Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fina'kuentos #3: Ha Tife' Yu'

If you don't speak Chamorro, there are various ways that you can transition into the language, or begin to immerse yourself into it. You can for example begin with a particular person or sets of people. Start speaking to someone you trust to help and support you and slowly expand outward. You can just go full internal or external immersion. You can force yourself to speak Chamorro not matter what, even in situations where you know you might not be able to carry on the conversation. Such is a case of internal immersion, where you force much of what you say to be in Chamorro. Or external immersion is a possibility, where you try your best to surround yourself with those who speak Chamorro, or intentionally put yourself into spaces, whether they be a fiesta, a church, a funeral, a Chamorro language competition, where the Chamorro language will be there, so you can be immersed in it.

But in addition to the who you learn Chamorro with, there is also the way you first become introduced to it. You can just learn the language in a standard way, as you move from one mental lesson to the next, but what can help you learn is a certain theme, or gimmick, to how you start to become someone who live in the language. For some people, it can be songs. You focus on learning the songs of the language, and that is how you become introduced to learning and speaking the language. For others, it could be a focus on the "ancient" or "fino' haya'" aspects to the language. You learn Chamorro, to learn the form it existed in prior to the arrival of the Spanish. This can be very important since it will funnel your passion and give you something to focus on, even if people are less than helpful in your learning.

One way that I encourage people to get started learning the language is to learn its empe finayi or as some say fina'kuentos. These are sayings or pieces of knowledge that reflect the Chamorro experience or the worldview of Chamorros. Some of them are silly and border on being kinky or offensive, while others are more profound and serious. I've already posted about two this month in honor of Chamorro month. I though I'd share one more today.

Ha tife' yu'

Even for those of you who speak Chamorro, if you haven't heard this phrase before, then you might be confused by it. Literally, the phrase means "He/She/It picked me." The use of the word "tife'" though is not related to the choosing or selecting of something. Instead pick is meant in the sense of picking fruit. Tife' is used to refer to the literal taking of fruit off of the tree. It can also be used to refer to the picking of leaves or branches off a tree, but the focus is on removing something.

To say "ha tife' yu'" could be a reference to you being a fruit on a tree, the one that was picked amongst many. It could be in this sense that someone plucks you from obscurity, or plucks you out of your ignorance. It could mean that someone takes you from a sort of nascent, stuck position and made something of you, took you somewhere. They drastically changed your life. This is a possible meaning of the term, but not one I've ever really heard. I have heard people discuss it, but never heard someone in any natural conversational state use it.

Tife', is also interestingly enough a dental term. It is the word that Chamorros use to refer to the removal of a tooth. "Ha tife' yu' i dentista" literally translates to "the dentist picked me" but actually means "The dentist pulled my tooth."

A further meaning to the term tife' is the sometimes latent sexual connotations. In Western culture the notion of picking fruit can be considered sexual, because of the ways that women's sexuality is closely associated with fruit. It is possible that the word tife' also used to carry these meanings. Ha tife' yu' could have meant that someone took your virginity, or that someone had sex with you. Given the egalitarian and female-dominated sexuality of Ancient Chamorro times, that could have been something women said or men said.

In Ancient times, men and women went naked most of the time. Men and women would sometimes wear clothes for special occasions. Men wore pandanus woven vests to dress up. Women could wear grass skirts, such as for dances or ceremonies. The Spanish did mention Chamorro women sometimes wearing a small article of clothing known as a "tife." This was a triangular piece of cloth, made from tree bark, that would be placed on the groin of the woman. It is possible that in Ancient Guam, ha tife yu' could have been a reference to the removing of that piece or clothing.

In contemporary times however the fina'kuentos is something that you might often use as you go about your day and interact with your social, political or occupational circle. Much of what I've discussed above deals with the focus of the metaphor on the taking of something. The picking of something as the emphasis. So a tooth is removed. A person goes from here to there. The picking of fruit as a possible sexual metaphor. But the final possible meaning of the term actually makes you focus on what the fruit undergoes when it is removed from the tree.

So long as the fruit is on the tree it is being fed nutrients and life is pumped into it. When it is picked, it is actually a violent and draining process. It is being torn from everything it knows. Like being wrenched from the bosom of your mother. To be a fruit that is plucked actually must suck a lot. It must be a terrible feeling. Therefore the contemporary meaning of the phrase focuses on the draining process. How to be a fruit that is picked can suck the life out of you and make you feel like life is over. Makpo' todu.

You use this phrase for people who make you feel that way. For people who are "dimasiao." Who are just too much. People you just can't handle. People you don't know what to do with. People who suck the life out of you, who make you feel akin to how drained and empty you feel after getting a root canal. Those are the people about whom you say "ha tife' yu'."

You can say it about the auntie who never stops complaining to you about her husband. You can say it about the grandparent who always has an endless list of chores for you when you got visit. You can say it about the co-worker who just won't stop asking you out. You can say it about your friend who asked to go for a ride with you one afternoon and you ended up escorting them to all their errands. You can say it about your significant other who forces you to go to do things you don't want to do. They don't have to be someone who has a history of draining you or deflated the willpower of people, but just someone who in that moment took the life out of you.

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