My dissertation in Ethnic Studies is dedicated to three people. One is my daughter Sumåhi, sa’ guiya i mas maolek yan månnge na palao’an gi hilo’ tano’ yan gi todu estoria. The other is for my son Akli’e’. Ti sen maolek gui’ taiguihi i che’lu-ña, lao guiya I mas kinute na patgon gi hilo’ tano’. The last dedication goes to an Ancient Chamorro warrior, a maga’låhi named Chelef, who fought against the Spanish in the late 1670s and was eventually executed for his crimes against them.
The dedication to my kids should obvious. I hope that in time I will be able to publish enough things so that everyone I love in my life can have something where their name and a few loving words appear in its opening pages. But why dedicate something to Chelef, a Maga’låhi who is not as famous as figures such as Hurao, Mata’pang, Kepuha or even Agualin? The reason is because of the way one of his acts against the Spanish, mirrored in a way the critical intervention I was attempting in my dissertation.
In my dedication I wrote the following:
Este lokkue’ para i anitin i hagas matai na Maga’låhi Si Chelef (taotao Orote). Ha gof tungo’ taimanu pumuha i sakman i enimigu-ña. Puede’ ha (gi este na tinige’-hu) para bai hu osge gui’.
This translates to:
This is also for the ancestral spirit of the long dead Maga’låhi Chelef (of Orote). He truly knew how to capsize the canoes of his enemies. Hopefully (in this dissertation of mine) I will follow his example.
In my dissertation I attempted to do many things, and pulled off most of them. But one thing that I really focused on accomplishing theoretically was an inversion or a reversing of the relationship between Guam and he United States. As I have said many times on this blog and elsewhere, when we see the relationship between Guam and the US, we have one appearing to have everything, the other nothing. I begin my dissertation with a short discussion on its title:
The title of this chapter and the dissertation in general might seem odd for a number of reasons. It collapses, or causes a collision between, a number of different concepts that many might not be familiar with, or feel go together. First we have Guam, a colony of the United States, or as it is more formally known, a territory or a dependency of it first taken in 1898 during the Spanish American War. It is an island which is blessed with the paradoxical nature of being a tiny, insignificant footnote to the United States in the Western Pacific at one moment, and one of its most important military bases the next. A place which also possesses the curious quality of being a colony and an imperial asset, which in most cases is rejected as being capable of signifying either colonialism or imperialism, as both Guam and its indigenous people are defined primarily through their ability to be liberated by their colonizer. Then we have the United States, which most likely needs no introduction, but when placed next to Guam might find its usual “awesome” power amplified even more.
The reference to its sovereignty however, might cause a few eyebrows to be raised. Sovereignty can refer to many things, but generally deals with nations, their rights, their ability to govern themselves, and their ability to provide stability and security for their way of life. Lastly we have the idea of production, representing the link between Guam and the United States (and its sovereignty). Aside from the literal interpretations, this marker is meant to convey that somehow Guam plays an active role or is a source of the constitution of American sovereignty. It is the curiosity that this title might instill or, the curiousness it exudes, that is the impetus for this dissertation.
If you were to look at Guam and the United States, sin tiningo’ , before you really knew anything about Guam, you would naturally assume that the US in charge and Guam is not. That the US is massive, overpowering, while Guam is helpless, small and dependent. One is sovereign, the other is an object of sovereignty. One is the lord, while the other is naturally lorded over. This commonsense extends even if knowledge is present. One assumes that in this relationship one makes the other. The US makes Guam. We can see that in the discourse of military leaders talking about US strategy in this part of the world. We can see it in WWII liberation discourse, where Chamorros and Guam would have been obliterated by Japanese imperialism without the US intervening. We can see it in discussion on Guam’s economy and how people see everything from prosperity, stability and order as tied to the US and its existence and nothing else.
The result is that Guam needs the US at the end of the day, whereas the US does not need Guam. One is pathetically inferior, while the other exudes the confidence and such great ability, that it can even use Guam. It can even make use of it in such ways, that it will be ability to unlock strategic, particular abilities, that people on Guam themselves cannot appreciate or comprehend. This is a proto-typical 20th century colonial relationship. Large overbearing colonizer, with small, minute almost easily missed or forgotten colony. The colonial logic that the colonized cannot exist without the colonizer is kicked into hyper-drive once you are no longer discussing the mineral-rich, labor-rich or resource-rich slate of former colonies. Once your list of colonies are tiny islands, where everyone can clearly see they have nothing but coconuts there, then there is nothing left to see. The colonial fantasy of their creation and conjuring of the colonies into existence becomes more real than ever, once they have these collections of islands that clearly cannot exist without the largesse of those larger, richer, smarter and better. After all, there isn’t any real purpose to holding onto these colonies? No riches or grant wealth to engorge!
This sort of logic of dependency seeps into the way the people of the colonies imagine just about everything, especially themselves and their relationship to their colonizer. The dependency becomes a part of their very flesh, as sometimes the distinction between the desire for something and the need for something is blurred to the point where things that you only “want” are felt with an intensity that borders on the need for oxygen or water. A regular case in point is any discussion over Guam and its relationship to the United States, and how things which might be good or better, are instead felt as if they are flesh or as necessary as your central nervous system. Hunggan, US citizenship is a very privileged good thing in the world today. But billions of people live without it every year. People respond as if there could be nothing else without US citizenship, as if living without it would be akin to living without water or air. This is the way in which something which should be a simple want. I enjoy this, I prefer this, this is better, becomes an almost colonizing and disemboweling need.
