Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Five Ayuyu Generals of Southern Guam

I am a video game geek. And you can tell this not just by how many times your wallet or bank account is drained because of the deep, craving need to own a certain video game or system, but also by how many time your schedule gets completely thrown out of whack because your mind got lost in playing a video game, or even though you knew you were running late, you convinced yourself that one more level or now in the case of games like Rock Star Band or Guitar Hero, one more song.

Since I returned to Guam to start working on my dissertation, there have been many moments where my schedule has gone awry because of the fact that video games are such a tempting distraction.

Another way in which you can identify if you are a video game geek is if you use video game metaphors or references to describe the world, sometimes even to non-video game adept audiences. There are some ways in which once arcane video game geek knowledge or fanservice has wormed its way into popular culture. I remember several years ago, when Donald Rumsfeld was waging wars all over the place, both literal wars and message wars, I saw several comics that satirized him as being Cats from the game Zerowing, with that all too funny message “All Your Base Are Belong to Us”

So this is an easy one, you can say it and your video game geek relish will no doubt be understood. But sometimes, I have a tendency to use references that normals may not understand at all, and even though I know this I can’t help myself. This is usually because video games were such a formative part of my life growing up. They taught me how to tell stories, and not just any stories, but considering most RPGs, although the graphics weren’t much to look at at times, the stories were still sprawling, full of characters. In my memory the perfect example of this was the game Dragon Warrior IV. The graphics were like most NES games, simple looking. But the story was GOF PAIRE. There were five chapters total, the first four introduced different characters on different quests. Ragnar, a knight searching for kidnapped children, Alina, who travels afar to participate in a tournament, Taloon, a merchant who wants to open his own shop and finally Nara and Mara who seek revenge for their father’s death. All of these characters end up reuniting over the course of the fifth chapter, where you, the Hero of the game find each them and lead them against the ultimate evil.

This variations and depth of this storyline had such a big impact on me, and me and my two brothers eagerly awaited Dragon Warrior V. Unfortunately it was never released for NES in the United States. Esta hokkok i lago'-hu put este.

The point of all this, is that when I recently live-blogged a JGPO meeting in the village of Agat, and when I was trying to describe how a certain phrase was regularly invoked in order to dispel or raze any potential questions or criticisms, the first thing that came to my mind was the ultimate spell “Ultima” from the game Final Fantasy III. For those of you unfamiliar with Ultima, it was the strongest spell in the entire game and once you got it and if your characters were all properly leveled up, nothing could stop you.

But this leads me to the last way in which you can recognize a video game geek, and that is if video games and the content or playing of video games operate as a path to a greater or deeper consciousness of the world. There have been moments where what I experience or see in video games has helped me appreciate or perceive a different texture to things, see the world in a different light.

For example, I am a longtime fan of the Koei franchise Dynasty Warriors, which features larger than life warriors from the Three Kingdoms Period of Chinese history, and actual battles from the wars, and allows you to play as them and wipe the battle field clean of your enemies. Battles can become so chaotic, that your character can literally rack up more than a 1000 kills by the time its finished.
Like most geeks, my affinity for the game creates very weird sorts of excited specialized knowledge. So I can mispronounce the names of several dozen warriors from this period, recount their exploits in different battles (which I also mispronounce) and even name which Kingdom (Wu, Wei or Shu) they belong to.

Although my knowledge of Chinese history and culture is very limited, I do know some tidbits from the game, and one character that has intrigued me is that of Liu Bei. He is meant to represent morality and justice in the triangle of Three Kingdom’s personas in contrast to Sun Quan and Cao Cao. He above all is a hero to the common people, because of many acts and gestures that place him beyond all the petty jealousy and ambition of his contemporaries. He allows his military to be crushed so that they can keep masses of peasants escaping his enemy from being slaughtered. He loses so many battles and fights so many hopeless fights, yet he above all has the most fearsome generals and warriors following him, The Five Tiger Generals of Shu (Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Ma Chao, Huang Zhong, and Zhao Yun). He is berated by his enemies as being a lowly shoe-maker lord or emperor, since he grew up poor and made straw shoes and mats with his mother to survive. In one scene in the movie Red Cliff, he is asserted as the epitome of humility, uprightness and concern, as it is noted that he even weaves the shoes that his generals go into battle wearing (ya gof ma’ok i fina’tinas-ña)..

Today, there are temples built for Liu Bei in China, and even shoe making guilds and shoe producing cities which take him as their sort of patron saint. Liu Bei lived almost 2,000 years ago, yet for him and so many of the other figures from that era, they still live on within an incredible richness, which isn’t just creative, fictional, not just movies, comics and video games, but even treads into the religious and the political. When I look at Chamorro culture today, I see no similar sort of allegiance or remembrance or celebration. I see that Chamorros organize themselves through heroic figures from the United States, Presidents, frontier heroes, movies stars, fictional characters, but where is our Chamorro imagination? Where is the using of our own heroes, or own historical figures to build our own identities? To carve out our own space in this world?

One could argue, that Chamorro history was only written down until recently, whereas China has had a long rich archived history. This is of course, take’ karabao. Chamorros had a very rich oral tradition which captured everything in the same way. Long lengthy epic poems and stories which captured their long histories and the exploits of their ancestors. This is a result of Chamorros making choices, colonial choices, of giving up that history, replacing it with other things, and leaving their past, faded, sin kulot, taila’la’ and thus taisetbe. There is no government agency which dictates that which we remember or that which we value. We make choices, and usually we make the easiest choices, and so you’ll follow whatever is on TV, or whatever is taught in school, or whatever people around you seem to think. If we follow this logic, then of course we’d all act as if America is our past, present and future, that’s what everything around us seems to tell us.

This failure is all of ours. We do not give our history the place, the life in our own lives that it deserves. We know that Ancient Chamorros lived a certain way, or that Chamorros under the Spanish lived a certain way, but where are the stories? Where is our infamous storytelling ability when it comes to breathing life into these eras? We act as if we are a people of anthropologists and historians, when in reality what we need is to live, breath and remember our history as if we are believers, as if we are artists. Our history is not an abstract passage from a book to be memorized and then forgotten. It is a story, a painting, a poem, that is constantly being written and forgotten, and whether it gets longer and more textured, more nuanced and more full of life, or becomes stale, mafnas, empty and meaningless depends upon what we do in the writing or the painting of that work of art.

Where are the guilds on Guam or the villages on Guam that take on a particular Chamorro figure as their saint, as the epitome of their beliefs, as a guide in life? As a figure whose story a community can continue to write, and can continue to keep alive? We have come to the point where abstract figures, or faint echoes of our historical past can be found on tattoos and on t-shirts, in brochures on the walls of GovGuam offices. But that sort of memorialization accomplishes nothing. The past thus to us is an anonymous one, it belongs to random brown buff men, who lived radically different lives from us, and who we can actually never have a connection to other then these minute artifacts or forms of cultural consumption. These anonymous souls need no stories, and have no stories.

But it is up to us, all of us, as everyday artists with a history that needs to be revitalized to not just give these ghosts of our past, that we find haunting our closets, our car bumpers, tables at Chamorro village, or refrigerator doors during Chamorro month, names, but also monuments, spaces, memories and stories as well.

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