Through Many Challenges and Many Opportunities: An Expanded Worldview after One Year of Field Research on Indigenous People’s Culture
Ms. Noriko Karube studied America’s racial, ethnic, and cultural issues by researching hula, the indigenous culture of Hawaii. She previously conducted research on hula in Hawaii, but since she wanted to know how migrants to the mainland transmitted their traditional culture. Therefore, as a next step as a Fulbrighter, she conducted her fieldwork in California, which is inhabited by many Hawaiian transplants.
Ms. Karube selected the Kumu Hula Association of Northern California as the subject of her research. The Association was established in the 1970s, a period when indigenous people’s culture was niether appreciated nor was it understood, to create a place where Hawaiian tradition and culture can be preserved and enjoyed. “I wanted to study an organization that has a long a history so that I could understand how the things were preserved and passed to us in this changing times,” Ms. Karube recalls.
As part of her research, she visited the home of the female president of the association multiple times and was later invited to carry out her research by living in the president’s household. Ms. Karube remarks, “In ethnographic research, the most important aspect is building a trustful relationship with informants. There were stories that I heard only after living with her and earning her trust. Accounts of important incidents would suddenly be revealed in the middle of family chats.”
Ms. Karube was particularly impressed by the Hawaiian event, on a scale of 10,000 participants, held annually in May by the Association. At the time of her stay in the household, the president was suddenly taken ill and could not participate in the event. Hence, Ms. Karube helped conduct the event along with the president's family members. She says, “The other Japanese Fulbrighters from my grant period attended. It was very encouraging for me to have them meet the group I was studying.”
She reflects on a time before conducting her research abroad when she did not have muchdreams or aspirations of visiting or living in America. Ms. Karube recalls, “I had been performing my field research by staying close to the indigenous people and was sympathetic to their plight, so I thought that it would be hard, not to mention unfair, for them to live as migrants in the United States.” However, by actually traveling there and facing challenges, she realized that opportunities can emerge from adversity, depending on her own actions. Ms. Karube remarks, “Living in Japan is very secure; but, on the other hand, there are many things we cannot change on our own. In the United States, we can realize magnificent dreams as long as we are willing to work hard. It is up to oneself. I recognize that my research was based on a narrow sense of value; I now have therefore grown as a researcher, and my philosophy of life has changed, as well.”
Even after her return to Japan, Ms. Karube continues her involvement in the Association as its secretary.