The Origins of Banana-fibre Cloth in the Ryukyus, Japan
Studia Anthropologica 12
The Japanese word bashofu literally means "banana-fiber cloth." Both the cloth and the clothing made from it are now considered important constituents of Okinawan identity. The Japanese Folk Craft Movement in the 1930s brought attention to this special trait of Okinawan material culture. After years of decline following World War II, the weaving and use of bashofu saw a revival that accelerated after the return of Okinawa to Japan in 1972 and still continues. Although today bashofu receives considerable attention because of its status since 1974 as one of Japan's important intangible cultural properties, its origins and history had remained hidden.
In this book Katrien Hendrickx searches for the origins of bashofu in the Ryukyus, including the origins of ito basho, the plant that provides the raw material, and studies the yarn-making methods and weaving techniques. She also focuses on why and how the Ryukyuan people adopted those techniques and introduced them into their own society. By careful analysis of all available sources, considered from viewpoints from fields as various as pure history, phytohistory, philology, ethnography, and folklore, Hendrickx convincingly proves that bashofu was introduced in the Ryukyus from Southern China, and not from Southeast Asia as is commonly argued. Her overview of present-day bashofu-weaving and its use also provides valuable insights into the situation of folk-craft within Okinawan society during the second half of the twentieth century and up to the present day.