Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mangge i Chamorro?

Last week a small group of people started walking at 5:30 am in front of the Malesso Church. They headed north along Route 4 for hours, passing through Inarajan and Ipan and eventually ending in the middle of the day at the Manengon Memorial in Ylig, Yo’na. For those who finished the journey it was a difficult trek of 19 miles the last half of which was under the unforgiving Guam sun. The name of this walk was "Remember Our Strength" or "Hasso i Minetgot-ta."

I started off with the group in Malesso, but by mile 13, for my own personal reasons felt like stopping and didn't continue. Although I was tired by that point it wasn't an issue of physical pain that made me stop. I made this decision because in my eyes the walk had become something I didn't want to participate in anymore, and with only 6 miles left I decided to catch a ride back to my car. My personal issues with the walk however shouldn't detract however from the event's potential importance and symbolic value. Despite my misgivings, we should celebrate those who did complete the walk and also take stock of the larger significance of what they accomplished.

On an island where walking has become so foreign except to those who exercise regularly, a gesture such as this is not to be taken lightly. Although those who did walk, had food and water and chase cars at their disposal, people were still put to their limit. There is always the hardness of the pavement, the casual rush of cars sometimes just a foot away from you, and the unforgiving nature of the elements. Clouds bring a reprieve from the heat, but also bring some rain, which feels good only until the sun appears and the heat returns with a vengeance.

History and remembering are supposed to be so important, but because humans by their nature forget things, and eventually leave this world, we create monuments, forms of commemoration in order to make certain that something remains understood, that something which should be remembered will have a place from which a collective mind can always be brought back to it. But these monuments are always passive, always an experience which can communicate the barest sliver of what is meant to be conveyed.

I have long wondered why the History Channel is so popular with people, and part of it is because of the way history is presented as entertainment. By this I don’t mean that history is presented as entertaining or fun to watch, but that it is meant to be that one-way experience, history becomes something which can be flipped on and off, it can be muted, it can be paused, fast forwarded, rewound. Or, if you don’t like a particular part of history, you can always wait until another version of it comes on later in the programming schedule. History becomes not a force which molds you, makes you, chains you, but something light you take in easy doses, something you TiVo and enjoy from the comfort of your couch.

For history of yore, things long dead and gone, this might be appropriate, but for histories more recent and more traumatic, such as World War II on Guam, it feels almost wrong to have such a passive commitment to history. Although you are hearing stories and recalling events which took so much from so many, it takes nothing from you, it costs you nothing to listen, and even if you claim to appreciate the importance of what is being said and that you will cherish and protect it always, those are mere words and engrams in your memory banks. It costs you nothing to say them or feel them, which is why even if you forget or fail to understand what you claim to, you still lose nothing in the process. History, like a sprawling, bland batch of cable channels, exists at your disposal. Even if this isn't the truth of the situation, this is nonetheless the experience, one of sovereign, self-serving detachment.

What made this walk so important and so inspiring, was that those who walked did not simply place words or discounted, faded memories at the altar of Chamorro suffering in World War II. They did not sit on their couch and hear about how those who suffered in the final days of Japanese occupation and then shake their heads, close their eyes and think about how it must have been to be forced marched from different corners of the island to an unknown fate in Guam’s central valley. Instead in the way that they memorialized and remembered that event is by giving up their very bodies to it, to try and not just use your mind to bridge the generational and temporal gap, but their bodies as well. Although the walk was not meant to be a re-enactment, the phrase walking in the footsteps of another comes to mind. You can imagine walking in the footsteps of another, which is an easy and passive way of doing it, or you can attempt to literally walk in them to honor them. You cannot and probably should not reduplicate their experiences, but does giving up your muscles and bones to commemorate something bring you closer to that experience? That is why the title of the walk was so appropriate. It was not “Remember Their Strength” or “Remember What Happened To Them.” It is instead “Remember Our Strength.” The change in pronoun greatly changes the potential meaning of the walk. It reminds us that the connections between the past and present are not the fanciful, vapid and eyeball-drying ones between a viewer and the television. It is convenient for us to feel and see history that way, but that is historical experience at its most minute and mundane level.

For the Chamorros of today. Those experiences are our experiences. Their triumphs are our triumphs. Their pain is our pain. Their strength is our strength. But we fool ourselves to imagine that that strength is like some free, much fantasized money from an anonymous dead uncle or aunt. It is something which arrives with us, but not something which we get to enjoy without strings. It is something which must be unlocked. It is something which each generation receives raw materials for, but must find a new way to forge and create with it. This walk represents a clear way in which Chamorros attempted to find that strength within them and to not greedily take from history, but even to offer themselves up in exchange for it.

Although I did not finish I had planned to speak and share some thoughts at the conclusion of the walk. I wanted to find amongst all the things Chamorros have written, something, an article, a testimonial, a poem, which would help sum up why this walk had been undertaken. After searching through my archives and several books, I settled upon the lyrics to the song “Mångge i Chamorro?” from the band Chamorro. The lyrics were featured in a very touching article written by Chamorro poet laureate Lee Perez titled “A Chamorro Re-Telling of ‘Liberation.’” The song is an intriguing mixture of lamentation of loss, recognition of responsibility and call to come together. To me it fit perfectly with what the intent of the walk was.

In hopes of commemorating the spirit of this walk and celebrating those who finished it, I thought I would paste the lyrics here:


Manmåtto, manmåtto magi

They came, they came here

Tåya’ mamaisen, tåya’ ni’ håyi

No one asked, not any of them

Chålan Maloffan

The road of the past

Homhom i karera

Is a dark voyage

Ti u ma’åñao ma’åñao

They will not be afraid of

Este na manera

This way



Pastot i lugåt

Shepherd of the place

Hami i Chamorro siñat

We Chamorro are the symbol/sign

Hami lina’la’ taotao Guahan

We are the life, people of Guam

Mångge Chamorro maila

Where are the Chamorro? Come

Tohge yan pulan

Stand and watch over

I tano’-måmi

Our land

Fanhasso familia

Remember, think of family

Guinaiyan-måmi

They are our love

Balensia i chekle

Fight the thief

Guatdia lina’la’

Guard our lives

Umoppan mensåhi

Have the message heard

Prutehi guinaha

Protect what we have/what’s ours



Pastot i lugåt

Shepherd of the land

Hami Chamorro siñat

We the Chamorro are the symbol/sign

Hami lina’la’ taotao Guahan

We are the life, people of Guam

Mångge Chamorro?

Where are the Chamorro?

Taotao Guahan

People of Guam

Mångge Chamorro?

Where are the Chamorro?

Taotao Guahan

People of Guam



Pastot i lugåt

Shepherd of the place

Hami i Chamorro siñat

We the Chamorro are the symbol/sign

Hami lina’la’ taotao Guahan

We are the life, people of Guam

Mångge Chamorro maila

Where are the Chamorro?, come

Pastot i lugåt

Shepherd of the place

Hami i Chamorro siñat

We the Chamorro are the symbol/sign

Hami lina’la’ taotao Guahan

We are the life, people of Guam

Mångge Chamorro maila

Where are the Chamorro?, come

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