Okinawa's Handu-gwa statue part of tragic tale

Okinawa's Handu-gwa statue part of tragic tale

by Story and photo by Michael Lynch
Stripes Okinawa

Many travelers visit the island of Iejima to see lily fields, tour the most popular caves, spend time at the beach, find the Ernie Pyle monument or, tour Mt. Gusuku. Few have heard of another important memorial on the island, the statue of Handu-gwa, situated in Shimamuraya Memorial Park. The statue is part of a tragic tale has been recreated in movies, plays, songs and operas.


Hando-gwa originally came from a village on the northwest coast of Okinawa island.  She was a petite Ryukyuan beauty, with soft, black, silky hair, that nearly reached her feet. Late in the 18th Century, a prince from Iejima passed through Hentona Village.  The handsome young man, charmed Handu-gwa and, they became passionate lovers.


One day the lad, told Handu, he was called away to perform duties but, would return for her, someday. Anyone working for the Satsuma Clan, must be an honorable man and, she was certain he would keep his promise to return to her. He never came back to Hentona.  Forever and a day, went by while Handu-gwa waited.


She eventually arranged for transportation to the island with a boatman, named Tamaki.  Aboard the ship, she made conversation with Captain Tamaki and, mentioned her lover, who was royalty from the island.


Being the good sailor, that he was, he didn't want to overload the pretty lady, with too much information.  He, advised her, it would be best if she, stayed clear of the lord (aji), his castle and, his son, the prince.  She, should just look at other places on the little island and, enjoy a vacation.


Handu-gwa was positive this man loved her and, ignored the boatman's warning. She went off looking to find her one true love.  Arriving at her prince's residence, she discovered, why he never returned.


The scoundrel, had a wife and a child.  In despair, Handu-gwa, climbed the only mountain on Iejima. She draped her long black hair over a tree limb, tied it around her neck and, hanged herself.


Disaster soon followed for the lord and his son; they died early, unexplained deaths. Succeeding generations of the family had misfortunes, losing their health and wealth.


At times, an apparition of Handu, would be seen.  The ghost, with long black hair, had tangles and strangulation marks around her neck.  Cold air and chilling winds, would blow on a hot, steamy summer night. If a sickly or stillborn child was born, the black marks were present on the baby's throat.


Captain Tamaki, who had warned Handu-gwa, seemed to be immune from her curse. He and his offspring had good luck, succeeded in business and their families were blessed with long, healthy lives.

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