The Hawaii United Okinawa Association was established in 1951 as the Hawaii Okinawa Rengo Kai, or United Okinawan Association of Hawaii and renamed the Hawaii United Okinawa Association (HUOA) in 1995. It serves as the umbrella organization for 50 member clubs statewide. The HUOA is also a charter member of the United Japanese Society of Hawaii.
The HUOA played an important role in Okinawa’s post-war recovery effort by sending clothing, livestock and other essentials to help the people get back on their feet after the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. That relationship created a bond between the people of Okinawa and Hawaii’s Uchinanchu community that remains intact more than a half-century later.
From the end of World War II, when Okinawa – Japan’s southernmost prefecture – was placed under U.S. military rule, until 1972, when it was returned to Japan, the United Okinawan Association was acknowledged by the United States government and the Civil Administration of the Ryukyus as the official representative of Okinawans in Hawaii. In that capacity, the UOA was asked to host official visitors from Okinawa and to participate in various government-sponsored programs. The UOA involved its member clubs in carrying out these programs.
The member clubs of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association are comprised of families whose ancestors immigrated to Hawaii from the same region in Okinawa. The HUOA thus plays an important role in fostering the Okinawan ethnic identity as its goals are to preserve, perpetuate and promote the culture of Okinawa. Today, membership through the member clubs total approximately 40,000.
Most of the member clubs are organized by shi (city), cho (township), son (rural township) and aza (small village). Thus, shijin kai are locality clubs whose members are descendants of immigrants from the same ancestral city; chojin kai from the same township; sonjin kai from the same village; and azajin kai from the same section of the village. Doshi kai clubs are made up of several aza (small village sections) within a son (village).
Still other clubs, such as Maui Okinawa Kenjin Kai, Okinawan Genealogical Society of Hawaii, Hui Makaala of Hawaii and Young Okinawans of Hawaii are organized around a geographical area of residence or a common mutual interest.
Member clubs were initially formed to serve the basic needs of the Issei (first generation Japanese/Okinawans) by providing assistance, support and companionship in their times of need. That same kind of support continues today among the younger generation of Okinawans. The clubs help maintain continuity from generation to generation by planning activities for their members, including New Year’s parties, summer picnics, special projects, sports activities, and sometimes, even tours to Okinawa.
The HUOA, on the other hand, relies on the volunteer assistance of the member clubs for its various cultural programs and activities, such as the annual Okinawan Festival, craft fairs, parades, and maintenance of the Hawaii Okinawa Center.
On an international level, the HUOA serves as the vehicle by which many Hawaii Uchinanchu learn about Okinawa.
The Hawaii United Okinawa Association is a very active organization. One of its most visible activities is the annual Okinawan Festival, a two-day extravaganza held at the Kapiolani Park bandstand, which features Okinawan music, dance and other cultural activities. The Festival provides an opportunity to share the unique Okinawan culture with locals and visitors in a festive outdoor setting. Often touted as the “largest ethnic Festival in Hawaii,” it is an opportunity to get an up-close look at Okinawan culture and taste Okinawan foods. Almost three thousand volunteers are involved in staging the Festival each year. The volunteers, most of them members of the HUOA clubs, spend almost a year planning and organizing the event.
The HUOA presents is “Uchinanchu of the Year” awards to outstanding volunteers as determined by their respective clubs at the HUOA’s annual Installation Banquet. The award recognizes the honorees’ contributions to their club, the HUOA and to the community at large.
It also runs a sports program that encourages camaraderie, participation and fellowship among the member clubs through friendly competition in bowling, golf, softball and volleyball. Additionally publishes a bimonthly membership newsletter, UCHINANCHU; maintains a regularly updated website, www.huoa.org and www.okinawanfestival.com; produces a weekly television program on Channel 53, “Hawaii Okinawa Today,” which focuses on HUOA activities and organizes tours to Okinawa to experience the culture and learn about the ancestral homeland.
The goal of all of HUOA’s activities is to enhance awareness of the Okinawa culture and heritage in Hawaii and to share its richness with others in Hawaii and worldwide.