Chamorro Public Service Post #11: An Gumupu Si Paluma

At the Guma'famoksaiyan conference last month, I organized a session on Learning Chamorro Language Through Songs, which went very well. Songs is one of the most fun ways through which you can learn a language, and so while most Chamorros who don't speak the language, might have some knowledge about Chamorro music and songs and may even enjoy listening to it, its unfortunate that there isn't more effort being put into using music as a medium through which we can revitalize the language.

For this session all those present divided into three groups, and each group had a song leader who would teach one Chamorro song to those in their group over about forty minutes. When time was up, all the groups would gather together and present the the rest of the conference their song. It was decided during the session that there should be judges too in order to select which group was the best. The session went very well and people incorporated different performaces and dancing into their presentations which made it mampos na'chalek. Bai hu tuge' mas put este gi otro biahi.

For my song, for my group, I chose An Gumupu Si Paluma, or "When the Bird Flies." This song has always occupied a special place in my heart. When I first started learning Chamorro at the University of Guam, one of the classes that I took involved translating into English Chamorro song lyrics and then presenting them to the class. Someone had given my grandparents a CD copy of Johnny Sablan's Chamorro Yu', and so I picked two songs (An Gumupu Si Palum yan Ai Ki Yanto) from that and enlisted my grandmother to help me translate the lyrics.

The version on Johnny Sablan's album is a beautiful one. But as my grandmother told me while we were translating, it is just one version. Prior to World War II on Guam, there were many different versions of An Gumupu Si Paluma, just as there were with most Chamorro songs. An Gumupu Si Paluma belonged to a style of Chamorro music which dominated the lifestyle and mirth-making of Chamorros for centuries, known as Chamoritta or today known as Kantan Chamoritta.

Kantan Chamorrita is an improvisational style of singing and song making, where participants share prior knowledge of a basic set of tunes and proceed to ayute' or threw verses at each other. It may begin with a single person or a couple or a group, but as the song is sung and different people may leave the group or join in. It was common in pre-war Guam and even in some villages in post-war Guam, for the mornings to begin early with a song started by someone grnding corn or washing clothes, and then over time have people from all across the village join in the singing and verse-making in different ways.

If you head to the Guampedia website, they have short description and definition of Kantan Chamoritta, with some quick examples for you to see what sorts of songs were made and what sorts of subject matter they dealt with. These songs were work songs, party songs, but they could also be sung in ways to challenge the manhood, sexuality prowess or morality of an opponent or a potential love interest. These songs were ideals ways of teasing someone, but also introducing through metaphors and everyday imagery, taboo subjects such as sexuality and promiscuity, which could not be discussed publicly, but could be mentioned through these "banal" ways. Kantan Chamoritta both in public but also in more private discussions was an indispensable way of courting and being able to communicate with one's maguaiya.

In her definition of Kantan Chamoritta Judy Flores recounts three basic ways in which the style was used, courting, sexual mimcry and an unexpected one, response to a Chamorro joining the military:

Ti gumadi yu’ put ti’ao
I’m not fishing for small fish
Na gumadi yu’ put hagu
I’m casting my net for you
An’ chumefla yu’ tres biahi
When I whistle three times
Yute’ gadi ya’un falagu.
Throw your net and run.

Sexual mimicry
Antes gi annai tiempo-mu
A while ago when it was your time
Kalan makina hao ni’ bibu
You were like a fast machine
Annai esta ti tiempo-mu
Now that time is no longer yours
Kalan puyitos manok hao ni’ figo.
You are like a shivering chick.

Joining the miliary
Basta nana de tumanges
Stop crying, my mother
Saosao todu i lago’-mu
Wipe away your tears
Sa’ ti u apmam na tiempo
Because it won’t be long
Siempre u fatto i lahi-mu
Before your son will return.

