Zamami has been getting ready for another season of activities at sea. One part of the village-wide preparations was the Beach Opening Ceremony held at Ama Beach a couple of weeks ago. On Tuesday, Zamami held another one of its traditional events: Nagaribuni.
Unique to Zamami Island, Nagaribuni is a historical ritual of the village intended to pray for the “happiness of the sea”. A couple of interpretations of the title, Nagaribuni, are “Flowing Boats,” as well as, “Stream of Boats.”
In the past and immediately following WWII, Zamami’s primary industry was bonito fishing. Known as katsuo in Japan, bonito is an important ingredient in Japanese cooking, and Zamami’s bonito was regarded as some of the best in the country.
While Zamami is no longer engaged in large-scale fishing activities, the village still fully depends on the “happiness of the sea”. Today, Zamami’s primary industries are tourism and marine sports. The Nagaribuni event is more important now than ever, and as such, the village still holds its unique event every year.
So, what is Nagaribuni?
The ceremonies were scheduled to begin at 16:00. Pretty much every working boat in the village had made its way out of the port before the starting time. As the clock struck four, the boats began to form a long line, a procession of sorts, between Zamami Island and the two uninhabited islands Gahi and Agenashiku. Once all of the boats had taken their place, the line turned into one large loop from the entrance of Zamami Port to the uninhabited islands past Ama Beach.
Each boat sported its own elaborate and brightly colored flag stating the vessel’s name. Larger boats were adorned with additional flags and banners. The result was a vibrant chain of white boats and colorful flags juxtaposed against the deep-blue waters, white coral sands, and the islands’ luscious verdure. Passengers banged on traditional drums while Okinawan folk music provided a soundtrack for the aquatic parade.
After completing a couple of loops, boats were tied together in groups of three to five ships. Passengers jumped from deck to deck between vessels all the while passing around awamori Okinawan liquor and eisa dancing to the traditional folk tunes. One by one, the five groups of mega-boats made their way into the harbor. Spectators watched, cheered, and partied on themselves as the parade continued to loop around the harbor.
Running a little later than scheduled, this year’s Nagaribuni came to an unconventional end as the high-speed Queen Zamami approached the port blaring its horn–even if the entire village is partying, the Queen remains on a strict schedule. The mega-boat groups quickly disbanded and ships scattered this way and that, as if running away from the big scary Queen. At times boats seemed as if they were about to collide only to gracefully swerve around each other continuing on their intended course. The chaotic ballet ended up providing an entertaining finale for the day, and this year’s Nagaribuni surely ensured another year of happiness at sea.