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party at the tomb

August 15, 2004

Last night I danced on a friend’s grave. It’s ok, though: he’s still alive. He was dancing too.

My friend Y is the manager of a small construction company, and his friend M is the manager of another construction company on the island. Although they’re probably technically rivals, they’re near neighbours and old friends (they’re in a band together), and they sometimes work together, too. Lately, M has been very busy – often working weekends – with the construction of a tomb. Okinawan tombs are pretty distinctive structures, and on my island (like elsewhere in Okinawa) they’re everywhere (Okinawan folk religion centers around ancestor worship, so tombs are pretty important). If you go for a wander into the trees by the beach, if you leave the road and walk along the edge of a sugar cane field, you’re likely to stumble on a tomb, and however old and cracked it is, there are usually signs that it’s still tended: the ground in front of it will be swept, or there will be a bowl of food or booze in front of it. Anyway, yesterday M finished work on the new tomb, and so in the evening there was a party in front of it to celebrate its completion. I went along with Y.

“Who’s this tomb M’s been building for, anyway?” I asked him on the way.

“For him,” said Y.

The party was for M and his family (and various friends) to celebrate the completion of the tomb that, presumably, they will all one day end up in. The tomb has a walled ‘yard’ area in front of it, which for the party was covered over with a marquee (from Y Construction), and the assembled parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, and friends sat out in front of the tomb eating lots of food, drinking lots of booze, playing lots of music, and dancing. Out with the sanshins and drums, and time for a good old Okinawan singalong. At first it seemed quite strange to be having such a jolly piss-up at a tomb, but after I’d drunk a bit of drink and danced a bit, I began feel that there’s a lot to be said for this attitude to death – “well, this is where we’re all going to end up, so let’s have a big old party here while we can.”

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