Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ainu Komonjo

"The Ainu are generally considered to be the indigenous population of Japan. But, like all cultures on earth, the history of the Ainu is much more complex than any one label. The 20,000 to 60,000 people who presently identify themselves as Ainu are concentrated on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, but the Ainu culture once stretched up to the southern part of Sakhalin Island and the Kurile Islands (now part of Russia)."

Ainu peoples distribution map
"When the Japanese state was officially opened to outside influence in 1867, visiting Western scholars became fascinated by the Ainu they met in Hokkaido. They were struck by their "primitive" way of life, their "bizarre" rituals that involved the sacrifice of bear-cubs, the practice of facial tattooing, and their large amounts of body hair. Their facial features, when contrasted with the Japanese on the main island of Honshu, made them look positively Caucasian to these early scholars and explorers." [source]


The woodblock illustrations below were cherry-picked from a Wisconsin University collection of about forty books presenting the earliest depictions - from the 18th and 19th centuries - of the Ainu people by the Japanese. The images are in haphazard order and are primarily of the Sakhalin Ainu (pronounced eye-noo)



Arai Hakuseki - Ezo-shi (1720) d

'Ezo-shi' by Arai Hakuseki (1720)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 1 (1855)

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 1 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Matsuura Takeshiro - Ishikari nisshi (1860)

'Ishikari Nisshi' by Matsuura Takeshirō (1860)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 2 (1855) b

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 2 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Arai Hakuseki - Ezo-shi (1720) duo

'Ezo-shi' by Arai Hakuseki (1720)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 2 (1855) d

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 2 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 1 (1855) duo

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 1 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 2 (1855)

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 2 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Arai Hakuseki - Ezo-shi (1720) duo a

'Ezo-shi' by Arai Hakuseki (1720)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 2 (1855) f

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 2 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Kondo Morishige - Henyo bunkai zuko vol. 3 (1804) a

'Henyō Bunkai Zukō' vol. 1 by Kondo Morishige (1804)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 1 (1855) duo a

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 1 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Kondo Morishige - Henyo bunkai zuko vol. 3 (1804)

'Henyō Bunkai Zukō' vol. 3 by Kondo Morishige



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 2 (1855) c

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 2 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Kondo Morishige - Henyo bunkai zuko vol. 4 (1804) b

'Henyō Bunkai Zukō' vol. 4 by Kondo Morishige (1804)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 4 (1855)

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 4 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Mamiya Rinzo - Kita Ezo zusetsu vol. 4 (1855) a

'Kita Ezo Zusetsu' vol. 4 by Mamiya Rinzō (1855)



Kondo Morishige - Henyo bunkai zuko vol. 4 (1804)

'Henyō Bunkai Zukō' vol. 4 by Kondo Morishige (1804)



Matsuura Takeshiro - Ishikari nisshi (1860) a

'Ishikari Nisshi' by Matsuura Takeshirō (1860)


[many of these images have been brazenly sliced, diced and modestly doctored for display purposes; click through for enlarged versions; there are a few more in the set]


"All the Ainu engaged in a hunting-gathering way of life. Men hunted and trapped land and sea mammals and other animals, and fished in rivers and sea. Women gathered root crops and other edible and medicinal plants. Although “art” was not a separate sphere of their activity, men were skilled carvers and women were talented in weaving and embroidery. Their oral tradition, both of the Sakhalin and Hokkaido Ainu, was highly developed and some scholars view their lengthy epics comparable to the Greek epics.

For the Sakhalin and Hokkaido Ainu, the bear is their supreme deity. They would catch a bear cub, nurture it and send its soul back to the mountains in an elaborate bear ceremony, which was not only a religious ritual to express their respect for the bear during which they feasted on its meat. It was also a political occasion to display the wealth and power of the political leader and his settlement." [continued]

3 comments :

Spirit Kazoo said...

Wonderful post! I have been learning about Ainu people and culture, especially music. Fascinating stuff!
Below is an example of an Ainu instrument, the Tonkori.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur8-K_Hr8jw

acornmoon said...

What an amazing treasure trove you have unearthed here!

Neil said...

Fascinating images. The Ainu spirit-sending ceremony for the bear, the iyomante, was a wonderfully rich cultural inheritance (anyone who wants to know more should look first at Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People edited by Fitzhugh and Dubreuil). And it's quite right that Ainu epic poems are absolutely wonderful (see various collections edited by Donald L. Philippi, such as Songs of Gods, Songs of Humans). The most interesting thing about these oral story-poems is that they are told in the first person from the point of view of a god, such as the bear god, kimun-kamuy.

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