Sunday, November 06, 2005

Why the Bones Should Be Buried

There are many Chamorros who believe that the bones of our ancestors which are uncovered or which are repatriated should be given to science and thus studied so that we can learn as much as possible about ourselves. I'm skeptical about this, and the first step in understanding my skepticism is listening carefully to the way in which this "quest for knowledge" is articulated. As one Chamorro told me recently, the bones that we find should be given to science so that we can "know where we came from."

It seems innocent enough, seems intelligent enough. The question of origins is what drives all people, right? Well, maybe, but not really. For indigenous peoples this "search for origins" is a rigged game, it is a process which only undermines their existences, whether its a white archeologist doing the search or a Chamorro.

This is the dangers of using anthropological knowledge to assert the existence or the identity of an indigenous person. You are using the tools which always seem to infer your own demise. For anthropologists, their work is always melancholic (as evidenced by Levi-Strauss' text Sad Tropics) because no matter what their avowed mission is, (a search for exotic and foreign life) all they find is exotic and foreign death and dying. As I posted several months ago, the dying always an effect of the presence of the anthropologist himself. The dangers for indigneous people using anthropological concepts and language is that its like attempting to assert life through suicidal ideation. A strangely morbid and tricky process.

Why is searching for where we came from a bad thing to do? Because if one takes that route (archeological), then you just end up cheating the indigenous person out of life once again. This is an old game, which you can find in discussions about the people who first settled the Pacific being drifters and shipwrecked souls rather than people who knew how to sail or navigate, to present day efforts to show that the latte weren't built by Chamorros (but by others, such as the people of Atlantis (I'm not kidding, some people propose this)).

This rational inquiry while, propsing to merely get to the bottom of things, in reality becomes the tool through which the Chamorro today can only be asserted through a cruel multiculturalist diffusion or can easily be dismissed through that very same temporal and geographic journey back into history.

This issue relates to the bodies of Chamorros themselves and how they can be refused existence based on a barrage of “not local” signifiers. One manifestation of this can be found on the current definition of “Chamorro” on the popular “hafa kumekeilek-na?” website Wikipedia. According to this anonymous yet authoritative definition, a Chamorro rather than being a specific subject or object is instead an ethnic trip around Asia and the Pacific. The Chamorro is thus explained as a pastiche of other locales, cultures and peoples. While the definition is set up by the customary voyage from somewhere in Asia to the Pacific, this originary link is mixed in with unfortunately powerful discursive regimes built on Chamorro non-existence, impurity and "not really Chamorroness." That trip supposedly back in time to trace a clear geneaology or continuity instead becomes an ethnic and cultural quagmire such as this:

They are a mixture of Eurasians — wherein Asians include Pacific IslandersAfricans, and Native Americans. They do not only include Malays, Indonesians, and Filipinos, but also mixed with Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Spanish, Americans (including Caucasian, Native American, and African), and other Pacific Islanders — especially Polynesians (also Hawaiians) and Micronesians.

The same process quickly happens for language as well.

Chamorro language is included in Malayo-Polynesian languages of the Austronesian family. It borrowed many words from foreign languages. Most words were derived from Spanish, American English, and Japanese, with a few from other Asian, like Chinese, and Austronesian languages, like Hawaiian.

The diffusion of the Chamorro can clearly be seen in how Chamorros borrowed words from other languages in particular "Hawai'ian." The problem with this of course is that if they are both Austronesian languages, then the similarities in words doesn't derive from their borrowing from other more visible and less impure cultures, but because they share a similar linguistic ancestor.

(What all this helps one understand better is how discourses on "multiculturalism" became so prevelant on Guam, other than the fact that there are so many different cultures there. In a 2003 letter to the Pacific Daily News editor one writer said that Guam could be a model UN, and in fact the PDN itself often plays up this angle when covering "crosscultural" and "multicultural" activities in Guam. Chamorros themselves, despite being the indigenous people of Guam, often enthusiastically participate in their own erasure through multicultural rhetoric, reformulating the indigenous task as one of recognizing its impossibility of being the indigenous people, "as the indigenous people of this island, it is our responsibility to make sure that everyone is equal." But what all this hides is that the signifier of Chamorro is esta machuchuda' with a plethora of far more visible and potent cultural and ethnic signifiers. To make it clear, the Chamorro isn't just part of Guam as a model UN, the Chamoro (as shown above) already is in and of itself a model UN. (this of course puts a whole new spin on that annoying slogan of "Guam as America in Asia" because it carrys over into Chamorros themselves))

Thus what was once a mere anthropological/archeological obsession (where did these people really come from?) now becomes a powerful hegemonic tool for unraveling attempts by Chamorros to assert some sort of identity in opposition to or outside of the United States. Thus those in Guam who are threatened by someone who proudly or loudly asserts themselves as a Chamorro, can make use of one of the most annoying forms of anthropological secret knowledge on Guam, best summed up with this example, “you think you’re Chamorro, but you’re all really just _____ (insert other ethnic category, whether it be, Asian, Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesia, Chinese, Taiwanese, etc)” But this tactic can be used on nearly anything in Guam, where the attempt to assert something as local, can be contested easily by attributing its source to elsewhere. The most annoying example which pops into my head is the Wall Street Journal article "Guam Struggles to Find its Roots Beneath Piles of Spam" from 2000 which discussed Chamorro non-existence. Such a search for pure signifiers took place, around food, where the article's brodie author, asks Tony Lamorena to show him what "real" Chamorro food is. A handful of food dishes are mentioned, each leading to somewhere else, not Guam. At last when a real Chamorro dish is found, fanihi, its mentioned to be illegal to hunt and eat. Thus making it clear in unclear, salient yet silent terms that whatever this Chamorro is (which is not this cruel diffusion), is inaccessible to us. There is a prohibition on it, which puts it beyond the reach of Chamorros today. The article ends in a way too painful perfect for proving my points, with this frightening empe' Real:

"Who's a Chamorro, and who's not?" asks 18-year-old Menchie Canlas, aFilipino ticket-taker at the cliff. "I don't think anybody knows any more."

I mas na'triste put este, is that one can find such blunted and frightening searches in attempts to positively assert a Chamorro as well. Scenes similar to the ones I mentioned above from The Wall Street Journal, can be found in Chamoru Dreams by Eric Tydingco.

When should the bones not be buried, and then studied? When huge fundamental shifts of meaning take place in Guam, when culture is re-imagined and the common qualifiers of "real" or "really" Chamorrones are no longer necessary, because we begin to see culture outside of those western notions of cultural purity and impurity. This meaning, that we should study these bones and learn from them, once Guam has changed to the point where this inquiry would not blatantly vaporize the Chamorro, would not be (to na'takpappa' i sinangan-na Si Alan Moore ginnen Watchmen) the Reasoned light through which the Chamorro is taken into a thousand pieces. What we are stuck with today is the Chamorro now as a foolish myth (as I saw last year on a military message board "these people are so stupid (Chamorros) they're all dead, they just don't know it yet), where as these journeys through scientific discovery and reason which lead us to Taiwan, Bali, the Philippines have the aura of facts. What must take place is a switching, where those journeys become the myths which we can build coalitions and connections to others in the Pacific, in Asia in Micronesia, but we can only do this if we begin and end that trip in Guam. If we do not accomplish this move, then the things which divide Chamorros from the rest of Micronesia, or the Pacific will not be overcome, because what constitutes the Chamorro will not be indigenous connections, affiliations through abjection or survival or colonialism, but instead their entwining intimacy with the United States.

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