For those not familiar with Chamorro, “Nihi” is an inviting word and one that fits perfectly as the title for a kids’ show. It is used in sentences to convey togetherness and doing something as a group. Most people translate it to mean “let’s.” As in Nihi ta hanao = let’s go. Nihi ta fanocho = let’s go eat. It is a beautiful everyday way of inviting people to do something with you or go somewhere together.
“Nihi” is a show that I worked on, helping my cousin Cara Flores-Mays. She had an idea and was looking for creative and cultural minds to make it possible. I helped write a pilot episode and some children’s songs that used Chamorro and English. I assisted Cara with some Chamorro translation and consulted on other cultural aspects. Others helped with designing the sets, filming the pilots and acting. In the end like so many projects of this type it was a community effort.
Like many projects on Guam it was both “tåya’ salåpe’” and “åpmam na tiempo.” There were very little funds at first and because of this it ended up taking longer than expected. But Cara continued to push and see it through. When she premiered the first two episodes to families at the University of Guam, I was amazed. My children, both 6 and 3, were captivated by it as well.
Guam is an island that many feel is short on resources, but there is never any lack of great ideas and talk about those ideas. I have heard many people talk about making things such as Nihi. They paint the sky and connect the stars with so many things they would like to do. It was amazing to see how Cara had actually made this a reality.
Even more than its simple existence, it was fun to watch. My children enjoyed themselves. They watched a show that was educating them, but was doing so with landscapes that were familiar, animals and plants that were local, words that were Chamorro. On Guam we are so conditioned to see ourselves as lacking, our local life and island as lacking, and seeing anything that comes from somewhere else as being inherently better. Part of this mentality comes from our colonial experience where we were educated by Japanese, Spanish and Americans to see ourselves and what we offer the world as nothing, and see what they offered us as being the keys to life itself.
What we have so easily forgotten is that in education, you should always move from the familiar to the unfamiliar. That as we are educating our children we should take the island that they are familiar with and then use it as the basis for understanding things beyond it. For too long we have sought to educate our youth using the ideas of everywhere else, thinking that they are larger, richer, more advanced than this tiny little spot, and so the way they do it must be better.
If you do not learn in this way, from familiar to unfamiliar, but instead jump directly to the unfamiliar what you leave is a void, a gap in your understanding of the world. What is most directly related to your experience, to your life, the island, culture and language that sustain you, if you leave them in that gap then it leads to so many of the issues of cultural loss and disempowerment we see today. Our children are raised in essence to devalue so many of their experiences and so many of the experiences of their elders.
By producing more local programming like this we can help to reverse this trend. We can nurture the idea in our youth that learning, education, media, these are not foreign things. They are things that can be local in their origin. It is part of the vision of self-determination and self-sustainability that so many people today preach about, but few wish to find real ways to actually create.
This island is so rich, as I drive around, walk around, read its history or even just watch life happen, it has a story that demands to be told. But even if we are blessed or cursed, depending on how you see things, with this unique existence, we struggle in terms of telling it. Our island is a place where we produce so many souls who wish to be artists, but don’t support them.
The story of this island, for both those of us that live here and those elsewhere who might see it from a distance, goes largely untold, or is something that we trust to others to tell. For a place that is invisible and often times left off of maps or forgotten about in Federal legislation, leaving the telling of our story up to others is that last thing we should allow or tolerate. But telling our story requires supporting our artists. It means creating the infrastructure for people who have creative talents to produce, to grow, to survive.
“Nihi is an important step in this direction. Let me end this reflection with another Chamorro word “poksai.”
Poksai” is one of the deepest words in the Chamorro language, because of the way it brings together so many essential metaphors in life. Poksai means to nurture, to take care of. The more that we can locally poksai our children through media, the better. It is not only something important for them, but also for the industry and community of artists that we create. By creating more of our own media, we also poksai our own artists and creative talent. But poksai also holds the meaning of “paddling” as in hitting the water with paddles in order to move a canoe forward. Nihi represents all of these meanings of poksai. It is project that can help us to poksai our children, our artists and poksai mo’na on our journey or self-definition and ultimately self-determination.