The outstanding webzine Our World 2.0 recently posted a remarkable article and video about the “ama” free divers of Hegura Island off the Noto Peninsula in the Japan Sea. For centuries these divers, all women, have been collecting abalone and other sea life using nothing but loin clothes, only adopting wet suits in 1964.
What makes these semi-nomadic people so amazing to me is that they live collectively, deciding together about where, when and how to maintain the ocean resources so as not to deplete them. They carefully consider technologies, adopting some but rejecting most, in a refreshingly clear-eyed analysis that goes against our more usual knee-jerk adoption of seeing anything new as better. On Hegura Island they decided to ride bicycles and walk to get around, reserving just two cars, one for garbage collection and one for emergencies. Indeed, their whole lifestyle is governed by collectively-made decisions.
The men clearly have important roles in the community, but there isn’t the masculine-value-hegemony that is the norm elsewhere. During the annual festival celebrating the belief that the female goddess of the island travels to meet the male god of the mainland, the men dress as women. Clearly, these people are secure in their gender identification and roles.
There is no mistake to me the connection between the feminine lineage of this tradition and the maintenance of their traditional communal values and careful questioning of technological innovation.
To see the ritual for the divine feminine really underscores the qualities of balance, harmony and respect that is such a far cry from the more recent fear-based laments in the Japanese media that young people are missing the “animal spirits” necessary to maintain the competition-based consumptive paradigm.