Ancient Art of the Ama Diver
Robert Reavis, GCC Biology faculty, recently helped to translate a book, “Witness with Your Own Eyes: Ama of Toba-Shima,” published by the Toba Seafolk Museum.
The book celebrates the heritage of the ama (海女 in Japanese), or ‘women of the sea.’ The term for this ancient tradition of diving (without scuba gear or air tanks) was recorded as early as 750 in the oldest Japanese anthology of poetry.
Dr. Reavis studied the ama on his sabbatical in Japan during the 2011-2012 school year. He recently presented a copy of the book to the GCC library. The original Japanese version and the translation will be on display in the library from April 2 through May 2.
The ama originally dove as deep as thirty feet down to collect food such as seaweed, octopus, abalone, sea urchins and other shellfish. They sometimes retrieved oysters containing pearls, which were prized finds. The ancestral practice started in small coastal villages in Japan and helped women provide for themselves and their families.
Most of the divers are women, because the fat distribution and thickness on the female body allows women to keep warmer and endure cold water for a longer period of time. The practice is waning, and most of the ama are now elderly women, many in their 70s. For many of these women, diving is a cherished way of life.
Watch this YouTube video to learn more about this fascinating tradition.
Reavis blogged extensively about the ama while on sabbatical. Read his posts: Shirongo Matsuri, Season Opens for Lobsters in Japan: Ama Dive, Ama Dive for Namako: Sea Cucumbers, Ama Summit, Ides of March: Ama Dive for Wakame, and Ama Harvest Hijiki: Ijika Town.