Adriane Stoia is a PhD student in History at UC Santa Cruz. Her oral history project explores the indigenous Ryukyuan hand tattooing practice called Hajichi, and its emergence and prevalence across the Okinawan disapora. Stoia served as a THI Summer Pathways Graduate Fellow (2023), a Winter Podcasting NHC Fellow (2023), and a Graduate Student Success Fellow (2022-2023). In January, we discussed the relationship between diasporic identity and colonization, the role of online collectives in sharing cultural knowledges and practices, and the importance of mentorship support for first generation graduate students.
Hi Adriane! Thanks for chatting with us about your ongoing research. To begin, could you give us a general synopsis of your research project?
My research focuses on the oral histories of the Okinawan diaspora living throughout Japan and the Americas. I am particularly interested in the revitalization of the indigenous Ryukyuan hand tattooing practice called Hajichi and its emergence throughout the diaspora. This stick-and-poke tattooing practice dates back to the fifteenth century and was traditionally performed by female Hajichiaa who would tattoo the hands and arms of Ryukyuan women with symbols that commemorated milestones and represented beauty, status, and protection. The practice was banned in the late nineteenth century by the Meiji government and has since been suppressed under Japanese colonial rule. My project looks at the reemergence of hajichi in recent years, specifically focused on online networks of diasporic Okinawans who are reclaiming the practice.
Indigeneity provides a framework for recognizing ways of knowing that persist, resist, and transform despite colonial suppression. Within this context, hajichi emerges as vital memory work for Okinawans seeking to reclaim a sense of community, bodily autonomy, and ancestral connection to the land.
Your work is interested in exploring the relationship between indigenous and diasporic identity for Okinawans removed from the Ryukyu archipelago. What has your work thus far revealed about the way this identity is defined, and what role has the reclamation of ritualistic practices like hajichi played in shaping that definition?
Hajichi raises some really interesting questions about the complexities of indigenous identity in diaspora. The connection between diaspora and colonization prompts consideration of how cultures and knowledge endure and transform across time and space. Indigeneity provides a framework for recognizing ways of knowing that persist, resist, and transform despite colonial suppression. Within this context, hajichi emerges as vital memory work for Okinawans seeking to reclaim a sense of community, bodily autonomy, and ancestral connection to the land.
As part of your research work as a THI Summer Pathways Fellow, you conducted oral histories with hajichi practitioners from the Hajichiaa collaborative, an online collective working to revitalize and reclaim hajichi tattooing by and for Okinawans. I imagine this process revealed a host of fascinating information and stories, but was there a specific encounter or a specific moment that stands out to you from your interviews–a moment of surprise, shock, awe, or understanding you’d like to share with us?
It is always special to speak with fellow Shimanchu, because like many Okinawans in diaspora, I did not grow up knowing many other Okinawan people outside my immediate family. Getting to “yuntaku” (or talkstory) with other Shimanchu is the heart that brings me to this work. In my interviews with hajichiaa active in revitalization efforts, I’ve been so inspired by their unwavering dedication and resourcefulness to learn about hajichi, despite the considerable challenges presented by historical and linguistic barriers. In the face of these challenges, they are undertaking remarkable archival work, discovering source materials, translating documents, and establishing platforms to share and circulate information within the community. Where there are gaps in knowledge, each hajichiaa I’ve interviewed has their own thoughtful approach to honor the inevitable space between restoration and creativity. Being part of this special historical moment is such a privilege, and I am truly in awe of the community’s resilience, tenacity, and dedication to preserving Okinawan history.
You received THI support to attend the 2023 National Humanities Center Winter Residency, “Podcasting the Humanities: Creating Digital Stories for the Public.” How did this residency shape your views on/approach to digital humanities and public humanities work?
The residency was a wonderful opportunity for me to get hands-on experience creating a podcast from start to finish and to collaborate with other scholars throughout the country applying their research to the digital humanities.
I first developed an interest in podcasting while volunteering with the Ichariba Choodee podcast, a community-led project dedicated to Okinawan voices and stories. Created in 2020 by Mariko Middleton, Erica Kunihisa, and Tori Toguchi, this podcast has become a hub for Okinawans around the world to connect, share stories, and engage in the process of un/learning our history. This podcast is an excellent example of how the digital space can facilitate access for historically marginalized communities to engage history on their own terms. Joining the NHC residency was an extension of my desire to continue my support of this initiative, as well as learn the skills to make my research accessible to the community.
The residency was a wonderful opportunity for me to get hands-on experience creating a podcast from start to finish and to collaborate with other scholars throughout the country applying their research to the digital humanities. These skills are so necessary for making research produced within the academy accessible to the wider public—a responsibility that, I believe, scholars within the humanities must consider.
As a first gen graduate student, being a part of the Graduate Student Success program was an invaluable space for me to connect with peers and faculty who can relate to my questions, concerns, and anxieties for how to manage the hidden curriculum of graduate school.
In 2022-2023, you were a Graduate Student Success Fellow. Why is it important to provide humanities graduate students with community and mentorship? What’s one aspect of the program that felt particularly useful/helpful to you?
It’s important to recognize that not all students are on equal footing when they come to graduate school in terms of knowing how to navigate the academy. As a first gen graduate student, being a part of the Graduate Student Success program was an invaluable space for me to connect with peers and faculty who can relate to my questions, concerns, and anxieties for how to manage the hidden curriculum of graduate school.
Finally, what’s your favorite spot on UCSC’s campus?
Last quarter, during finals, I visited Oakes dining hall for the first time and decided that’s my new go-to place for long study sessions on campus. It does cost since it’s a dining hall, but I think the ocean view sunsets are worth the entrance fee.
Banner Image: Moeko Heshiki is a hajichiaa who currently lives in Naha, Okinawa. She is the founder of the Hajichi Project and one of a few practicing hajichiaa in the Ryukyu Islands. Photo by Adriane Stoia.