Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sakman, Shiro yan Fino' Chamoru: Pa'go Giya Guahan

I'm sure its a constant refrain in almost any place, but in Guam, being an island, far away from its colonial center, this refrain seems almost oppressive at times. What I'm referring to is the idea that "nothing is going on" or that there's "nothing to do."

When I was an undergraduate on Guam I would hear this all the time, usually as a preface to a rant expressing a desire to move to the states or to leave the island and its smallness behind. I know today a lot of why this urge to leave the island exists, apart from the insularity or isolation of any island, there is a colonial dimension to this desire.

At times I may have even felt this, especially when I was first establishing myself as an artist on Guam, and had trouble selling my abstract work or finding places to exhibit my work. I pined for a larger market with a more mature or "modern" buying audience, instead of the Japanese tourists and local population who just wanted beach scenes or latte stones.

As I have changed in my politics and consciousness, this in me has changed too. There are times when I do lament the lack of things on Guam, but instead of seeing these things as being simply the way things are, I see myself as somebody who can actually do something to fill or fix that lack. If there are no places to display art on Guam, then I no longer see myself as a victim of the suckiness of Guam, but rather somebody who then has an obligation to transform Guam into something that I want, something that would benefit the island.

It is certainly a more stressful life, because life is no longer something that just happens around you, but rather you have a responsibility to help shape positively how life unfolds, but still one which is more fulfilling and brings me far more pride as I live on Guam and interact with people.

So now, when I come home or when I am home, there is always way too many things happening (some good some bad) and so many things do to. Here are some things that have been happening recently that I've gotten to see or participate in.


Last month, the group Tasi, held a ceremony to bless their new Sakman, called Saina. I was fortunate enough to be there and to bring my 17 month old daughter to the event, so that we could witness a key moment in the return of a tradition which the Spanish sought to erase long ago. It is my dream that this tradition will not be something which only certain people participate in or appreciate, but that it becomes something which is woven into the fabric of all of our lives. That the revival of this tradition could provide new ways of inter-generational sharing and also help re-think our relationship to the ocean.

Tasi is one of two groups, the other being Project Proa who have revived the Chamorro sea-faring traditions and both have canoes which can be seen regularly in the waters near Hagatna and Tamuning.

And here is a Pacific News Center Report on Project Proa's canoe:


Last week I was fortunate enough to attend and present at the Tetset na Konfrensian Chamorro, or the Third Chamorro Conference which took place in Saipan. Hundreds of Chamorros from the CNMI, Guam and the states gathered together, and speaking mainly in Chamorro, discussed such important topics as cultural and linguistic preservation, decolonization, federalization and economic development. The theme for the conference was "Fana'gue, Na'metgot, Na'famta'." I posted yesterday the message from the Governor of the CNMI to the Conference attendees, because it was in Chamorro and dealt with alot of the conference themes.

In this video below, Sumahi is being very disrespectful as she wanders around during a session dealing with Chamorros and health issues.

I confronted, with some small success my own discomfort and nervousness in speaking publicly in Chamorro. One of many signs of the weakening of the Chamorro language, is that those who do speak the language, whether with awesome or minimal fluency, tend to create language circles or peer groups, in which they are comfortable speaking Chamorro, and people often time have trouble breaking out of them. In addition to this, people become accustomed to speaking Chamorro only with regards to certain issues. So in my case, I can speak Chamorro with most people (unless I'm really embarassed or nervous to be talking to them)in a one on one setting, but I can't speak Chamorro, unless I've written my remarks out ahead of time, if I'm in front of a large group. Furthermore, while I can handle most pleasantries in Chamorro, speaking off the top of my head on stuff like US-territorial relations, the military buildup in the Marianas Islands and political status sometimes feels like performing a lobotomy on myself.

At the conference I was put on a panel with some very famous and very senior political officials and activists, to talk about issues affecting the CNMI and Guam. Pretty much everyone else was comfortable speaking in Chamorro, and were often able to get the crowd fired up with jokes and stirring rhetoric. As people spoke and the microphone slowly worked its way down to me at the very end of the very long table, I began to feel nervous about trying to speak in Chamorro. Obviously it would be easier and I would probably look less foolish if I just spoke in English and said a friendly "hafa adai!" at the beginning, but this went against the spirit and the dream of the conference. As the microphone was put in my hand, I decided to try my best to speak in Chamorro, and I did reasonably well. There were points where I had to switch to English, but the crowd was excited with the fact that I was at least trying.

