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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Rituals in Okinawa and Amami
Onarigami
In Okinawa women are considered to possess spiritual power; sisters are called onarigami and they spiritually protect their brothers, called umiki. When there are no sisters, paternal aunts take over the role, and are called obagami. The umiki in their turn provide protection in a secular sense for the onari. Onarigami relationships between brothers and sisters are also evident at a village level. A woman called niigan (or niigami) holds religious authority in the village and presides over village rites and festivals as onarigami, while her brother, the nitchū (head of the community's oldest family), is in charge of secular affairs. Thus villages are governed according to a gender division of responsibility between secular and religious affairs. The origins of this can be discerned in the ancient noro (priestess) and aji (clan chieftain) system, and in the relationship between the king of the Ryūkyū court and the Kikoe ōkimi, the chief priestess of the kingdom who was also a member of the royal family. It also the basis of folk ritual in Okinawa. Yanagida Kunio and Iha Fuyū (1876-1947) considered the onarigami to be related to the onari of the Japanese mainland, while Mabuchi Tōichi analyzed examples from Indonesia and Oceania, concluding that there was a correspondence between the Okinawa onarigami and the Oceania pattern of the ritual and spiritual superiority of sisters.

— Saitō Michiko
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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