Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fena Fences

I am in this picture, I am the white-t-shirted blur to the left in the background. For me this captures very much my feeling of walking in a sort of dream two weeks ago. After months of trying, myself and 20 others were given access to the Fena area of Naval Magazine on Guam. For those who don't know, Naval Magazine is a site for storing all sorts of weapons and bombs, and so access to the base is very restricted. We went as part of the Heritage Hikes that I help organize for We Are Guahan. While Heritage Hikes are always open to the public, because of base security issues, for those on base, we are always limited in the amount of people who can join and each person has to submit their SS# and sign a waiver ahead of time.

I grew up on Guam with very few people in my family who had base access. We rarely ever entered the base and being able to shop at the commissary wasn't something that we seemed to care about, or at least not openly. As such the bases on Guam are often total mysteries to me. I know very little about them in their current states, and know far more about what they were prior to World War II. Fena was one such place. It was once full of Chamorro villages. The area is bula ni' hanom, and is fed by springs which reach all the way to Inarajan on the Eastern side of Guam. You can see this abundance in how the presence of so much water leads to contradictions in the landscape. You are surrounded by the savannah as you stroll through Fena, which is most known for the lack of trees and tall kalaktos grass, but this savannah is dotted with not just any trees, but coconut trees, which are a rarity in the fina'okso' na lugat or hills of Guam. I had fragments of memories of Bubulao and occassional snippets of Naval magazine from ceremonies held along the fence in honor of massacres victims and survivors from the caves there in 1944. To sum things up, Fena was a place I knew nothing about and never imagined I'd ever have the chance to visit.

As we spent the morning there, hiking for four hours to different springs, waterfalls and latte sites, it was surreal to say the least. It made me thankful for being given access for this one morning in July of 2011. It made me angry that I wasn't able to spend more time there, exploring on my own, or that Chamorros in general aren't able to wander those hills looking for pieces of their past. But as with so many places behind the fences on Guam, you also have to be frustratingly thankful that this place still exists, but also temper that.

Although many claim that the US military is excellent at managining its environmental, cultural and historic properties, this is generally true of whatever small percentage remains after some wholesale long forgotten destruction. Such is the case of Fena. You can be thankful that as much of it has been closed off for decades because of it being taken by the military, but you also have to recognize that much was also destroyed and lost in the creation of the base there. According to legend the latte in Angel Santos Memorial Park in Hagatna come from the Fena area, donated by the US Navy. These are the ones leftover after so many others and the artifacts that surrounded them were destroyed in postwar construction. Although they do look nice in their current home, when you walk amongst them you can't help but get the feeling as if mangachang siha, their is something off about them, as if the tasa and the haligi don't line up properly, as if they were set up incorrectly.

Although I was grateful to be given the chance to visit Fena that morning, my gratitude and my connection there was always fuzzy. Like the image of me in the photo above, I remained blurry, possibly there, not really there. Unlike Pagat or Hila'an or other public sites where I can visit there at my leisure and explore to my heart's content, my movements at Fena were restricted. There was so much evidence of Ancient life there; so many questions that I wanted to seek answers for about the people who lived there amongst whatever remanants of their homes and daily lives I could find. A morning several months ago spent wandering the jungles of Hila'an was a life-changing experience in terms of understanding and experiencing Ancient history on Guam. It was something which made me feel more connected than ever to my ancestors. At Fena, with the constant understanding that I was a "guest" in this place, I could never make the same connection. I desperately wanted to. I wanted nothing more than to feel that connection, but the fences that surround bases don't remain at the borders, but are things which you feel even after you enter the base and ever after you leave it behind.

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