kamiuta).

Although Buddhism was introduced into Ryūkyū following the establishment of the kingdom in 1392, it never displaced native shamanistic and animistic religious traditions. As in Japan before the introduction of Buddhism, religious ceremonies have been the preserve of a female sacerdotal hierarchy. Priestesses known as noro or tsukasa sing poetical texts intended to invoke the beneficence of the gods, especially in connection with provision of a plentiful harvest, or to serve as the vehicles for divine oracles.

The songs may be similar to heightened speech or may have a simple strophic melodic structure extending over a narrow pitch range. They are generally unaccompanied, although a simple rhythmic accompaniment is sometimes provided by a drum (chijin). The ceremonies at which the texts are sung take place in simple outdoor shrines known in Okinawa as utaki and in Yaeyama as on. The principle genres are omori in Amami; miseseru, otakabe, umui and kwēna in Okinawa; pyāshi, tābi, fusa and nīri in Miyako; and kanfutsu and ayō in Yaeyama. Other songs of similar type are performed to cure disease, to call for rain and to pray for safe sea voyages.

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