Today there are 25-50 thousand Ainu, mostly on Hokkaido. Forced assimilation with invading Japanese in 1868; forced to take Japanese names, speak Japanese, live Japanese culture, lost autonomy, became the lowest social class. Assimilation caused them to lose their names, language, culture, political power and status. Parents chose not to raise children as Ainu; today some are trying to reclaim their heritage. One major source of income is from the government to put on cultural events - singing and dancing - very similar to Native Americans in early to mid 20th century. Ainu is the Japanese name for the aboriginal peoples of Hokkaido. The people of Hokkaido shared language and cultural traditions, but composed different tribes which were socially and politically autonomous.
The Economy was hunting, fishing and gathering (In SW Hokkaido there was some farming, but it was probably introduced by the Japanese in the late 1600s/early1700s). Trade with the Russians to the north and the Japanese to the south was constant and part of a much larger regional trade network. That is, they were not isolated bumpkins. Tribal politics was based on the village or kotan, with lineage elders running things. Age and gender determined social status. Older and male being highest status. Women past child bearing gained in status. The hearth was center of house. Seating was arranged around it based on status. The most important people sat closest to the central mountains, second status towards the north.
Although social status was important, male and female roles complemented rather than clashed with each other. Generosity was the highest human moral value. Ainu deities, animals, were the most generous as they allowed themselves to be killed and eaten. Council of elder males ran the village and served as judges, but shaman, often women, were commonly consulted, and could overrule the council. Social control was peer pressure. “Penetration by the spirit of an arrow” was a common illness, and was caused by harsh words unleashed by one person onto another. Interestingly, the victim was almost never one of the two involved, but rather was an innocent bystander.
Religion Animistic - Animals are gods, as well as food; they live in the mountains Great Horned Owl protects village Fuchi the fire goddess protects the house (the house’s center is the hearth) Bear is most powerful; Iyomanti is the ritual killing of a bear, and is the most important ritual - renews the contract with the animals to provide food. Conducted by one village, but supported by many others, uniting them. Social and Political hierarchy reinforced.
Ceremony with food offering to the kamuy spirits
Here the “inaw” sticks are being blessed by Ota-san and Kenichi Kawamura, the chief of the Chikabumi Ainu. The prayer sticks are carved into the shape of birds, which will then fly the prayers to the gods.
Shaman, a religious person Most Shaman were women Consisted of diagnosing and divination “WHY” was someone sick? Elders proscribed and carried out the cure. Diagnosing and Divination consisted of entering a trance, being possessed by a spirit, which then talked to Fuchi the fire goddess. A divination