The inclusion of the third sample, the song about the pain of having a son join the military is an important one, because it widens what are generally considered to be the limits of how Chamorros (and others) perceive themselves and how they (re)produce culture. All fun, partying, socialness, generosity, hospitality, these are all the things which tend to dominate how Chamorros see themselves, the way they are and the way they are supposed to be, what their natural state is.

There isn't really any place in those sorts of sometimes very oppressive stereotypes, for a Chamorro who wants to really comment on what is wrong with the world, or wants to change that world. Therein lies the most difficult obstacle, what could be wrong with that sort of ga'mumagof na attitude? What is wrong with this sort of enjoyment of the less serious side of life? Isn't this what islanders and what Chamorros do best?

Perhaps, but what is lost in this network of stereotypes? These stereotypes don't just indicate that the Chamorro is fun-loving, but also lead us into the Malafunkshun style stereotypes about Chamorro incompetence, laziness, being on welfare and food stamps, pathological sexual infidelity. Where in this sisonyan of fun-lovingness and bad social characteristics is there room for anything serious? Where in all this mess is the idea that the Chamorro can run an island, run a government, save a language or a culture?

I often tell this anecdote to people, because it had a huge impact in my life and on the shaping of my ideas. Several years ago while giving a presenting to some elementary school age kids on Guam, I asked them to list a number of stereotypes about Chamorros. They mentioned several dozen, most of them perceived as being negative, such as lazy, takes lots of breaks from work, works for the Government and is corrupt, lives off of welfare, eats ghetto food or unhealthy food such as Spam. Some positive attributes were mentioned, such as family closeness and military service.

When I listed these stereotypes on the board, I asked the class what type of person had we created in this conversation? Would the accumulation of all these characteristics create what we would identify as human? Would this person be capable of what we consider everyday life? Then at last I asked, would this person, this Chamorro be able to survive on their own, to run their own island to determine their own future? The kids who did respond seemed to think no, it couldn't.

The moral of this story is that the things we say about ourselves as a people, the way we articulate our natural state of being goes very far in establishing the limits of ourselves, where our belief in ourselves begins and ends, what is possible for the Chamorro to do and accomplish and what is impossible, what can they simply not do. Possibility and impossibility are decided in the most everyday, normal, banal moments. It is a very easy stretch for you to move from making jokes about Chamorros, promoting negative stereotypes one moment, and then later on denying agency to a Chamorro, attacking those who argue that the Chamorro has a positive and active existence, and bring it into practice through activism or social change.

The majority of the Kantan Chamoritta verses of An Gumupu Si Paluma are in the vein of courting. "An Gumupu Si Paluma" was a very popular and beautiful phrase to begin songs with, because of the multiple sorts of images and metaphors that it could refer it. It could reference the beauty of a bird in flight. It could reference a beautiful girl. It could reference even the male sexual organ. Depending upon the mood, the singer could sing successive verses, or they could trade them back and forth. Here are the lyrics for one pre-war version of the song.


An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumohge’ gi trongkon donne’
Ya ha tago’ yu’ Si nana
Na i bunita bai hu konne’

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ti ha tungo’ manu chi-ña
Ya tumoghe’ gi trongkon håyu
Ya ha konsuela i piniti-hu

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumoghe’ gi trongkon paipai
Ya an un li’e magi i likao
Dimu pappa’ ya un fanaitai

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumohge gi hilo’ nunu
Ya hu fahåni hao lipesmu
Ni’ kambadsa benti unu

The sort of elegant beauty of the bird flying through the sengsong and the halom tano', in the first two lines of each verse which is then tied to something else, something which is much more specific, but also very vague and potentially benign creates an interesting abstract but nonetheless vibrant world.

But the real reason that I chose this song to teach in my session, and also that I love the Johnny Sablan version most, is the ways his version trends lightly but still convincingly into that realm of making comments about the world around it, and calling for us to recognize something lost or being lost, and perhaps hoping that we will make a stand and force a change.

