Folktales of Okinawa

The Origin of Trees

English Text by Jayne A. Hitchcock

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A long, long time ago, when God created the island of Yaeyama, it was covered with rocks. So God decided he had to bring something else to the island so that it looked better.

One day he called all the trees together. The fuguki tree came first, then the pine tree, then the kuwa tree. Later, the bamboo, kuba, and adan trees came. But they all started fighting over where they would live on the island. God got upset and told the trees to come in front of him one at a time.

To the first, the fuguki tree, God said, "You have a strong body and leaves, so you will live around houses and protect them from typhoons and fire." The fuguki tree was very happy about this and felt very important.

To the second, the pine tree, God said, "You should grow around the villages and show off your big pine needles and protect the people from evil spirits and epidemic diseases." The pine tree was also happy to be protecting the people.

To the third, the kuwa tree, God said, "You have soft leaves and they fall easily when the wind blows. I will make it so that you will grow new leaves quickly and bear edible fruit. You go and live in the yards of people's houses and out in the fields to help the humans and small birds."

Then came the bamboo, kuba, and adan trees.

To them, God said, "Bamboo, you will save drops of rain and keep them in the soil with your roots stretching wide. You will protect the people from a landslide in heavy rains and from cracks in the earth during earthquakes. People will use you for making baskets, furniture and fishing rods. You will be needed in many ways for everyday uses, therefore more of you will be needed, so you will bear many babies."

God turned to the kuba tree, "You will help people with your big wide leaves that will be made into hand fans and used as buckets. Finally, adan tree, I will let you live on the seashore to protect the sand from big waves. For your own protection, I will put needles in your leaves so horses and cows won't eat you."

God now rested, glad he had finished with deciding each trees position.

Much later, the sotetsu tree came and asked God, "Where will I live?"

"Sorry, sotetsu, you are late, so none of the fertile land is left. You have to live on rocky land."

Sotetsu did as he was told even though he was a little disappointed. Now all the trees were taken care of. Or so God thought.

Two more trees appeared, the akou and gajyumaru. They hesitantly asked, "God, where shall we go?"

God was mad at these latecomers and said in a harsh voice, "You go and grab any rock you can find."

Then God left.

Today, you can still see the akou and gajyumaru trees grabbing hold of the rocks with their roots as if it was the last choice left to them.

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NOTE: This story is unique of the Yaeyama Islands and is hardly ever heard on other islands of the Ryukyus. Another version tells of the Kyoubou, the land owner, imposing land tax on the trees, grass, and humans. The trees, grass, and humans agreed to pay their taxes, but the trees haarb, gajyumaru and sunmutou were against the taxes. Because they didn't pay up, they all ended up living on the rocks.

Have you heard any Okinawan folktales? If so, please send them to J.A. Hitchcock