Sunday, April 04, 2010

Chamorro Public Service Post #16: Maloffan Hao

As I've said before on this blog, alot of people, when Googling or (now) Binging around on the internet for Chamorro stuff, they end up on my blog.

The majority of those people end up on my blog looking for English translations to Chamorro songs. I have a couple translations of songs on my blog, the most popular of course is for J.D. Crutch's unforgettable, epic cover of a very forgettable BeeGee's song, "Apo Magi." But I also have translations for other famous and awesome songs such as:

Hagu Inan i Langhet by Johnny Sablan
Pues Adios, Esta Ki - by Tainå'an
Guam, U.S.A. - K.C. Leon Guerrero
Guinaifen Manglo - J.D. Crutch
An Gumupu Si Paluma - Tainå'an yan Johnny Sablan
Puti Tai Nobiu - Flora Baza Quan

I always give warnings with my translations because sometimes parts of the song aren't exactly clear to me. The audio is bad or I mis-hear the words and so I end up translating it incorrectly. This has happened a few times and usually someone emails to tell me about my mistake.

The other day I got an email from an older Chamorro, who had lived in the states for most of his life and wanted the lyrics to a certain Chamorro song. It was clear from his email that his ties to Guam were pretty minute and that he probably hadn't been there very much. He admitted to not speaking much Chamorro at all. He had grown up hearing it, but it was always a rule in his home that none of the kids were to ever speak the language. Sometimes relatives from Guam would pass through or visit from elsewhere in the diaspora. There were some Chamorro records that his parents would play sometimes, but he never knew the names of the artists or the names of the songs.

His parents are long gone now, and so as he reaches the ages when they passed on, this man is feeling nostalgic for the things, the bits and pieces of his culture, he never knew he'd lost. Or never realized that he'd not even been given a chance to hold on to. A few years ago he attended a concert in Las Vegas which a number of Chamorro artists who had flown out from Guam. There he had bought some CDs, one of them being Dalai Nene, which is a collection of Johnny Sablan's interpretations of some traditional prewar and postwar Chamorro tunes. (Gi entre todu i “records Chamorro” Dalai Nene gaige gi fi’on i tinakhilo’ gi i mas ya-hu siha)

The first song on that CD is one which caught this man's ear and by that I mean, it struck something in his heart and his memories. Its called Maloffan Hao, which means “You Passed By.” It’s a very simple song, nothing too complex or special. A woman passes by a man’s window and doesn’t speak to him or acknowledge him. During the bridge the man speaks longingly to the woman in question, saying that if she wants nothing between them he understands and will comply, but that even when he is buried in the ground, he will not forget her.

The song is like most older postwar Chamorro love songs, a tragic deep-shallow. Its all about the torture of a man spurned, unable to be with the woman he loves so much, usually because she has no idea he exists.

Although I don’t know the age of the man (ti apmam bihu), I doubt that Maloffan Hao was a song that his parents listened to and so he admitted that when the song struck a chord with him, it wasn’t that he had heard it before, but that its style, its form, the tone, who knows what, but there was something in it, that really reminded him of his parents. I’m not sure exactly what it is, and despite my questions, this man doesn’t seem to know either.

But when I think about this older man, trying to reconnect to something at the twilight of his life, part of me feels like I should focus on how sad yan na’triste this is. His story is like so many of my mother’s generation, the first and second postwar generations. They weren’t given a choice about their culture, their language, their political loyalties, decisions were made, privately and publicly that they would be more American than the previous generations and so things were kept from them, things were demonized to ensure that they had no way of “turning back,” or reverting to something “less American.” It’s a story about how strongly people can buy a colonial fiction, or intimately they can believe its advertising, up to the point when people could lose their land and livelihood after World War II, and still wave the American flag so proudly.

It stings to look back on this now, since we can find it in all of our lives and families, and most people won’t even admit to how they participated in this cultural loss. People were so eager to guakkle everything from the Chamorro, whether it was language, music, ideas, history, and then sohmok whatever pieces of Americaness or inamerikanu they could find. Obviously, although the rhetoric of Americanization during this time was very nasty, it wasn’t totally successful, but the marginalization of the Chamorro did take place, meaning the skewing of ideology which takes place in the colonies, where the colonized is the source of all problems, while the colonizer is the source of all solutions.

So when I read this man’s story, part of me feels sad, he is not some young student or 20-something searching for their identity and answers to who they are, he’s much older, yet still represents the same loss and the same journey. But I guess that’s also why I also feel hope when I read this man’s emails.

