Kumiodori – teatr królestwa Riukiu
Kumiodori – Theatre of the Kingdom of Riukiu
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The purpose of this article is to present the characteristics of kumiodori – a unique form of theatre that developed in a particular socio-geographical environment of the Okinawa Island over 300 years ago. Created in 1719 as a political tool for an entity that exists no more, it continues to shape the identity of a nation within a nation. Nowadays Okinawa stands for one of the 47 prefectures of Japan, as well as the name of the biggest island among the Ryūkyūs, that once constituted the core territory of the Ryūkyū Kingdom - a tributary state in the sphere of Chinese and Japanese influence. Officially these are known in Japan as Nansei (Southwestern) Islands, since geographically they form an island bridge connecting Japan with the Asian Continent, not so far from the Tropic of Cancer. This interplay of power relations, as well as the environmental factors were formative for the Ryūkyūan culture and can be found in the characteristics of the performing arts that developed on Okinawa, such as kumiodori. Sophisticated dialogue between the Japanese and Chinese thought systems can be found in its aesthetics and lyrics. Both influences are distinctive in music and song verse, while the maritime and tropical character of the natural environment, represented by the vivid colours of the turquoise ocean, multicoloured coral reef and flowers or evergreen bushes brightened by the scorching sun are clearly visible in set design, props or costumes. This article introduces the kumiodori as a form of art that developed not only as an entertainment, but also in order to reassure harmony with the neighbouring countries and yet represent the distinctive value of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Kumiodori is a theatre genre that describes in its form the delicate process of turning pride into identity. Starting with historical outline and examples of representative kumiodori performances, with its characteristics described and compared to the culturally closest Japanese nō theatre, this article also touches on the current state of the kumiodori theatre in Japan. It is intended as an introduction and invitation to experience this genre that is unique to Okinawa Prefecture, and to provoke further consideration on the role that the geopolitical situation played in the formation of kumiodori.
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