For my dissertation, I wanted, at least on a theoretical level to challenge this. The way I chose to do it is to look at the relationship between the US and Guam, one where so many feel like the US makes Guam, and re-image the relationship as one where Guam makes the United States.
If, as they always used to say in grad school, your point of departure is that Guam is dependent upon the US and that power flows in only one direction in that relationship, than you will always end up reproducing an unequal and disempowering colonial relationship. The traces of that origin will follow, taint and determine so much else. From that position, you are already so limited. Your agency, your options are so small, the commonsense of it all, will always nudge you to do nothing, since in essence, you are nothing. Tåya’ hao.
I used so many different metaphors in trying to capture what I was doing in my dissertation. I most commonly used remapping and re-imagining. Sometimes I resorted to using remaking. One that I did not use at all, but regularly came to mind, was the idea of flipping things over, of mamumuha, or capsizing something. The canoe once played a central role in Chamorro culture (for certain castes and classes), and today continues to be an important symbol for things Chamorro. It is a symbol for innovation, for connectedness, for navigation, for finding heritage, even for the continuity of identity or being.
In my dissertation I traveled through different sites where you could see how Guam creates or produces the United States. They were ways in which something extra is produced for the US. For example, in contrast to so many other sites where the US “liberated” people, Guam is one place where the narrative on the liberating tendencies of the US becomes almost shockingly consistent, as the US is decorated and celebrated in almost divine ways every July. What these gestures amounted to were attempts to flip the way in which we usually see Guam and the US. As one holding everything, one being the source, while the other a mere effect of the other’s greatness. In each chapter I tried to demonstrate one way in which you can see Guam producing the US, or producing ways in which its sovereignty takes concrete form.
Naturally I felt at a disadvantage given the fact that most people could simply scoff at what I’m saying and dismiss it out of hand since the US is the US and Guam is, well they probably don’t know what the hell Guam is, so who cares?! That is why I felt akin to Chelef in writing the dissertation. Against the Spanish at the height of the Chamorro-Spanish Wars, he and those like him had truth and justice on their side, but nonetheless faced impossible challenges, as their lands were being rocked by violence, betrayal, new diseases and constant suffering as their way of life was under attack.
Chelef is notorious in the Spanish accounts for his role in killing 7 soldiers and one priest. I will paste below the account from Ed Benavente’s book I Manmañainå-ta Siha: I Manmaga’låhi yan i Manmå’gas i Geran Chamoru yan Españot (1668-1695).
Si Chelef maga’lhin Uloti (Orote) na songsong. Gi 1671 såkkan gi durånten i geran Chamoru yan Españot, meggai biåhi di ma usa diferentes klasin ideha yan åtte siha para u kinentra i metgot na åtmas-ñiha i Españot. Ma nota påpa’ unu na ideha ni’ ha usa Si Maga’låhi Chelef. Ha fa’Chamoru gui’ ni’ macho’cho’cho’ para i Españot. Gi un ukasion ha pugi yan ha ufresi i sindalon Españot para u konne’ siha para Hagåtña. Gigon manmåtto gi tahdong na hånom ha repuha i dudeng na proa ya nina’taibali I petbos paki, ayu na lumi’of ya mumu yan i sindålu siha esta ki manmatai i Españot. Maloffan dos años despues gi 1678 na såkkan annai ma gacha’ Si Maga’låhi Chelef giya Malesso ya annai ha keeskåpa, gotpe pinaki nu i Españot as Kapitan Don Juan Antonio de Salas, ya poddong ya matai Si Chelef. Ensigidas, manotden i Gubietno na para u mautot i ilu-ña yan i kannai-ña ya u machule’ tatte gi siuda para u mafatta komo leksion para tody Manchamoru ni’ humahahasso kumontra i Españot.
The gist of Chelef’s achievement for those who can’t read the Chamorro is that one day as Spanish forces were fleeing Chamorros from Western and Southwestern Guam who were attacking them, Chelef appeared to help them. Chelef yelled at the attacking Chamorros, rebuking them for their violence and cowardice and threatened that any who attacked the priest and the soldiers attacked him as well. Once the attacking Chamorros dispersed, Chelef invited the Spanish forces into a canoe that would take them safely back to Hagåtña. Once the canoe was in waist deep water or higher, Chelef capsized the canoe, dropping the Spanish in the water and taking away the advantages of any armor or guns. Chamorros rushed in from the beach to slaughter the helpless Spanish.
This was a story that inspired many Chamorros, weary of fighting and wary of the brutality of the Spanish to continue fighting against them. It continues to inspire some up until this day. I’m grateful for it, as it was a story that also helped me slog through my dissertation.
The images in this post are from the book I Manmañainå-ta Siha: I Manmaga’låhi yan i Manmå’gas i Geran Chamoru yan Españot (1668-1695).Raphael Unpingco is the artist.