Wednesday, July 25, 2012

First Stewards #3: Gi Tinituhun

As part of my responsibilities at the First Steward Climate Change Symposium I had to chant and dance at the National Museum of the Native American Indian.

Ya-hu kumanta, ya-hu bumaila, lao ti ya-hu umuyu este na dos gi me'nan un linhayan estrangheru siha.

These chants were to be performed at certain points during the symposium where different tribes and islander groups would share some cultural expression that is appropriate for the moment. Some said prayers. Some sang and danced. Some shared parts of their histories. These ceremonies were important in breaking up the ice between communities and also breaking up the sometimes very dry format of panels and presentations.

The song that people most enjoyed was a chant from Guma' Palu Li'e', today known as I Fanlalai'an. It is titled "Gi Tinituhun" or "In the Beginning." The language is beautiful and more abstract than usual for a Chamorro song, and that is part of the reason that it appealed to me. It makes reference to a God or a deity of the Chamorro people, who in his imagining brings together the pieces of matter to form the world.

For Chamorros the question of "God" is always an interesting one. The word for God that we use today is "Yu'us" and "Si Yu'us." There are debates over whether this word comes from the Spanish term "dios" or not. It most likely does in my opinion as Chamorros also copied the format that the Spanish used for saying good-bye. In Spanish to say goodbye you say "adios." In Chamorro to say "wave" or "wave at" you would use the term "ayu'us" which is structurally very similar to "adios."

Fu'una and Puntan are both deities that Chamorro stories and histories mention, but other than their names, what is the word that Chamorro might have used to describe their position in relation to normal humans? "Maga'aniti" is one option since it refers to a "high spirit" or an "arch spirit." Sometimes when referring to Gods I use the term "yi'us" in order to distinguish whether you are referring to "The God" or "gods." For me it functions the same way capitalization does in terms of marking the Proper quality of what you are mentioning.

The God that the chant refers to is not just any God, but the one who's presence and who's thoughts create the world as we know it. Guma' Palu Li'e' came up with an interesting way of trying to convey the epic and foundational importance of this particular deity, and so they referred to it as "I Yahululu'"

For those of you don't know, the grammatical form of "ya- + final syllable reduplication" works as follows. It works in tandem with directional terms, such as mo'na (front), tatte (back), hulo' (up), pappa' (below). When you add the ya- form to it, it changes the meaning to mean "the furthest in that direction." If you ask someone which of the things he likes most, he may respond "i yatatate" or the furthest one in the back. If you are feeling very very depressed and feel like life, the world and everything else is out to get you, you may assert that "gaige yu' gi yapapapa'" or that I am at the lowest point.

So I Yahululu' translates to "the one that is the highest" or "the one that is the most high." It is an interesting way of referring to an all-mighty, all-knowing Chamorro deity. Given the way Chamorro cosmology works the construction "I Yamo'na'na" would have also been an interesting possibility. Mo'na is a word that holds an incredible sort of everyday epistemological meaning in Chamorro life. They say that the name Fu'una, the goddess who helped create the Chamorro people, her name is derived from Fo'na. Mo'na is best known for its use in the word "taotaomo'na" which refers to spirits, but translates literally to "the people of before" or the "people in the front." Although taotaomo'na can refer to Ancient Chamorros and the ancestral spirits of Chamorros living today, it is so heavily associated with generic evil or untrustworthy spirits that it would be difficult at present to use it otherwise.

A word that is becoming more and more commonly used to fill the gap is "i manmofo'na na taotao" or "i manmofo'na." This first started to gain credence as it was used in the title of Scott Russell's comprehensive overview of Ancient Chamorro life and culture in the Northern Marianas Islands I Tiempon i Manmofo'na. The term can be translated to "those in front" or "those who are first."

Other than this mo'na is just such an interesting and highly charged and flexible concept. If you were to ask most Chamorros to translate it, they would say it means "front" or "before" but its actual use extends far beyond that. In one of my articles for the online encyclopedia I wrote about the different uses of mo'na:

The term “mo’na” can mean the “front” or used to described something which is in front or “before” something in space. If something is “gi me’na’-mu” it is “in front of you.” The word sanme’na is used to describe the front of something. “Gi me’nan Yu’os” is a common phrase which translates to “before God.” Mo’na and another form of it, fo’na, can also be used as directional terms to indicate the direction in front of you, or a command to move forward.

But mo’na is also used as a temporal term to describe things “before” you in time and history, and it is here where the cyclical elements emerge. Mo’na and fo’na capture the meaning of “before” in both senses temporally. They refer to the time and that which is before us (or in front of us) in time, that which lies ahead of us, but also that which is behind us, that which came before we did.

There are certain explicit ways in which term fo’na takes on both the sense of something being before in time and in space. For instance when it is combined with the causative na’- prefix, it becomes na’fo’na which means to “send ahead” or “push to the front” and can carry the meaning of letting someone cut ahead of you in line, or letting someone do something before you in time. Fo’naigue is another form, which means to “do something ahead of someone else,” such as Ha fonaigue yu’ gi che’cho, which translates to “He did the work before me.”

But mo’na can also take on a strictly future sense. “Para mo’na” for example is the Chamorro phrase meaning “from now on” or “from this point forward.” Mo’na is also attached to words in order to indicate this sort of transitioning point and the permanence of the statement or action into the future. When used with a verb, the terms gains the extra significance of something that will be carried on into the future and is not only for this moment.

At the same time, mo’na and fo’na are both used to also articulate that which is from the past, that which came before us. They are both used to talk about something which has come before, or something which happened before the present moment. For instance, if two friends are talking about who graduated from high school first, they might say “Mo’na hao,” meaning you were in front or you came first.

Fo’na, when using the nominalizing infix –in-, becomes fine’nina and is regularly used in Chamorro to indicate something being “first.” In this sense the term is used to describe what happened first or who was the first to do something. Incidentally, fine’nina can also be used to reference the first of something to be done in the future. As when talking about what will happen, fine’nina also means what will happen or be accomplished first.

 I concluded that the term mo'na gives us this insight into Chamorro cosmology.

Although the use of mo’na in these words most explicitly refers to their being from the past, or coming before the present, they still carry with them the future and forward in time implications of the term. They intimate to the ancestral spirits of Chamorros not only being behind us, but also before us. According to Chamorro historian Anne Perez Hattori, the key to understanding the Chamorro world view is found in the multiple meanings of mo’na. 

This multiple meaning is intriguing because it reveals a unique aspect of the Chamorro world view, what would be called the Chamorro epistemology .  In this definition of mo’na as both the front and the past, what is revealed is the Chamorro cultural perspective that history is not what is behind us, but rather, history is in front of us.

Given this history and significance "I Yamo'na'na" could have been an equally beautiful variation. It would mean "the very first" or the one who is furthest forward. But because of the circular view of Chamorro epistemology that the term mo'na alludes to, it would also mean that this great deity is also the furthest ahead in time, in the future. The great being in this chant would therefore be the one who created everything in the past, but also waits for the Chamorro people ahead in time.

This is not to take anything away from the use of the metaphor of height or aboveness in their creation of the deity. Height also plays a very important role in imagining the world of Chamorros, and so to refer to a God as the highest is a very serious metaphor in and of itself.

For those interested here are the lyrics for the chant.

Gi tinituhun, i tinituhun
Ge'halom hinasson i Yahululu'
Mane'etnon i hinafa siha
Taihinekkok yan taichi
Ge'halom hinasson i Yahululu'
Ge'halom hinasson Ge'halom hinasson i Yahululu'
Taihinekkok yan taichi

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