Martin County

Hometown News

Friday, February 14, 2003

Jensen woman plans to return 300-year-old tapestry  to Okinawa


By Beth Underwood

staff writer


Peggy Hess recalled an evening 14 years ago, when she and Martin County resident and martial artist Dennis Fritchie sat talking over a couple of beers. He told her of a tapestry he had acquired. It came from the island of Okinawa , which was bombarded for 83 days during World War II, and was brought to the United States by a former Marine who served in the war. As the battles of war began to smolder, the tapestry was apparently on of the few remnant s of the Okinawan people.

A student of martial arts for 19 years at the time, Mrs. Hess listened intently. As Mr. Fritchie continued to describe the tapestry, its symbols seemed to match with her style of karate.

“Naturally, that sparked my interest,” said Mrs. Hess, who lives in Jensen Beach . “So a few weeks later I asked to see it.”

Although the two logos on the tapestry were not identified at the time, the Jensen Beach resident and her martial arts master Jack Summers decided to procure the tapestry. Mrs. Hess promised herself that eventually, she would return the piece to its rightful owners.

Since purchasing the scroll, she’s traveled t o the island numerous times with Mr. Summers, and currently, Mrs. Hess continues her research with the people of Okinawa . With the help of eight trips to the island, and continuing communications with Okinawa ’s departments of history and education, she continues to close in on the scroll’s rightful owners. Although some questions remain unanswered, she does know that the logos, or mons, represent the seal of the Tokugawa family, who ruled Okinawa from 1603 to the mid-1800s, and says she estimates the tapestry dates back to the late 1600s.

She realizes the significance of the possession, and although prospective buyers have tried to purchase the tapestry, Mrs. Hess has no intentions of selling it.

 “I’ll never sell it, ” she said, “because I believe it belongs back to the people of Okinawa . This is so important to their history  — like owning something George Washington or Abe Lincoln signed.”

In order to return it in a way befitting its importance, she’s heading back to Okinawa in April, to pave the way for the Friendship Tour 2004. The tour is comprised of women — all of whom are martial artists — who will travel from around the world in order to present the tapestry to the people of Okinawa in April 2004.So far, 32 women have pledged to make the journey. Because the women live in various parts of the world, some are unable to make the t rip. But if all agree, the group will likely seek corporate sponsors to help with costs.

“There’s never been a group this large — well, over five people — who have gone over there like this,” she said. “This is important to the history of Okinawa karate, the history of martial arts, women in this style of karate, and the history of Okinawa in general, notwithstanding the martial arts.”

But that’s always been part of her plan. Find the owners. Return it to them properly. And leading the women will be Mr. Summers — himself a veteran of the war — who will present the tapestry back to the people of Okinawa .

“It need to be returned correctly, “ she said. “I just felt like it was fitting for a veteran to give it back. This is exactly where it belongs.”