Indigenous food sovereignty: Amami memories of a time before capitalist food systems
Within theoretical frameworks of Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Indigenous Decolonizing Sociology, this research explores the 30 Tokunoshima ‘elders’ memories of the changing foodways and food systems during their lifetimes. Tokunoshima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since July 2021, is one of the Amami Islands, formerly part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, recognized as Indigenous by the United Nations, but not by Japan. Using a form of yarning specific to Tokunoshima, elders aged 60 to 95 storied their lifetime experiences of self-sustaining agriculture, changes occurring when post-WWII ration centers developed into grocery stores, and how changes in colonizer from Japan to the US to Japan again impacted regulation of their lands and lives and farming practices. My research examines how successive colonizers have changed their lives, identities, and foodways, constituting slow violence in the form of degraded land and increasing use of inorganic farming methods, slow poisoning of the rivers, oceans, and soils. Through historical sociological narrative, the thesis traces how Indigenous Food Sovereignty existed as a series of rules encased in rituals handed down over generations but have now become a series of rules encased in regulations and policies that are enacted without consultation, by the colonizers to their benefit. This is a story on how new rules surrounding food came to be the catalyst for change in food rituals on the island of Tokunoshima, a counter narrative to the dominant belief system that Indigenous peoples pursued convenience and thereby became dependent. Rather, loss of Indigenous Food Sovereignty is a side effect of a series of policy changes even on a fertile island peopled by hardworking agriculturalists.
Indigenous food sovereignty, Indigenous Amami people, Japan, Yarning and shimatsumugi, Decolonizing Sociology, Slow violence, Identity