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Monday, July 15, 2013

Give Us Back Our Bones

The Ainu, Japan's indigenous people - the folks who lived in Japan before the Japanese came - want the bones of their ancestors back.

The bones of some 1,600 Ainu individuals were dug up between 1873 and 2011 for anthropological research by various Japanese researchers, and are now being stored at 11 different Japanese universities.

The bones were dug up from Ainu grave sites from Hokkaido, Sakhalin and Kurile islands by the researchers, with remains of 1,207 people contained within Hokkaido university.

Needless to say, the living Ainu people are not happy, with a lawsuit originating from the Ainu Kineusu kotan (the village of Kineusa) against the university of Hokkaido to have the bones of their ancestors returned.

The Ainu are considered to be a distinct ethnic group different to what we know as the Japanese (actually known as the Yamato Japanese) in that the Ainu are lighter skinner, and have more body hair (trust me... I've been called an Ainu by disgusting little teenaged kids in Japan who, without realizing it, are being racist) (I assume they don't know what they are saying...).

As well, the Ainu have facial features that are more European, but are not considered to be Caucasian (what everyone assumes to be White, but also includes Indians from India... yes... I am a Caucasian). The Ainu are more of a 'proto-Mongoloid' according to researchers, based on genetics.

Like most cultures around the world, the Ainu have not been treated well by their usurpers. Think Inuit and Native Indians by Canada and the U.S., or Aboriginals by the Australians or Maori on New Zealand, for a few examples.

The Ainu were your typical hunter-gathers and have their own culture, religion based on nature, and HAD their own language. I say HAD because it is not known if any Ainu can actually speak their native tongue anymore.

This is because of Japan's interference in their culture.

Up until the 18th century the Ainu lived alone on Hokkaido and kept their society intact and away from the Yamamoto Japanese, though just like with the Cowboys and Indians (for example), there was trading and conflict and killing.

But... after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when Japan opened up its borders and gained many new delights like train travel and telegraph from its trade with the U.S. and Europe (see my articles on Commodore Perry), the island of Hokkaido was annexed by Japan in 1899, with the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act passed which forced the Ainu to become assimilated in to Japanese laws and customs.

This was the death knell of the Ainu culture.

While there was no way that the Ainu would ever become Japanese, they were still forced to shed their way of life. And.. even though the Japanese of the day were still heavily involved in hunting and fishing, these rights (basic rights of survival) were stripped from the Ainu, taking away their cultural identity in an effort to make these 'savages' more Japanese, and thus less of a threat while Japan took what it wanted and needed from Hokkaido - land, meats, lumber...

By 2008... 109 years after the Act was passed, Japan's Diet officially recognized the Ainu as Japan's indigenous people.

Depending on who you believe, there official Ainu population is about 25,000 people... but I suspect that has something to do with those considered to be of 'pure Ainu blood', as the Act passed back in 1899 also allowed for, encouraged and even forced intermarriage between the Ainu and Yamamoto Japanese.

Unofficially, the population is estimated to be about 200,000 people.

Pure blood be damned... just count the number of people who consider themselves to be Ainu, or do the damn genetics tests on every person and find out for sure.

Anyhow... for research purposes, I don't think there is anything TOO wrong about testing genetics on bones... but surely once done the bones can be repatriated? There is no need to hold on to these bones.

As well... since the Japanese did officially recognize the Ainu as being Indigenous, surely there was no need for then to have continued digging up Ainu skeletons for further research... unless permission was given.

I do suspect that the Ainu wouldn't have given permission, but surely dialogue between the two would have been better than having someone come and did up a grave.

Just imagine if some scientist went over to the local graveyard and dug up your grandmother saying they wanted to do some research on her... not asking permission... and with no intention of interning her again. That's why the Ainu are upset.

It doesn't even matter if the bones being dug up are hundreds of years old... it's still part of the disappearing Ainu family.

Japan... give the Ainu back their bones.

Andrew Joseph

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