I'll be posting more about the conference soon.


Guam's first local movie, meaning a movie made by local people, using local actors and made with the intent of bettering the island itself has just been released.

"Shiro's Head: The Legend" was premiered last week to great excitement on the island. I had tried to get tickets but they sold out pretty quick, and so another weekend of shows was quickly planned.

For those who don't know what the movie about and about its creators Don and Kel Muna, here are some excerpts from the film's website:

A modern part of a forgotten history, “Shiro’s Head” takes us to the Pacific island of Guam, USA where outcast Vince Flores (Don Muna) struggles to come to terms with his family’s history of secrets and a dark past of his own. Shunned from his family for the death of his father, his attempt to reconcile causes his family’s past to catch up to him for the last time. Based on a universal theme of family, faith and forgiveness, “Shiro’s Head” features a talented cast of unknowns including a unique setting with a character all its own.

Shiro’s Head is the feature film debut produced, written and directed by brothers Don and Kel Muna. Their screenplay is adapted from their original short story entitled “The Legend of Shiro”. Shot entirely on location in Guam, USA, the island naturally sets the framework for circumstances of life in a small town. “Shiro’s Head” is a do-it-yourself, independent production with associate producers Jennifer Davis, Naomi Castro and Michael Muna.

The soundscape of the island comes to life with original score by the Muna Bros. interwoven with original music by Brandon Mayer, Rebel Lion, D.U.B., Brandi Jae, By Blood and more.

About the Creators:
Guam boys, The Muña Bros., have had an early jump in their professional careers working for local multimedia establishments on Guam for a number of years. Their list of local experience include Production Director at KUAM Pacific Telestations, Broadcast Director at Glimpses Advertising, as well as an on-air personality for Sorensen Media Group.

The Muña Bros. decided to set sail for the mainland to further their education and experience, and that they did. Their list of accomplishments and experience include Honors & Valedictorian of Full Sail school of film in 2002, which quickly led to a position at the San Francisco Bay Area's KTVU news channel. From there, the two brothers decided it was time to venture on their own.

Shortly after, they've yet again packed their bags and headed south to the land of plenty, Hollywood, California. It was then that they built their small production company and gained their independence. Since then they've had countless hours of experience in their fields of forté as songwriters, musicians, screen writers, camera operators, video editors, digital photographers, sound engineers and experience in the inevitable - advertising and marketing.

They've also been honored by being hand selected to film an East Coast based Breast Cancer Awareness documentary in conjunction with Creative House Productions in 2005. In 2006 The Muña Bros. have done an enormous amount of writing and have self-published their own filmmaking book for beginners entitled "Why Go To Film School?" along with their first full length feature art-drama screenplay entitled "Shiro's Head".

Always a creative force, the two brothers just wanted to complete the ultimate in endeavors by utilizing their production skills to come back home and produce a fresh, independent movie for their island and the DIY community to enjoy. With the blessings and support of friends and family in Guam, the Muña Bros intend to take this independent, low-budget flick to the masses.

Although the majority of the responses I've heard so far have been positive, enough if people admit that the violence and the dark theme isn't too their tastes. But amidst all this excitement, there has been some of the usual "big fish in a small pond" discourse, or complaints from people who have an almost pathological inability to give credit to anything that "comes from Guam." For them, the film isn't big enough, isn't polished enough, isn't good enough, and the only way in which this complaint could ever be satisfied is if the object in question didn't come from Guam, or if it was the people doing the complaining, who actually made it. The ego always makes exceptions for the stuff it makes on Guam after all.

The island should be paying attention to this far beyond, it just being a movie. Latitude 13 had a very good post on why this is an important event, and how this is not just any movie, but one which sits right in the middle of the colonial suckiness that so many of us imbue our island with, and force upon it.

It's my hope that Don and Kel's achievement will help kill the "This is Guam" mentality that is tossed around as some sort of lame and half-ass excuse for poor service, poor production or poor execution. I absolutely hate to hear people say, "This is Guam," in reference to anything substandard because what they're really saying is, "Don't expect good or great things from Guam." Pardon my french, but that's complete bullshit. I hope the Muna Brothers film serves as a proverbial middle finger to those who have the "This is Guam" mentality and those who aspire to just get by. I also hope this lights or re-ignites fires under those of us who want to raise the bar and are striving for bigger and better things for Guam. Shiro's Head assures us, It might take a long time and you'll probably have to work your ass off, but you really CAN do amazing things right here at home.

