Through Many Challenges and Many Opportunities: An Expanded Worldview after One Year of Field Research on Indigenous People’s Culture
Ms. Noriko Karube studies “racial”, ethnic, and cultural issues in the U.S. by researching hula, the indigenous culture of Hawaii. She has previously conducted research on hula in Hawaii, but since she wanted to know how migrants to the mainland transmitted their traditional culture, she conducted her fieldwork in California, where many people including native Hawaiians migrated.
Ms. Karube selected the Kumu Hula Association of Northern California as her research informant. The Association was established in the 1970s, when indigenous people’s culture was neither appreciated nor understood yet, to create a place and provide opportunities where Hawaiian tradition and culture can be preserved and enjoyed. “I wanted to study an organization that has a long history so that I could learn how some principles of culture have been passed down in this changing time,” Ms. Karube recalls.
She visited the house of the President of the Association often and was given opportunities to spend time studying their activities by living with the President and her family. Ms. Karube remarks, “In ethnographic research, it is most important to build a trustful relationship with informants. I was very fortunate to be included in their family circle and to have learned so many stories during my stay. There were some important historical stories that we unexpectedly discovered in the middle of the family chats.”
Ms. Karube was particularly impressed by the Hawaiian May Day Festival event, on a scale of 10,000 participants, held annually in May by the Association. During the event, the President was suddenly taken ill and could not fully participate. Hence, Ms. Karube was able to help with the event along with the President's family members. She says, “Other Japanese Fulbrighters from my grant period came to the event to visit me. It was very uplifting for me to get together and introduce them to my informants during the event.”
Reflecting on her experience as a Fulbrighter, she explains that initially she did not have a particular dream or aspiration associated with the U.S. However, Ms. Karube recalls, “By conducting research from the point of view closer to the indigenous people and their culture, I had the impression that living in the U.S. is not easy and I became even more aware of the injustices they have experienced.” By actually living and facing challenges in the U.S. herself, she realized that people also have power to change adversity for the better, depending on their actions. Ms. Karube remarks, “Living in Japan is very secure; but, at the same time, there are many things we cannot change by ourselves. In the U.S., on the other hand, there seems to always be a way that you can achieve your dream as long as you don’t give up and try hard. It is up to you. I recognize that I held a subjective and narrow sense of value. I have 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.