Most people see history as a teleological project, as moving along some pre-determined track, usually in a way that things are always improving or getting better. Or they can see it teleologically in a more quiet or silent way, as if there is an implicit order to things, and that it is not so much about things always getting better, but more so, that when things change, they can never be changed back. This is generally understood as meaning that when something is lost (a word, a way of saying or doing something, a practice, an artifact), it is truly lost forever (until time travel/multiverse travel is created). But it also extends to less specific things, most importantly for Chamorros, it means things such as authenticity, sovereignty, possibility. At some point in history, the taifino’ telos of history took these things away from us, and because history always moves according to some innate logic, you lose things for a reason, you are not those who have been “selected” to still continue to exist, to continue to have your own path. And so even if you continue to exist and live, you live on borrowed time, borrowed culture, the largesse of others who still have a place in this world.

When I teach Guam History I start off each semester by giving my classes a list of quotes about history. One of the one’s I find most interesting in teaching and thinking through with students is one which goes as follows, “history, as long as it continues to happen, will always be another chance.”

I like this because it is a very basic reminder to people that life is a battle between freedom and destiny, and that both the history and the future are both open, and so that there is no equation which determines how much of a future you are allowed to have based on how much or trauma your people experienced in the past. When I see this old man trying to revive, recover or revitalize things that he was never given, but supposed to have a chance to enjoy, live or at least know, it proves to me once again that it is never too late. The Chamorro language has declined steadily over the past century, and we can assume that there is some logic to this decline and that while its lamentable, nothing can or should be done about it. Or we can try to change it and find small and big ways in which that trend can be reversed.

In honor of this nameless old man I’ve been writing about, (yan i meggaigaigai na mamparehu-ña siha) I’m pasting below the lyrics (as I hear them) to the song that he requested, Maloffan Hao:


Maloffan Hao
Ya tåya Neni nai
Pues hafa nai Neni
Mampos triste yu’
Sa’ ti hu tungo’ nai
Kao basta hao
Hu guiya hao, gi kurason-hu

Yanggen konfotme hao
Na ta påra
Tåya siña hu cho’gue
Lao bai hu konfotme

Maloffan hao
Ya tåya Neni nai
Hu guaiya hao, gi kurason-hu

Neni, mampos na triste yu’, eståba yu’ gi bentanå-hu, annai maloffan hao.

Lao taya Neni sinangån-mu, isikera un ayu’us hu.

Lao dialo Neni, bei sungon todu i piniti ni kurason-hu,

Ya bei konfotme, yanggen enao malago-mu.

Neni, hongge yu’, ya un na’hasso hao todu i tiempo, ya bei matai pappa, gi halom tano, ya ti hu maleffa nu Hågu

Yanggen konfotme hao
Na ta påra
Tåya siña hu cho’gue
Lao bai hu konfotme

Maloffan hao
Ya tåya Neni nai
Hu guaiya hao, gi kurason-hu

Hu guaiya hao, gi kurason-hu

1 comment:

Desiree Taimanglo Ventura said...

This story makes me sad too, mostly because in my own way, I find myself reaching for more familiarity with a culture and language that my parents did not present as primary growing up. I was brought up around the language and can follow along fairly well without translation, but the words become knotted in my mouth when I try to use them myself.

When I talk about this with my parents, they explained that I feel that way because I don't use it enough. I end up getting defensive and firing back that they didn't speak to me directly or give me the chance to respond frequently enough to feel more comfortable. I also end up whining (very obnoxiously) about feeling inhibited responding because they poke fun at me for not saying it correctly.

Within recent years, my dad has made a huge effort to speak to me and have me respond regularly. I'm happy about this; but I'm also disappointed that the last language I have learned to feel comfortable with is my own.

My sometimes unfair complaints launched in my parents direction, accusing them of not wanting to teach me, but making fun of me for not knowing has triggered these long conversations that make me see them in a completely different light. They also explained growing up with the understanding that English was needed more (even explaining that not being fluent in English made them or their parents the victims of insults or feelings of inadequacy).

So here I am, fluent in English and complaining that I feel inadequate and mocked for not being more proficient in Chamorro. *scratches head confused*

I bet that man is grateful that you've taken the time to translate. I know that I always walk away feeling really grateful after someone in my family works with me patiently, understanding that the last minute grab at something I should have been holding a long time ago is worth responding to.

Thanks for all these entries. My brain always grows talking to you guys! he he.


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