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4. Stages of Community Development - Overview

1) Early makyo village communities formed by one or more consanguineous group. The founding family (or families) heads the community. The earliest areas designated as sacred were possibly also burial sites for village elders, hence the gradual association between such sites with ancestral deities and guardian deities.

2) Evolution to greater complexity in village life, with males controlling village administration and females dominant in ritual affairs (not sure when or why it was determined that women possessed more ‘spiritual power’ than men) population growth supported by greater agricultural yields and the expansion of the size of the village from the small makyo to the larger ‘mura’ unit and an increase in the number of villages throughout Ryukyu.

3) Continuing migration into the northern Ryukyu islands (not sure about developments in the Yaeyama and Miyako regions), predominantly from the north, with newcomers generally seen as positive and assimilated into the community.

4) The rise of local political leaders known as aji (either in a continuation of the community head system connected to the founding family or perhaps a system by which leadership was based on merit or having particular skills such as military knowledge or experience) and the development of fortified compounds in which the aji resided, commonly above the farming communities they effectively ruled over. The aji headed and protected the community, receiving a certain percentage of the agricultural yield.

5) A logical development leading from point 4) is competition and rivalry or the forging of alliances for coexistence among and between aji. Disparities in wealth resulted if stronger aji were able to conquer neighboring communities and incorporate their areas of agricultural productivity into his own domain. It is no coincidence that the wealthier aji were able to build the best stone walls around their compounds whereas weaker aji had limited stone areas. Access to good port facilities was another significant resource edge for the aji since this allowed access to trade. Some aji imported iron tools and distributed them among local farmers. More effective tools were positive for increased productivity and therefore also aji wealth.

6) Despite what would appear to be an inevitable plummet towards civil war, there apparently broke out a multi-decade era of detente among the aji during the latter part of the 13th century. At this time the king of the Urasoe region (it is not precisely known what the extent of his realm was but the likelihood is that it was really rather small) was called Eiso. What limited knowledge we have suggests that Eiso was able to bring about this change for several reasons.

Firstly, he was probably regarded by many people as having special powers since his rule coincided with an increase in agricultural prosperity and population growth while his predecessor oversaw natural disasters, famine and the death of perhaps half the population. Second, Eiso is credited with organizing an agricultural tax/tribute system that was deemed fair by farmers and probably regarded as a stroke of genius by the aji who were trying to raise revenue but did not want to look like greedy pigs. Thirdly, Eiso is reputed to be the strategic mastermind behind Okinawa’s repelling of two attempts by Kublai Khan to conquer the island.

After Eiso’s death, unfortunately, his offspring were not quite as devoted to their duties and the support of both farmer and aji was apparently lost. The aji power consolidation process restarted and three distinct principalities resulted: Nanzan, Chuuzan and Hokuzan. By whatever process, a powerful aji in each realm declared himself king and a capital was established. Thus began the so-called sanzan era that would end with Okinawa’s military unification in 1429.

 

 


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