A Paranku Pioneer
Violet Ogawa-Sensei Shares Okinawan Performing Art with Local Community
They strike their red hand-held drums with precision. Dressed in bright purple and white uchikake vests and striking black and white leggings, Paranku Club of Hawaii members dance and sing as they lead the colorful procession of club banners marking the opening of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association's annual Okinawan Festival.
Paranku Club of Hawaii instructor Violet Ogawa has participated in the Festival since it began in 1982. Her students have performed in Okinawa, on the Neighbor Islands and on the Mainland, traveling as far east as North Carolina. But for Ogawa, the Festival is always the highlight event of the year.
Ogawa has taught paranku, the small drum used in the art, since 1976, when it was brought to Hawaii from Okinawa. That summer, former HUOA president Gary Mijo invited Ogawa and her older sister, Nancy Nakaya, to attend a special two-week course at the University of Hawaii taught by Josho Matsumoto, a noted paranku teacher from Okinawa.
In Okinawa, women were taught to dance with their hands, but were not allowed to hit the paranku. That was reserved strictly for men. Ogawa and Nakaya convinced Matsumoto-Sensei to break with tradition.
Paranku in Okinawa is usually associated with O-Bon, that time every summer when the spirits of departed loved ones return to their families for a few weeks. In Okinawa, young boys would traditionally go house-to-house during the summer months and play the paranku to chase away evil spirits and bring happiness and wealth to each household. Paranku drums were also used in O-Bon performances known as eisaa, featuring dancers, large taiko drummers and musicians playing the Okinawan three-stringed sanshin (lute).
Ogawa was working as a health aide at Princess Victoria Kaiulani Elementary School in Palama when she was first asked to teach paranku to students for their May Day performance.
With the help of the Kaiulani PTA, Ogawa made hundreds of cardboard paranku drums and spent the next few weeks teaching the schoolchildren paranku. She taught them "Medetai Bushi" - the "Happiness song" - which they quickly renamed the "May Day tai-bushi."
After the school performance, Ogawa was asked to teach paranku at more than a half-dozen other local public schools. The vast majority of her students were not of Okinawan ancestry.
"When people ask me to teach them, I tell them that they don't have to be Uchinanchu. As long as they're Uchinanchu at heart, they're more than welcome," said Ogawa.