Men wearing ancient tribal masks and mud and leaves clinging to their bodies, walk the village streets to scare away evil spirits. They also put a scare into the villagers, especially the children. This isn’t a scene from a movie, rather it’s a centuries-old ritual on Okinawa Prefecture’s Miyako Island.
The Paantu Punaha festival will be held Oct. 11-12 in the village of Shimajiri. Paantu means monster and Punaha means pray. This festival is something you’ll never see anywhere else.
The day before the festival, a ceremony called Sumassari will be held in the village. Villagers hang pork bone at the entrance of village to prevent evil spirits from coming into the village.
“We have Sumassari to pray that Paantu Punaha will be performed safely,” said Tamotsu Miyara, chairman of Shimajiri community.
During the festival, three men from the village go to a sacred well and slather themselves in mud and leaves. And then they don their masks and stroll the streets as Paantu, or supernatural beings. If someone makes an eye contact with the Paantu, they will be chased down and have mud slathered on them.
It’s quite a scene: people screaming and running away to escape these crazy looking monsters. But if you’re caught by the Paantu, it’s a good thing. It is said that if a Paantu wipes mud on you, it will rid you of evil spirits and bring good luck and health.
“Paantu especially target children and those who have new homes in the village. Yes, of course, I was chased by Paantu when I was a kid and I remember running away,” Miyara said with a laugh, adding that children are told throughout the year that if they do something bad, Paantu will visit.
No one knows exactly when or how the festival started, but it is said that it is started centuries ago when a mask was discovered on the beach in Shimajiri
“This is something very special and we respect our ancestors and know we must carry on this tradition in Shimajiri,” Miyara said. “This is an event that all villagers participate in and tourists are more than welcome.”
Miyara was quick to warn that Paantu will touch you if you are near. So expect to get dirty and smelly. From all accounts, the mud can be quite stinky.
After the Paantu have had their fill of slathering people in mud, villagers gather to get their fill of awamori and other cold drinks.
If you’re looking for something new to experience and are not afraid to get muddy – and stinky – the Paantu festival on Miyako Island is something for you.
Experience this year's Paantu Festival on Miyako Island Oct. 11-12