Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chamorro Public Service Post #24: Nobia Yanggen Para Un Hanao

When I was doing oral histories on Guam, not too long ago, some of the most interesting stories were those of courtship and "dating" in pre-World War II Guam. As many manamko' state, there was no dating before the war, and this is no exaggeration. Young men and women were closely watched and restricted in their movements and activities. Men were given more freedom than women, but both were not allowed to freely associated with any person of the opposite sex to whom they were not closely related. With any such social prohibition there are plenty of sagas of the exceptions. These exceptions for the most part can be found in the tales of mythical others. People who bravely went against the times or were victimized by the times or who seemed to not belong in the time to which they were born. These people always exist, and are spoken about sometimes in disgust/distaste, sometimes with jealous admiration. But even if the person you are talking to may have had similar experiences, they tend to exclude themselves from that topic, and not share their own experiences. 

Although the sexes may have been monitored very carefully, you will always find stories of those who were able to beat the odds and see each other. You will always find stories of parents forced to marry their kids since they had been able to connect in more ways than one, and public decency demanded that they at least be married. You will find stories of secret romances where, where Fulana's cousin was able to meet her boyfriend by the river every night and Fulanu was able to meet his girlfriend when he would sneak away while at the ranch with his dad. These tales of romance warm the heart and inspire us even if by strict Catholic or religious rules they are immoral, because they contain passion, sweetness, courtship in addition to young people having sex next to metates, on riverbanks or behind churches. But while most have no problem gossiping about others, they have a natural blind-spot for themselves. The story of how your Auntie Chai and Uncle Chu got together drips with more teenage passion than all four Twilight books, but if you ask your grandmother how her and grandpa got together, it's like reading an encyclopedia Britannica entry.

This is natural and to be expected, in every culture you'll find similar sorts of gaps between the reality of their sexual activity and the discourse they use to create public meaning about it. Chamorros are no different, although the gulf between what they say and believe about themselves and the way they conduct themselves has been particularly massive since Spanish colonization. Even after Chamorros had converted to Christianity and publicly accepted they were to not engage in premartial sex, stay married and not get divorced and many other things they nonetheless continued to live out their previous ideas of sexuality, albeit in private. They would continue to sing about it in Chamoritta verse, though now disguised in generic metaphors. They would continue to fool around and get pregnant before getting married. They would have plenty of sexual partners even after getting married. Even other Europeans who visited Guam during the Spanish period remarked how blatantly contradictory Chamorros were in terms of sex. They would go to church religiously and were devoutly loyal to their faith. But they were also incredibly promiscuous and would sometimes encourage their daughters to have sex with whalers and other visitors on island in order to make money. It is possible this was just a myth that whalers would tell themselves about Guam, but it could also have some element of truth.

It is natural to not want to spill all the naughty details, and normal to tell parts of your story as if they are G rated, but from a historical perspective it makes things less fun. A less discussed and less celebrated part of our history is that negotiation over sexuality. How we have negotiated the public demands upon our identities, but also developed secret, private spaces for exploring other aspects of who we are. The Catholic aspects overwhelm the Chamorro, but also sometimes appear to choke the Chamorro, and so in terms of finding love, finding pleasure and finding that part of who we are, Chamorros went to great lengths to explore and experience. Although Chamorros had accepted Catholicism as part of them, there were still things, contradictory things that they felt were also part of themselves. It is an interesting dance to see how this could be carried out.

As already mentioned the Chamoritta singing style was one way of exploring sexuality and sexual imagery while still obeying public morays. You could sing about another person sexually while hiding your desire in banal and boring everyday metaphors. Certain spaces and times of the day or periods of the year became more sexually charged. Making tatiyas or doing laundry early in the morning was an ideal place for meeting a boyfriend. When spending the day at the ranch, you could easily spare a couple of hours to visit a achakma' or two. Men who were particularly bad at farming or fishing and often had poor harvest or came home few fish were either bad at their jobs or doing other types of che'cho' lahi. Fiestas were places where religious celebration and devotion took place, but also plenty of fooling around. Parents would beat their own children for having secret girlfriends or boyfriends, sometimes locking them up or hanging them upside down and whipping them. These same parents often had their own secret liaisons and relationships and would have children from outside their marriage. Their infidelity would not however make them more lenient or understanding of their children and their indiscretions.

All of this came to mind because as I was going through some of my files tonight I saw such an interesting contrast between Chamorro wedding songs, all of which deal with love and leaving your family and start a new phase of your life, and the Chamorita songs, which would deal with issues of love, sex and having fun.

I should note before concluding that I haven't discussed the issues of homosexuality. That is something that i whispered about and alluded to through allusions to other things. It is rarely even mentioned, although in many cultures were heterosexual relationships are closely monitored, homosexual relationships often covertly flourish. I'll take about this in a future post I'm sure. 

I've decided to post here tonight the words for one of the wedding songs, a famous one still sung by people today, "Nobia Yanggen Para Un Hanao." There are, like most songs, many different versions to choose from. Some families sung it differently, and different people had their own take on the lyrics, changing some words for other, adding verses of their own.


"Nobia Yanggen para un hanao"

Nobia yanggen para un hanao
Fandespidi gi as nanå-mu
Ya un gagao ni’ bendision-ña
Ya un nina’tunas gi karerå-mu

Dimu pappa’ ya un fannginge’
Si nanå-mu nai fine’nina
Sa’ ti apmam nai na tiempo
Otro nobia un ginebetna

Nobia yanggen para un hanao
Fandespidi gi amigå-mu
Sa’ este nobia na hinanao-mu
Hokok nobia sumutterå-mu

Yanggen un konne’ yu’ gi as nana
Ni’ made’on ni’ mabubuyi
Ministed un pasiensåyi
Sa’ esta hao mana’dungkoluyi

Nobia yanggen esta hao manhanao
Mungga maatan este siha
Lao i guinaiyan i nobiu-mu
Ayu ha’ nai un espiha

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