A Warm Smile, An Open Heart: Morabeza in Setonaikai, Japan?
Above: Ogijima island port
Stephanie Évora, PhD Candidate,
Graduate School of Global Studies,
The Setonaikai region in Japan seems to remain hidden from many people passing through the country. Hidden are its islands, its communities surrounded by mountains, the sea and the shores of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. While it may remain hidden from the eyes of those who do not explore smaller communities, some seem to journey along the Setonaikai islands and feel at home exploring their neighbourhoods. The journey takes us to Naoshima, Teshima, Inujima, Megijima, and Ogijima islands. Small islands with narrow streets, smiling islanders, inviting stares, small populations, and an increasing number of elderly inhabitants. From the ferry to the islands, one usually observes a number of houses close to each other, the marina with small fishing boats, and the mountain and vegetation watching over the island.
My first impression of the islands while approaching by ferry is of quietness and a sense of time slowly floating, similar to my own archipelago of 10 islands off the West African coast – Cabo Verde. After mentioning the similarity with one of the islanders, they expressed surprise, for it seems I could identify shima jikan or “island time” and were further surprised by the fact that Cabo Verde had its own island time. The similarities between the islands and the ones in the Atlantic grew the more the islands were explored during the initial study from 2019 to 2020, exploring islandness, the essence of island living, and the art tourism industry spread in the Setonaikai (Évora 2022). The islanders’ kindness, interest and curiosity for visitors’ stories remain a highlight of human interactions on the islands. The human interactions between islanders and non-islanders passing through the islands informed the interest in researching Naoshima, Teshima, Inujima, Megijima, and Ogijima islands. The latest interview-based study investigated the hospitality experienced on the five islands, its similarities to Morabeza as island hospitality in Cabo Verde, and how it could benefit the islands’ future.
Islands as Places of Encounter
From Derrida (2005), passing through Selwyn (2012) and Lashley (2008; 2015), hospitality has been studied as a social engagement present in every culture involving the relationship between the host and the guest. Hospitality is a medium that can be utilized to attract and connect hosts and guests in an open setting of human exchanges. Notwithstanding the importance of the general concept, the focus of the relationship between islanders and non-islanders in the Setonaikai was hospitality in island settings, exemplified by Morabeza.
Morabeza is a product of Cabo Verde’s geography and history after discovery in 1460 and the islanders’ struggle for their culture and characteristics. The Portuguese discovered the small archipelago of 10 islands in 1460. However, the first settlements of Portuguese and enslaved people began to arrive in 1462 when the Portuguese Crown attempted to establish a fixed colony on the islands. With the passing years, it became evident that setting a fixed colony would not be simple. The islands were located far from the African coast and Portugal. The islands lacked natural resources. The climate was dry and sweltering, hindering agriculture and deterring Portuguese settlers who were not used to the severe hot climate. With the expansion of the Atlantic slave trade and the islands’ position between Europe, the Americas and the African continent, many merchant Europeans began to congregate on the islands (Barros 1939). Forced by the circumstances experienced in the islands, inhabitants were forced to coexist, removing most barriers between individuals. As a result, miscegenation occurred on a large scale in the territory. Mestizos were essential in creating the islands’ culture and traditions and attempting to explore the Cabo Verdean essence through literature, giving birth to Morabeza (Peixeira 2003; Mariano 1991; Madeira 2016).
In this context, Morabeza became a cultural and ideological concept authentically Cabo Verdean created through the islands’ social coexistence. Morabeza describes the capacity for locals to welcome others with warmth and respect while not separating the island condition and islandness from the openness to all that pass through the islands’ shore. Based on relationships of interdependence and community, island hospitality differentiates itself from hospitality by not being a commercial service only geared to visitors or tourists. Instead, Morabeza is extended to all those who duel on the island space. The concept involves a weak notion of money, being hospitable without expecting anything in return, and spontaneous curiosity for human relationships. Additionally, Morabeza presents a need to coexist with those who pass through the island, eliminating barriers and converting strangers into friends. Morabeza, as island hospitality, erases the distance between individuals to protect the social relationships in island settings and guarantee the future of island life.
Morabeza in Setonaikai?
The practice of Morabeza as island hospitality in Naoshima, Teshima, Inujima, Megijima, and Ogijima islands was separated into three groups and had different levels of engagement. The relationship between islanders on the same island proved very close, with kindness and friendliness between the inhabitants. Islanders extended a helping hand to each other in moments of need, shared produce, or transportation. In Naoshima, the kindness and cooperation of the islanders extended to their businesses, with islanders visiting each other’s businesses and introducing restaurants or cafes between each other and visitors. However, the closeness between neighbours can be considered invasive by those who did not grow up accustomed to such practices, as was revealed in Teshima. The close relationship between people in small communities can be overwhelming if not eased into since some can experience a lack of privacy when it comes to family issues.
Morabeza was observed between islanders and new migrants that relocated to the islands. It revealed an attempt at erasing barriers between individuals and integrating new migrants into the island community. Islanders appreciated the new migrants and the dynamic shift they brought to the islands. In Megijima and Inujima, they frequent each other’s businesses, know those who move to the islands and seek interactions. Although the openness and welcoming spirit were evident, in some cases, getting used to the islanders’ friendliness took some time for those who came from urban areas and were not used to close neighbourhood relationships.
Morabeza towards visitors passing through the islands seems to have been impacted by the number of visitors on the islands and COVID-19. Islanders in Teshima and Ogijima revealed that although still friendly, the welcoming mood declined over the years with the overwhelming exposure to visitors. Additionally, since the beginning of COVID-19, the island’s population has remained cautious of interactions because all the islands have a high number of elderly inhabitants. For example, in Ogijima, out of the 153 inhabitants, 53 were elderly. On the other hand, islanders whose work dealt with tourism interacted more frequently with visitors maintaining a positive attitude towards all visitors.
The Setonaikai and Cabo Verde, though separated by land and water extensions, have a similar nature of being places of encounter and exchange of people and cultures over the centuries. Cabo Verde’s history of colonization brought people to the islands that centuries later would give birth to mestizos, who took their first steps in creating and affirming their culture through literature. The Setonaikai region, as a place of passage, refuge, and opportunities, has shaped the islands and their islanders into open and welcoming communities that now struggle with a population decline endangering their future. The islands are now attempting to remould themselves through art showcasing instances of island life, nature, and islanders’ plight. Literature and art in Cabo Verde and the Setonaikai are then reflections of islandness. Cabo Verdeans ought to closely watch Naoshima, Teshima, Inujima, Megijima, and Ogijima islands and observe how Morabeza presents itself on smaller islands.
The attempt at Morabeza detected in the Setonaikai is closely connected to collectivity and a sense of community between islanders and those passing through their islands. Island hospitality is linked to how islanders join forces in nurturing close and united relationships among themselves and visitors. Island communities are not passive in interacting with non-islanders. On the contrary, Islanders influence and are influenced by those who pass through their shore. Islanders in the Setonaikai welcome all with a warm and open curiosity seeking to erase human barriers between people on the islands and convert strangers into friends. The reciprocal relationship between islanders and non-islanders is the core of Morabeza as hospitality in island settings.
The population of island societies constantly fluctuates, leaving islanders to face demographic problems that could risk the island’s future. Therefore, observing new practices for island development through self-reliance is essential for the survival of small island communities. In time, the Morabeza elements taking root in the Setonaikai could expand, serving as a mechanism to increase feelings of attachment to the islands between islanders and attract new residents invested in establishing themselves on the islands for long periods.
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