The Ainu built their homes along rivers or by the sea where water was plentiful and safe from natural disasters.
Recently, however, things have started to look up for the Ainu. In April 2019, they were legally recognised as an indigenous people of Japan by the Japanese government, after many years of deliberation, which has resulted in a more positive appreciation of Ainu culture and renewed pride in their language and heritage.
"It is important to protect the honour and dignity of the Ainu people and to hand those down to the next generation to realise a vibrant society with diverse values," said government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, as reported in The Straits Times.
Naraki continued showing us around the Ainu kotan (village). Still smiling, she pointed to a wooden, cupboard-like structure. “This is the toilet for the men,” she said, giggling. Next to it was a smaller, teepee-style hut. “And this one is for the women.”
I want to tell the world that Japan has indigenous people
Naraki leads tours of this kotan to teach visitors about her culture. It is part of the Sapporo Pirka Kotan (Ainu Culture Promotion Centre), Japan’s first municipal facility featuring indigenous people, where visitors can experience Ainu handicrafts, watch traditional dancing and imagine traditional Ainu life when this area was a vast wilderness and the people lived on and with the land. Located approximately 40 minutes by car from downtown Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city, the centre was opened in 2003 to teach both other Japanese and foreign visitors about Ainu culture and spread their message to the world.
“97% of Ainu are underground. But the people who come here to events are very proud of their culture,” said Jeffry Gayman, an educational anthropologist at Hokkaido University who has been working with the Ainu for 15 years.
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This is our bear hut,” the short, vivacious woman shouted through a hand-held loudspeaker, her smile creasing her forehead with deep wrinkles. A blue hat was perched on her head and her short tunic, embroidered with pink geometric designs, was tied sharply at the waist. She pointed at a wooden structure made of round logs, raised high above the ground on stilts.
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“We caught the bears as cubs and raised them as a member of the family. They shared our food and lived in our village. When the time came, we set one free back into nature and killed the other to eat.”
Having treated the bear well in life, her people believe the spirit of the sacred animal, which they worship as a deity, will ensure the continued good fortune of their community.
Kimiko Naraki is 70 but looks decades younger. She is Ainu, an indigenous people who now live mostly on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, but whose lands once spanned from northern Honshu (the Japanese mainland) north to Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands (which are now a disputed part of the Russian Federation). The Ainu have long been of interest to anthropologists because of their cultural, linguistic and physical identity, but most travellers will not have heard of them. That’s because although they were the earliest settlers of Hokkaido, they were oppressed and marginalised by Japanese rule for centuries.
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Sayur lodeh extends this symbolism linguistically and numerologically. Each of the seven key ingredients that are added to a base of coconut milk – melinjo (an olive-like fruit), melinjo leaf, chayote (a type of squash), long beans, aubergine, jackfruit and tempeh – has a symbolic meaning that is derived from the sound of its syllables.
Like many aspects of Javanese belief, the purpose is to avoid misfortune
In Javanese, the wungu of terong wungu (aubergine) means purple, but also something like “awaken”; while the lanjar of kacang lanjar (green beans) equates to “blessings”. Put together the seven items and you have something approximating a spell.
The ritual of cooking sayur lodeh is an example of a slametan, a type of communal rite that the anthropologist Clifford Geertz identified as a central feature of Javanese culture. One striking characteristic of the slametanis its fatalism; sayur lodeh is performed without much expectation that it will actually work.
“It’s interesting that the sayur lodeh is not an individual thing,” said Santoso. “It’s a response to a misfortune that looks like it will overpower everyone. It’s an effort to mitigate, as much as avoid, something that is probably inevitable.”
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We were out distributing food on 9 May when we came across a group of people who said they were going to their homes in the southern state of Karnataka," Sood told me.
"We asked them how would you go? They said they would walk. But it was 550km so I requested them to give me two days. I said, I'll make all the arrangements for you to go home. I managed to secure all the permissions in Maharashtra and Karnataka."
When buses carrying the first batch of 200 people left on 11 May, Sood and Goel were there to flag them off. Before the buses began rolling, Sood broke a coconut on the road - a ritual to wish them a happy journey.
"When they left they had smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes," the actor said.
Since then, he has helped thousands of migrant workers and their families get to states across India. And requests for help continue to pour in.
"I have been getting thousands of mails and messages on my phone daily from people asking for help. Thousands have also been reaching out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram," he says.
"At a time when families are spending time together, we are working 18 hours a day," says Goel. "We are both getting a lot of flak from our families, but we do it because it has to be done."
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has been helping thousands of migrant workers, stranded by the Covid-19 lockdown in Mumbai, return home.
"It gave me sleepless nights when I saw visuals of people walking hundreds of kilometres to reach their villages," the actor told the BBC.
India announced a sudden lockdown on 24 March, leaving migrants in the lurch.
Millions found themselves without jobs or a source of income. And with state borders sealed and trains and buses suspended, thousands of men, women and children were left with no other option but to walk, sometimes more than 1,000km (620 miles) to reach home.
More than 100 have also died - either in accidents or through sheer exhaustion.
Sood, who won prestigious awards for his role as a wily villain in the 2010 superhit Dabangg, has worked with some of Bollywood's biggest names such as Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai.
For the past two months, the actor, along with his childhood friend Niti Goel, has been actively involved in helping people impacted by the lockdown.
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The Kano State Government is set to commence the discharge of over 2,000 Almajiris quarantined in different isolation centres.
The Almajiris, who have been quarantined for over a period of time at the various isolation facilities, would be released, starting from Monday, May 18th.
Disclosing this during a visit to two of the isolation facilities quartering the Almajiris at Kiru and Karaye towns, the Kano State Commissioner of Education, Muhammadu Sanusi Kiru, said that some of the Almajiris were repatriated from other states of the North, while others were picked from the metropolis.
The commissioner, who is also the Chairman of the Committee on the repatriation of Almajiris, explained that the returnees would be handed over to their parents and guardians at the various local government areas, starting from today.
He explained that those who show signs of ill health would be withheld from returning to their parents and guardians.
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