AMA (Jap.) – “Women of the sea”
For nearly two thousand years, Japanese women—once seafaring gypsies, according to legends—have been diving deep into the ocean off the coast of the Shima Peninsula gathering oysters, abalone and pearls. Relying solely on the power of their lungs, they can hold their breath for two minutes and dive thirty meters. Upon resurfacing, they emit a scream or whistling noise, called isobue—or “ocean whistle”—to regulate their breath; the sound is thought to be an expression of the pain the Ama experience. The tradition of Ama belongs to women; it is believed that they are better-suited for diving than men because their bodies protect from the cold temperatures of the ocean. Ama women, who spend most of their lives at sea among one another, are well regarded for their self-sufficient independence from men—it is a community that praises the birth of a girl. Having been passed on for centuries, from generation to generation, the culture is slowly dying.