Era of Rival Chiefs
The Era of Rival Chiefs refers to a period from roughly 1450 to 1500 during which a number of factions and individuals vied for power in the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands. Though most of these figures are represented in local legends as local heroes, as though they were born into indigenous communities distinctive and characteristic of each separate island, some scholars suggest that many were likely wakô leaders, or descendants of wakô leaders, who made their way into the Ryûkyûs following the fall of the Southern Court in Japan in the 1390s; without support from the Southern Court and Seiseifu in Kyushu, and with the Joseon dynasty in Korea, Ming dynasty in China, and the Northern Court and Muromachi shogunate in Japan stepping up their efforts to suppress wakô activity, many made their way further south. While there is evidence of wakô activity in Okinawa and the Miyako Islands earlier, the earliest evidence of wakô activity in the Yaeyamas is from the 1430s.
The period ended in 1500 with the government of the Ryûkyû Kingdom (based on Okinawa Island, to the north) extending more direct control over the Miyakos and Yaeyamas than it had in the past, suppressing rebellions and appointing its own officials (often from among the local elites) to administer the islands.
Perhaps the most famous of the so-called "rival chiefs" who battled at this time was Oyake Akahachi, who rose to power on Ishigaki Island and then, while extending his power into neighboring islands and even setting his sights on the Miyakos, simultaneously declared "rebellion" against the kingdom, by refusing to pay taxes or tribute. This famously ended in King Shô Shin sending a force of some 3,000 warriors to put an end to Akahachi's rebellion.
However, Akahachi only achieved such a position of power at the end of a series of other conflicts, in which he defeated figures such as Naata Ufushu, Hirakubo Kana, and Nakama Mitsukeima Eigyoku. According to some legends, these three figures, along with Akahachi and others such as Miusuku Shishikadun, existed in mutual peace and stability for some time, and may even have been friends, only breaking out into conflict later. The precise circumstances leading to the outbreak of fighting, and especially leading up to conflict with the Ryûkyû Kingdom, remain unclear. According to some accounts, Nakasone Tuyumya of Miyako Island initiated the conflict by demanding that Akahachi submit to Shuri's authority, leading him to seek alliances with Miusuku Shishikadun on Hateruma and Nakama Mitsukeima of Kabira, both of whom refused and ended up being killed, leading to Akahachi ended up in conflict with Naata Ufushu over control of Ishigaki, and Nakasone calling upon Shuri to send troops to pacify (defeat) all involved.
Official histories written by the Shuri court relate that Nakasone then used the conflict with Akahachi to seize Yonaguni Island and several other neighboring islands, and to seize power on Ishigaki itself, being named "chief" of the Miyako Islands by the Shuri government in the aftermath of the conflict. However, much of this stems from only local legends, or from heavily biased Shuri court histories, and very little can be verified by additional sources. Gregory Smits suggests that while neither local legend nor official kingdom histories say so, most of these individuals (if they even existed at all under such names) were likely wakô leaders, vying for power not as local indigenous chieftains emerging out of the indigenous peoples of independent islands, but rather as maritime individuals from elsewhere seeking to stake out spheres of influence for themselves.
- Gregory Smits, "Rethinking Ryukyu," International Journal of Okinawan Studies 6:1 (2015), 5.
- George Kerr, Okinawa: the History of an Island People. (revised ed.) Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2000. pp118, 121-122.
- Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 58.
- "Oyake Akahachi." Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People of Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 1996. p18.; Shinzato Keiji et al. Okinawa-ken no rekishi (History of Okinawa Prefecture). Tokyo: Yamakawa Publishing, 1996. p57.
- "Nakasone Toyomiya." Kotobank.jp. (Originally from Takara, Kurayoshi. "Nakasone Toyomiya." Asahi Nippon Rekishi Jinbutsu Jiten, Asahi Shimbun Publishers.) Accessed 11 July 2009.; "Nakasone Tuyumya." Okinawa konpakuto jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia"). Ryukyu Shimpo (琉球新報). 1 March 2003. Accessed 11 July 2009.; "Nakasone Tuyumiya Genga." Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People of Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 1996. p54.
- Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 57-58.