I had the good luck to meet the Muna brothers before their Saturday showing and talk to them for a bit about their movie, and I was touched to discover that they are sometimes readers of my blog, and that at different points during the creation of their movie, some of the things that I've written have helped push them and inspire them. In hopes of preventing this flattery from going to my head, I quickly countered that all I do is rant and write way too much on my blog, that requires so little and unfortunately has very little impact. What they had done, was so much more, and can and will hopefully do so much more than simply be something people watch or talk about.

Building off Latitude 13's points, I told them that art is the realm where we push the limits of what is possible, and art in its most successful and effective forms is what makes us push the limits not in art, but makes us see past our limits and see a different path ahead in other realms, in economics, in politics, and so on. I pray that the movie is successful and that it touches the way we on Guam see ourselves, and that it provides a very different answer to the usual nagging and suffocating questions of our eternal dependency upon the United States for everything, and that answer doesn't deal with our need to be recognized by the United States, or follow them in order to feel that we've accomplished something, but that esta mannahong hit. We are already enough, and we can create, we can persist, we can accomplish things on our own. That in their art they have that possibility to help redefine what we on Guam think we are and aren't capable of.

As I wrote before, the people who made the film Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon were able to get money out of the government and the businesses of Guam so easily for one simple reason. It wasn't because they were good, because they weren't. As soon as I saw who was in charge of the film, I knew that it would be a terrible idea and a stupid thing to support, since all one needs to do is google Albert Pyun to see info on some of the worst movies ever made (he's made a few good ones too). It wasn't because the story was good either, because as anyone who has seen the movie can attest, is a very generic story, with the only "new" or "different" thing in it being that parts of it were filmed on Guam.

The reason that these people were able to enchant Guam and gets everyone to donate services, locations and in some cases actual money, was because of that idea that if there is ever to be a "Guam movie" someone else would have to make it. And it didn't matter what lump of flesh director actually did it, so long as they were from the United States and could claim some sort of Hollywood status, they would be supported.

To change this, means that us on Guam have to create and have to support those who do. Easy to say, harder to actually practice. I mean, the Chamorro music industry, the main reason outside of Catholic rituals that Chamorros who don't speak Chamorro have some sense of what it sounds like or some vocabulary, has been in decline for years because so many Chamorros are too cheap or too lazy to go out and buy Chamorro music CDs. For people on Guam who are bored and saying there's nothing to do, look around you, there's PLENTY to do. Plenty of local industries, movements, ideas that are out there that need you to help out in small and large ways. In some instances, helping is so easy, it can be as easy as buying Chamorro CDs instead of ripping and copying them from friends.


charissa said...

Si Yu'os Ma'ase Miget for your blog on all the great events that have been taking place in the past months. Its an exciting time to be witnessing the fruits of all the hard work and passion of our very talented people. It is my hope that younger generations will be inspired by people like you. Tasi and the Muna Bros. and realize the possibilities that are within them.

Mariano Muna said...

Hey you know i can really relate to you when you were talking about speaking publicly in Chamorro. Im only 17 and my major in college is linguistics which naturally i REALLY wanted to learn Chamorro. Im still learning and much of it comes from my dad who like me is the only one who can speak out of his siblings. However every time i try to speak in Chamorro im always afraid that i wont make any sense and like you i have to plan everything I say before i say them. So many times i just switch back to English. I agree that it is kind of sad that the Chamorro language has become so foreign to us that we treat it as though we had learned it in school or learned it so that we can go on a vacation. Also i wanted to raise the issue about the need for one unified language. Many of my cousins who DO in fact learn it in school on Guam, i found that they have trouble communicating with their parents with the Chamorro they learn from the book. I think its mainly because the Chamorro language books that have come out mix the colloquial groups of Chamorro while many Guamanians who dont learn it in school, essentially all the manamko, have their own colloquial version. I would assume that this makes it even more discouraging for youth learning Chamorro because of course kids the minute they learn a new word or sentence they want to show off to their parents. I really think that if we started setting standards and using more universal terms in Chamorro it will help kids communicate with parents in Chamorro and ALSO help further encourage the learning of Chamorro. Aside from this Im really glad that someone is thinking the same things that i think about when it comes to rebuilding and reestablishing Chamorro culture. Si Yu'os Ma'ase.


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