Saturday, October 13, 2007

Language and Imperialism

I'm back from New York now and have plenty of things to do and stories to tell. (Doesn't it look that way from my "security" pass I got there?)

My testimony at the United Nations on the Question of Guam the day before yesterday dealt with issues of decolonization, sovereignty, American obstructionism and self-strategic self-interest, and how those of us who are indigenous people or contemporary colonial people, struggle behind a wall which the United States and other nations today seem determined to defend. For those of us behind this wall, which I called the "Fourth World Wall" we are condemned to live without independence, without sovereignty, without nationhood and without decolonization. I made connections between case of Guam and the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and noted that those who openly rejected that declaration, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, are those who stand tallest and proudest atop the Fourth World Wall, rejecting the idea that indigenous and colonized people should have self-determination or should have the right to determine their own destinies.

While in New York I still had to read and present for my Indigenous Epistemologies class that I'm taking this fall at UCSD. My assigned book was Remember This! Dakota Decolonization and the Eli Taylor Narratives by Waziyatawin Angela Wilson. There are a number of beautiful and intriguing aspects of this book which make it fall in line with my own beliefs about language and decolonization. I'm sure I'll end up speaking more about it later, but for now to give you a sense of why I might like a text such as this, the author discusses how American Indian scholars have tried to make terms in their languages for concepts such as "sovereignty" or "decolonization." One of the suggestions that they came up with, was roughly "tearing oneself away from all things white." For me, what makes this an important formulation is not the distance from "white things," but rather the highlighting of the tearing part, the active painful and potentially self-destructive element of decolonization. This is what is easily lost today in almost all articulations of what decolonization is or should be. It is not a process where one comfortably collects the fragments of a culture and sets them up nicely on their wall or mantle. It is a painful and dangerous process, which dissolves the self, breaks attachments and refdefines what is normal and what one needs to survive.
Before I get too carried away with this, let me get to the original point I intended to quickly make. In her text, Wilson used a quote from Kenyan intellectual Ngugi Thiong'o, which really hit things home for me, on why I do many of the things I do in terms of writing in Chamorro, using the language in as many ways as I can, and therefore not just promoting its preservation, but more importantly its revitalization! More on this later as well, but for now, let me share the quote.

"What is the difference between a politicians who says that Africa cannot do without imperialism and the writer who says that Africa cannot do without European languages?"

Gof impottånte este na finayi para Hita ni’ Chamoru sa’ manmadedesi hit kontra este na fuetsa lokkue’. Bai hu admite na esta kulang manmapayon i taotao-ta nu i fino’ Amerikånu, lao hafa i apas para este na tinilaika? Humuyongña na ta hahasso todue tiempo gi bula na manera na taibali hit sin i nina’i i Amerikånu siha ya tåya’ hit sin i lenguahin yan gineftao-ñiha. Estague i mas taimaolek na mata’ imperialism, i mas piligro na dinagi. Ma fa’geftao ya ma fa’mangge hit, lao gi minagahet, manmalago siha sumakke i lina’la’-ta, i tano’-ta yan todu i ginefsaga’-ta! Ya kada na ta aksepta na takhilo’ña pat baliña i lenguahin-ñiha kiñu iyo-ta, ya tåya’ hit sin Siha, ta na’i siha todu sin yinaoyao, sin minimu. Kada ta cho’gue este, ta na’mas libiånu para u ma funas hit todu.

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