Ubama Katie wraps up Warabi Ashibi

There is something about being able to touch, experience, and handle an item that makes learning its name easier.

About 50 youngsters wrapped up a three-day workshop on Okinawan culture with a luncheon for their parents to showcase all they learned during the Warabi Ashibi, translated to mean “Children at Play,” program that ran from Tuesday and wrapped up Thursday.

“These are very talented students,” Katie Miyashiro, director for this year’s camp, said. “They learned so fast. They even learned how to do the ashibina dance in just two days.”

Bernie Sakoda, one of the volunteers, and labelled “ubama” for the purpose of Warabi Ashibi, said this year’s program was the fifth one being coordinated through the efforts of the Hui Alu Okinawa club on Kaua‘i.

“This is the the biggest one yet,” Sakoda said. “There are about 50 students in this year’s program. Last year, I think we ended up with about 35, or 40 students.”

The students were broken up into four groups, each bearing the name of an Okinawa animal.

The three-day program immerses students in Okinawa culture, learning Okinawa terms such as “ubama” which means “aunty.”

“Everyone to these students is either an ‘aunty’ or an ‘uncle,’” Miyashiro said. “The menfolk are ‘ujasa,’ or ‘uncle.’”

Some of the activities have been handed down from the first camp which was held in the former Kukui Grove Park and Pavilion. These include book-making and taiko making. New to this year’s program was the making of tofu.

“When discussions about the curriculum were being held, someone wondered if anyone knew someone who had a recipe for making tofu,” Sakoda said. “That’s what started everything rolling.”

Miyashiro said the project got help from the Aloha Tofu Co. which supplied the beans, nigari, or agent for treating the soy milk, and the containers.

“The children were thrilled to be able to take home the block of tofu they had made,” Miyashiro said. “It was so cute to see them cradling their container of tofu when they left Wednesday.”

The tofu-making phase replaced the former food activity which involved making noodles that were used in the soup served on the final-day luncheon. Another year, students attempted to create the longest maki-sushi.

For the taiko-making, Miyashiro said Kaua‘i Cookie Company came through with containers so the children could each have their own taiko.

Students began work on their taiko Tuesday integrated with learning the dances. Everything came together Thursday when the convention hall resounded with the students’ achievement and proud parents wielding video cameras took pictures of their youngsters in action.

Members of the Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko and their instructor, Glenna Ueunten, also blended in with the students, creating a larger, unified sound and motion.

In addition to the taiko, students also created their own uchikake, a happi-coat emblazoned with yellow trimmings and sporting a kasuri, or geometric, design.

But it didn’t end there. Miyashiro said Takeshi Fujita came on one of the days to teach the students oshibana. Warren Andrade of O‘ahu worked with the students to create raku pottery, and once the pottery was created, another Honolulu resident, Dennis Arakaki, was joined by Ethel Oyama and Dale Masumura in teaching the students ikebana floral arrangement.

Shelly Gerardo didn’t have to look far to find her son’s creation.

“I could tell which was his because I saw him picking the flowers,” Gerardo said. “This is so good, and I’m so happy my son wanted to come. It keeps the traditions my mother had alive, and passes it down to my children who will hopefully keep it alive.”

Gerardo was one of the lucky parents who was able to attend the Thursday luncheon.

“We were really lucky because an opening came up when one child didn’t show up,” Gerardo said. “Next year, we’ll be on top of this and he’ll be here again.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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