Teachings of Ainu Ekasi Vol.1 I ram karap te, hello in Ainu.
Speaker Tokuhei Akibe Photo by Kazunobu Kataoka/ Paper cutout by Kyoshiro Yoda Translated by Tomoe Watanabe
“Hello” in Ainu is “I ram karap te” which originally means let me touch your heart. And it has additional meanings if we look into the sentence closely, and it would be like “let me touch your heart gently” since ka means surface and rap means feather.
But it was not used frequently in a daily basis.
The manner of greetings depends on situations and relationships among people. The most frequent people to make greetings are family. Then, neighbors in a same Kotan, village in Ainu, would be the next community out of your home. They do not say “I ram karap te” to these family members and neighbors since they are close enough to see each other often. There are only wordless greetings when they face someone close, not even a single word. This is a principle. They value on just looking into each other’s eyes, then they understand everything through their eyes. They look into their loved ones’ eyes and see conditions when they wake up. That is how they care among family. In a village, which would include school and company in this modern time, greeting is to ask if you have had a meal. Relationship between someone they only meet sometimes is “how are you?”. “How are you?” in Ainu is “e iwanke ya”. “I ram karap te” is used only guests who come from somewhere far although it seems to be used too much lately.
Greeting in Ainu is not affected by the time of the day like Japanese, English, French or any other languages. The important thing is who to meet and what kind of occasion it is. That is why they ask their friends if they had a meal because this is the most important thing to keep a life goes. Family members are close enough not to ask, so they just look into others’ eyes to see if family members are well.
In this modern era, transportation gets convenience, communication tool is developed, and trade is prospered. People come and go frequently compared with that in the Middle Ages and earlier. Foot traffic gets accelerated as time goes by. And, greetings started to lose their own original meanings, and they have started only to express time of the day. Good morning, Hello, and Good evening in Japanese have just started to use after Meiji Period (1868-1912).
Ekasi, the elder in Ainu, taught me greetings of I ram karap te and e iwanke ya and what they actually mean, and how important it is to see each other’s eyes when I face someone important.
Another thing I learned from Ekasi was that greetings could be a dangerous activity. Greetings would be done by words, vowing, shaking hands, and hugging, and most of them require body contacts without looking each other’s eyes. They give unknown person a chance to hurt you, so greetings are potential actions to get hurt ourselves. There were not many information as we have now. It was a rare chance to meet someone they don’t know, and he/she could be just an unknown creature. The greeting to someone who could possibly hurt you was “Let me touch your heart gently” in their manner.
The most core relationship is among family. Greetings among family members can just be primitive and that was to look into eyes each other. It was the basic of greetings. So even when you say e iwanke ya which means have you had meals yet, or I ram karap te, you should face respectably to other person and look into eyes.
i ram karap te it heart touch let (you)
Let me touch your heart gently.
ProfileTokuhei Akibe Born in Urup Island in Kuril Islands, Japan in 1943. He has played an active role to inherit Ainu culture as well as human rights for Ainu.