The Uimam

This scroll offers an excellent look at the Santan trade and the uimam ceremony. Trade, known as uimam in the Ainu language, initially began on more equal terms, and banquets and ceremonial dances were held to strengthen the trading partnership between Ainu communities and the Matsumae.1 However, following Shakushain’s rebellion, uimam took on a more tributary nature, and it was used by the Matsumae to demonstrate their growing dominance in Hokkaido. During uimam ceremonies, Ainu traders were led hand-in-hand to the trading post (see Curious Sites of Ezo: Fishing Scene [1964:3.14(1)]), and were forced to sit on the ground and bow to the Matsumae, seated above them in raised pavilions. After paying homage, the Ainu were then made to perform for the Japanese traders—as demonstrated in this scroll by the dancing women and men performing archery, wrestling and other feats of strength.2 During uimam meetings, Ainu traders would usually exchange natural resources for manufactured goods, and some of the most important commodities brought to Japan from Ainu landslike furs and pelts, salmon, kombu kelp, and eburiko3can be seen here.4

In addition to the details of the uimam ceremony, on the far right of the scroll is an image of an itaomacip (itaomachip)—a traditional Ainu sailing vessel. Itaomacip were dugout ships used by Ainu traders to travel between the Sea of Okhotsk’s islands and the continent. While primarily sailing vessels, they were also outfitted with oars and could be rowed by the crew in times of little or no wind. Itaomcip were well-adapted to transporting large quantities of goods great distances throughout the region, and some vessels even exceeded fifty feet in length. After the colonization of Hokkaido, the Santan trade collapsed and itaomacip fell out of use. However, as Ainu activists began to revive indigenous cultural traditions, there was a renewed interest in Ainu maritime knowledge, and in 1989 a new itaomacip was built for the first time in over a century, reinvigorating Ainu shipbuilding traditions for a new generation.5