Part of what makes this version different is when it is written, decades after World War II in a time where the island's native birds were disappearing. The brown tree snake, i na'malamana na kulepbla, had been brought to the island and it was slowly wiping out Guam's birds. The jungles of Guam which prior to the war would be filled with the calls of so many birds, were slowly starting to quiet, and the calls of the sali, sihek, chichirika, kakkak and so on were being replaced by the humming of car engines and the roar of construction equipment. The birds of Guam, which were a constant fixture in daily life on Guam were slowly dying out.

(Despensa yanggen lumachi yu' gi i tinige'-hu)

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumohge trongkon donne’
Ha sangåni yu’ Paluma
Na i bunita para bei konne’

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumoghe tanantångan
Hu hahasso i tano’-hu
I tano’-hu Guahan

An kumåte Si Paluma
Pues triste Si nene
Ai Paluma månu guatu
Ya bei toktok Si Nene

An kumanta Si Paluma
Lalalam i atdao
Ya mamflores halom tano’
Na manmagof i taotao

An gumupu Si Paluma
Ya tumoghe trongkon chotda’
Ha tågo’ yu’ na bai espiha
I Chamorro siha na paluma

Ai paluma
Na’i yu’ un påppa’
Ya ta hihita gumupu
Ya ta hihita kumanta


When The Bird Flies
(Pinala' as Guahu)

When the bird flies
And stands on the pepper tree
She tells me
That the beautiful one I will get

When the bird flies
And stands on the tangantangan
I think of my land
My land Guam

When the bird cries
Then my baby is sad
Oh bird where is there?
And I will hug my baby

When the bird sings
The sun shines
The jungles blooms
And the people are happy

When the bird flies
And lands on the banana tree
He orders me to go and find
The Chamorro birds

Oh bird,
Give me a wing
And we will all fly together
And we will all sing together

In the fifth verse, the flying bird leaves behind the romance and the kuentos guinaya and instead moves into the world of social commentary and political metaphor. The bird who flies on lands on the banana tree does not speak of love, but instead gives the singer an order, a command. Tinago' i kakanta ni' i paluma para u fanaligao i paluman Chamoru. The bird in the song then begins to symbolize something else, no longer a figure of full of love and romance, but instead a signifier of loss, something that no longer flies freely within the jungle, but instead haunts it, as a tragic reminder of what has been lost and is being lost.

The bird isn't a vehicle for enabling romance anymore, but exists now to spur a discussion perhaps on cultural change, on development, on progress, on environmental damage and sustainability. The bird is now charged with political meaning, when it lands in this verse it isn't a chulegugua' anymore for Si Balentino, but a ghost who is not just commanding the singer, but also taunting the listener, bringing the reality of life into the emotional content of this song, infusing the vibrant romantic world of this jungle with the difficult realities of the "real world."

But there is more than this commentary on the loss of Guam's native birds. In the final verse of Sablan's version, there is a sort of Chamorro nationalist or indigenous call to action. The bird is shifted from a simple symbol of the loss of Guam's bird population, and becomes a symbol for contact between Chamorros of today and Chamorros of old. The bird isn't just a symbol of a form of Guam which is slipping away, but also Chamorros and their heritage, a key link to their past. The loss of the birds is paralelled by the loss of Chamorro culture, language and consciousness.

Thus there is another possible meaning to the fifth verse and that when the bird commands the singer to find the Chamorro birds, he could just as easily be commanding the singer to find the Chamorros, to gather them together now, as they just like the birds are starting to fade away. In the final verse the singer pleads with the bird to give him a wing, to give him something which can help him stop this loss, which can bring together all the Chamorros and push them to fly forward into the future.

Put este na rason, hu gof guaiya este na kanta.


chamoruboy said…
Hafa Adai Miget,

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

A quick note about the word yute'. It means to discard to throw something down. I believe in the context you used it, you want to use dagao instead.

The word ayute' has an even more specific meaning. It means to divorce or terminate a romantic relationship.

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