Dan Buettner, Expedition Leader:
Yesterday, we had a one in a million chance to witness a Buddhist funeral (See video
). Today we had an equally rare opportunity to see a noro, or priestess, do a ceremony. These are normally incredibly private rituals done just for the family or for the community. We found ourselves sitting right in the middle of it.
Okinawans believe that women possess a special sense or an ability to communicate with the gods. But actually the genesis of noro goes back about 400 years when the king made women religious leaders to divest powers away from men.
(natural sound) What was the contents of the prayers?
First she prayed toward that shrine in regards to the health of the children and abundant harvest for the whole village.
What happens if they miss these prayers?
It's not a matter of what will happen or this and that. It's just that this is my duty that I have been given from my ancestors.
I asked her if there was any kind of connection between Okinawan longevity and her religion and she said absolutely. She pointed to the fact that when people who leave the village, lose the religion, move to the big city, they often get sick. And when they come back, she counsels them to get back into the religion, continue to do the prayers to the ancestors. And she recounted time and time again these people would get better. Whether it's a psychosomatic response or whether there's some religious explanation, we didn't know.
What we do know is that there are scores of scientific studies that show there is a connection between religiosity and longevity. Perhaps the most convincing one was done out of Duke University that showed that people who go to church at least four times a month live as much as three years longer than people who don't. Explanations include the possibility that people who go to church have lower rates of heart disease, lower rates of stress, they meditate every day, they have a less chance of committing suicide, they have a social support network and who knows, there may be somebody up there or something up there that's really looking over them.
This lady supported that by telling me that before she prays everyday she actually feels calmness settle over her. She speaks to her ancestors and she believes that her ancestors are looking over her. To a certain extent, that relinquishes some of the worries of the day to this higher power.
When we got up to leave, I asked this noro if she could maybe bless our expedition and she said of course. I figured she'd give us a little blessing but instead she set up an entire temple and invited priestesses, lit incense, and once again, just like the funeral yesterday I felt at the beginning I was treading on some unbelievably privileged glimpse into a culture and once again it became beautifully personal.