Interview with Dr. Gregory Smits on An Alternate History of Ryukyu

Conventional portrayals of early Ryukyu are based on official histories written between 1650 and 1750. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, Gregory Smits makes extensive use of scholarship in archaeology and anthropology and leverages unconventional sources such as the Omoro sōshi(a collection of ancient songs) to present a fundamental rethinking of early Ryukyu. Instead of treating Ryukyu as a natural, self-contained cultural or political community, he examines it as part of a maritime network extending from coastal Korea to the islands of Tsushima and Iki, along the western shore of Kyushu, and through the Ryukyu Arc to coastal China. Smits asserts that Ryukyuan culture did not spring from the soil of Okinawa: He highlights Ryukyu’s northern roots and the role of wakō (pirate-merchant seafarers) in the formation of power centers throughout the islands, uncovering their close historical connections with the coastal areas of western Japan and Korea. Unlike conventional Ryukyuan histories that open with Okinawa, Gregory Smits’ Maritime Ryukyu, 1050–1650 (University of Hawaii Press, 2018) starts with the northern island of Kikai, an international crossroads during the eleventh century. It also focuses on other important but often overlooked territories such as the Tokara islands and Kumejima, in addition to bringing the northern and southern Ryukyu islands into a story that all too often centers almost exclusively on Okinawa. Learn more about your ad choices.

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