- Other Names: 聞得大君加那志 (O: chifijin ganashi)
- Japanese/Okinawan: 聞得大君 (kikoe oogimi / chifijin)
Kikoe-ôgimi was a title held by the top high priestess in the Ryûkyû Kingdom. The position was created in 1478 by King Shô Shin, who reorganized much of the royal court, aristocratic, and spiritual/religious official hierarchies at that time. From that time until the abolition of the kingdom in 1879, fifteen women held the position, beginning with Shô Shin's younger sister Gessei.
The newly-created position intentionally eclipsed and replaced the priestess of Baten utaki, who had been among the most prominent and influential spiritual figures in the kingdom under the First Shô Dynasty (c. 1400-1469); whenever a new priestess became kikôe-ôgimi, she made a pilgrimage to a site near Baten and took on the deity name Tedashiro (太陽代, proxy of the sun), appropriating that which had been the domain of the Baten priestess. The kikôe-ôgimi also came to be associated with the kami Benzaiten, a goddess associated with the sea and with the number three; Benzaiten, enshrined in a hall in the Ryûtan pond below the castle, also came to be a guardian deity of the kingdom.
Typically a sister or other female relation to the king, the kikoe-ôgimi oversaw and managed an extensive hierarchy of priestesses and shamanesses, including the noro and yuta of the traditional Ryukyuan religion. It was believed that women had greater spiritual power, and that men, being spiritually weak and vulnerable, required women to protect them; to that end, the kikoe-ôgimi, seen as a sister spirit or sister goddess (姉妹神、おなり神), performed or led various rituals for the protection and prosperity of king and kingdom, for good harvests, and safe voyages. Together with the king she appointed noro to the various regions of the kingdom, and oversaw their activities through a hierarchy of priestesses; directly beneath the kikoe-ôgimi in this hierarchy were three priestesses known as the Oamushirare, who each oversaw one-third of the kingdom's noro and utaki (sacred spaces).
A new kikoe-ôgimi was inducted into the position through, in part, a ritual called Oaraori (御新下り, O: uaara uri), performed at Sefa utaki, one of the most sacred places on Okinawa Island. Some 200 attendants accompanied the high priestess to the utaki, entering the sacred space around midnight, and performing succession rituals through the night, including worship of Kudaka Island. The rituals ended with the singing of sacred songs.
The kikoe-ôgimi was provided with her own mansion, in the aristocratic town of Shuri below the castle. Containing both residence and shrine, the mansion, known simply as kikoe-ôgimi udun, was relocated a number of times over the course of the kingdom era. Its final location, in the Tera-chô neighborhood of Shuri, covered roughly 3,000 tsubo (9.9 km2). Following the fall of the kingdom, the shrine was relocated to the Crown Prince's residence of Nakagusuku udun, and the remaining residential buildings stood for a time until they were removed to create private agricultural fields. This land was bought by the Okinawa Normal School in 1929 and used for agricultural and educational purposes until the end of World War II, after which Shuri Middle School was built on the site.
List of Kikoe-ôgimi
- Plaque on-site at former site of Kikoe-ôgimi udun, just outside Shuri Middle School, at 2-55 Tera-chô, Shuri, Naha.
- Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 130.
- Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 164-165.
- George Kerr, Okinawa: the History of an Island People, Revised ed., Tuttle Publishing (2000), 111.
- Plaque at former site of Jiibu dunchi, the residence of one of the Oamushirare.
- Gallery labels, "Kikoe-ogimi and Oaraori," Okinawa Prefectural Museum.