Michael Lujan Bevacqua
This past Sunday the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice organized a peace vigil in Tumon, at the memorial site where a terrible attack took place two weeks ago. This vigil was meant to honor those who were killed and those who were hurt in the attack, and also provide a space for members of the community to come together and make sense of what happened. Candles were lit, blessings were offered, a song was sung, a healing circle was formed and some doves were let loose. Although the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice organized the event, it would not have been possible without the help of many local organizations and leaders, including a group of JFK high school students, who each contributed something.
The vigil was given the name “Inagofli’e’.” This is a word that many people today may not be familiar with, but has a very deep beautiful meaning in Chamorro. The word can be broken down in this way. “Gofli’e’” means to like or to love, but in a platonic way. It can also mean to care for. The “a” is the prefix “a-“ which is a reciprocal prefix, when added to a verb it makes the action reciprocal. Agofli’e’ means to care for each other, to love each other. The “in” comes from the infix –in-. Many are familiar with suffixes (they go after the word) and prefixes (they go before the word), but an infix, as you might guess, goes inside the word. If the word begins with a vowel, then the –in- is added at the front. Inagofli’e’ means the act of caring for each other. Many people already know this infix, it is most commonly used today in the term “inafa’maolek” which means “the process of making things good for each other” or “interdependence.”
The meaning however can go deeper. “Gofli’e’” can be broken down into two parts. “Gof” and “li’e’.” Gof is an intensifier. Today it is commonly used to make statements like “gof båba” or “gof maolek” and can be translated as “very” or “really.” “Li’e’” is a word that I would argue is one of the oldest or most central to the Chamorro language. Li’e’ translates to “see” as in seeing something. Although gofli’e’ today translates into caring for someone or liking someone, the older meaning of it is to “really see someone.”
When people who were fluent in Chamorro first watched James Cameron’s film “Avatar” they might have noticed what seemed like a hidden Chamorro language message. Although the film has nothing to do with Guam, there was one line in particular that may have resonated with Chamorro speakers through this use of “gofli’e’” as expressing care for someone else as the ability to truly see them.
In the film, there is an alien race called the Na’vi who bear many of the traits of indigenous people, most prominently an intimate connection to the natural and spiritual world. The line “I see you” plays a prominent role in the film. It is a greeting, but also an expression of love and respect. You can see someone as in process them visually, but you can also see someone in a spiritual sense, as if their aura, what is in them has become known to you.
In Chamorro the use of li’e’ can also have negative emotions. “Chatli’e’” is the word to hate, but similar to its relative “gofli’e’” it can be broken down into parts, “chat” and “li’e’.” “Chat-“ is a prefix that means the opposite of something. It can mean not really or not at all. It is a very complicated prefix in terms of its potential interpretations. “Chatmaolek” would mean not really that good. Chatguahu would mean not really feeling like myself, or feeling kind of queasy. Chatli’e’ literally means to not really see someone. I find it interesting that this was the way that people would express hate or dislike in ancient times; to not really acknowledge them, as if they did not exist or could not be perceived.
The term “gofli’e’” hints at an ethics that many people may shy away from today. I have always found it interesting that Chamorros articulated love, concern, hatred, apathy in terms of whether people were visible to you are not. It is something important to remember today when so many things bombard us and we feel as if the world as at out fingertips, that we may see many things in terms of processing them visually, but how much of the world do we really see, as in really know and understand? How much of what we say and do is simply lip service, when in truth we don’t really see those that we are speaking of or professing concern for?