Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ancient Chamorro Cameos

Have you ever watched a movie or a television show where the main characters, the regular cast who you are supposed to digest aren't that interesting or engaging? Is it ever the case where minor characters, even those who maybe appear for just a scene or two, with simple cameos are more enticing? Even though they only appear for the briefest of moments, they are more interesting and draw your gaze more than those who lounge about on the screen seemingly without purpose.

If you want to experience that feeling alot I suggest you start to read up on the early days of Spanish colonization of Guam. We know about those days through the accounts of Spanish missionaries and military officers. They wrote about their day to day activities, their hopes, their dreams, their fears and the lives of Chamorros around them. They were not anthropologists, they were not journalists and they were all incredibly racist and imperialistic. They did not see Chamorros through clear eyes, nor did they write about them with clear eyes. They saw Chamorros as mostly devil, the only thing of value was the tiny dot of their soul. So long as that was saved the flesh could be poisoned, tortured, mutilated or anything else. Needless to say the way they treated Chamorros was not fair, and this extended to the way they wrote about them.

In those early days, the Spanish wrote about themselves as if they were super heroes, all doing Herculean tasks in terms of fighting the devil. They propose themselves as the epic stalwart heroes, but in truth they are boring and pretty uninteresting. They are completely oblivious to the culture they are ravaging, completely detached from the pain and misery they are causing. It is almost nauseating to pore through their cluelessness and imagine how some people, especially historians take these sources seriously. They may have some facts, but the amount of commentary and prejudice literally drips from the pages.

The treatment of Chamorros is very inconsistent. For those close to the new church, they get the treated like royal tokens. They get praised and given fancy nicknames. They are placed as minor lights that shine in these lands of devilish darkness. For others whom the missionaries hated, pages and pages are devoted to them and to decrying and defaming them. But for most Chamorros, they are given a cameo in the story. A single, simple detail of their existence, and rarely a name, but usually just a village is given to identify them. It may be a random Chamorro who attacks a soldier. Or a random Chamorro who brings their child forth to be baptized. A Chamorro who had a vision and came to be converted. A Chamorro who spat upon the priests and is later executed.

This period is filled with Ancient Chamorro cameos. People who play crucial roles in the telling and re-telling of how Catholicism comes to Guam, but are denied any real substantive existence. They come and they go. They are pushed onto stage and then yanked away after they have served their purpose and muttered their lines. They are, because of their stolen glory, their muted aura, far more interesting than the priests and soldiers that are paraded about as the heroes of the time.

As I was thinking about this cameo like nature that Chamorros were condemned too, one name popped into my mind, that of Maga'lahi Aghao. Aghao's claim to fame is his attendance at a meeting with Maga'lahi Hurao in 1672. The Catholic priests called this meeting in order to discuss peace. Just the year before Hurao had formed a coalition that attacked the Spanish and laid siege to them in Hagatna, almost wiping them out. During the meeting the Spanish soldiers opened fire shooting Hurao and another unnamed elder in the back. Ahgao pulled out his gachai or adze and fought off the Spanish soldiers until he made it to the river in Hagatna, where he dove in a swam away. The Spanish accounts don't give us any further information on Ahgao, as to what happened before this moment and what happened after.

For those who would like to learn more about Maga'lahi Ahgao, here is a passage from Maga'lahi Ed Benavente's book, I Manmanaina-ta: I Manmaga'lahi yan i Manma'gas ; Geran Chamoru yan Espanot. 

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Matatnga na må’gas Si Ahgao. Sesso di mumu kontra I Españot gi manmaloffan na tiempo. Ma nota gi 13 gi Måyu gi 1672 na såkkan na sumaonao humunta para u fanakonfotma pas ya mandaña’ Si Ahgao, Si Hurao yan un bachet åmko’, yan noskuantos na påle’ yan 27 na sindalun Españot. Manhuhunta gi halom guma’ påle’ pues gotpe ha’ sin hafa rason manmanugon I sindalon Españot ya ma tutuhun manmamamaki. Ma paki Si Hurao yan I bachet na åmko’ gi tatalo’-ñiha. Achapoddong ha’ I dos ya matai. Guihi ha’ na momento ha laknos I gachai-ña Si Ahgao ya ha difende gui’ kontra I sindålu siha. Sigi di sumeha Si Ahgao esta ki humihot gui’ guatu gi saddok Hagatña ya ayu nai ha yute’ gui’ pappa’ gi halom I hanom yan muñangu para I otro banda. Tåya’ mas madokumenta put hafa humuyong-ña Si Maga’låhi Ahgao gi duranten I Geran Chamoru yan Españot.

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