Sunday, October 06, 2013

I Nuebu na Ma'gas

The past few weeks while I've been conducting the Hinekka i Tiningo' i Manamko' project for Chamorro Studies and the Guam Museum, I have naturally felt nostalgic for the days when I was conducting my thesis research for Micronesian Studies at UOG. I started off without any real focus as to what I wanted to research or write about, but just a feeling that I should talk to as many people as I can.

The initial project I told people I was working on dealt with an analysis of political campaigning on Guam and how they have changed over the years. This became difficult however after most of the interviews I did with the key people in the 2002 Gubenatorial races didn't offer up anything very interesting. People talked alot, but no one said much that I felt was useless, it all chalked up to the usual platitudes as to why one person won and another person lost. During those interviews I asked to talk to people who could represent the golden age of politics on Guam, when it was basically the national sport and the political season would bring out the best and the worst of Chamorro families. I read in one of the Sanchez's history books about the late great James Sablan, whose tongue was brutal in terms of mocking and taunting opponents. The more I talked to older Chamorros, especially those who had lived not just during World War II or right before, but long before, the more I realized how rewarding and exciting I found the experience. 

They had a way of painting the past for me that it felt to real and so exciting. Even though so many of them told the same stories, there was still something exciting or surreal about their tales. When I would ask people to talk about their experiences growing up during the prewar US Navy Colonial Period, I would often get irritating responses they were very clearly whitewashed with the during war and after war patriotism. They would argue in such strong ways about things that were clearly not true to anyone who has any common sense. They are entitled to their memories and opinions, but the harmony and understanding that Chamorros often talk about back then has been disproved so many times. The US Navy did help Chamorros in some ways, but they also looked down on them, segregated them and humiliated them. 

Over the course of my interviews I got plenty of this discourse. But every once in a while one or two elders would shine through and speak truth, even if in small doses. Most Chamorros, especially those who grew up in the 1920s or 1930s, felt more comfortable with Americanization since the school system was formalizing by that point and they were more willing to accept the propaganda that was being taught. But those who were older would have a different perspective. One that was less attached to the United States, since their view of history was a bit longer and in some ways more objective. They did not see the United States as the End of History since they had already seen history end many times before. They did not place too much loyalty in any of their colonial masters because they knew that those masters change as the flags change.

Chamorro genealogist, historian and techa Toni Ramirez enjoys the following Chamorro proverb, that I've used here on this blog before:

Fanatguiyan i ha'ani-mu siha
Chumachalek hao pa'go
Kumakasao hao agupa'

Desde i mafanagu-mu
Asta i finatai-mu
Fanatguiyan i ha'ani-mu

Gefhasso na taya' ora-na
I minagof yan i piniti gi lina'la'-mu
Chumachalek hao pa'go
Tumatanges hao agupa'

Some elders use this saying or elements of this in order to argue that you should enjoy life while you have it and not make too many plans for the future since it remains unknown.

Others claim that what this means is that you can't trust this earthly plane, all that is certain lies in heaven above, and so don't take what happens here too seriously, since it is always changing. 

Of course it wouldn't be a Chamorro proverb if there wasn't some element of fatalism, and so this also means you don't know when death will come, so always be ready. 

During my oral history research I encountered two elderly Chamorros who used the same saying, and it became something that literally changed how I saw everything in terms of Guam history. The first was an old man who had gone through all of his schooling in prewar Guam. The second was a woman whose parents witnessed the arrival of the Americans in 1898, and were adults at that time. Her parents had a very different perspective than that of their children. They didn't go to US Navy schools. Most of their world view had been crystallized before Henry Glass landed in Guam. They may have seen changes, new opportunities with the Americans, but unless they went full sycophantic native, they maintained a careful distance and detachment. For those who don't know what I mean by full sycophantic native, they are the ones that accept almost as a religion their colonial subordination. They were the generation of Chamorros who acted as the mediators between the US Navy and the native population. They would represent the Chamorro people to the colonizers and represent the colonizers to the people. They would be promoted and placed in trusted positions like loyal pets or tokens. 

For any Chamorro who was capable of seeing what was happening during the Navy period, would have to respond with a detached critique. The Americans took Guam under the banner of liberty and democracy and then promptly allowed no such things to exist in Guam. The 1901 petition sent by Chamorros to the US Government made things clear by stating that there are actually less freedoms under the American flag then under the Spanish, and there is no way that should be the case. 

Without that indoctrination Chamorros who straddled the Spanish and American colonial periods could see very easily that they were both the same. One was younger and most ambitious, the other older and very tried and no longer effective. But this youth didn't make American less racist than the Spanish were in the 19th century. This youth didn't make Americans more dedicated to promoting freedom and civil rights for Chamorros. The differences gave Chamorros more opportunities and they did seize on these and become more attached to the Americans than I would argue they had become to the Spanish, but for that older generation, it was still the same old colonial game.

The saying they invoked was "I nuebu na ma'gas parehu yan i hagas." 

"The new boss is the same as the old one."

For those who grew up during the American period the experience was radically different. They grew up with an affinity to the United States, and drank often from the stew of American greatness and exceptionalism. Part of this was the idea that the Spanish were immoral, backwards and no where near as civilized as the Americans. The Spanish had victimized the people of Guam, the Americans had come to "liberate" them. For those who never experienced the Spanish era this was an easy thing to imagine, as the United States was much better at marketing and promoting themselves than the Spanish were. But for those who experienced the Spanish era and then lived during the American era, other than the technology of the times and the language that was introduced, things remained basically the same.

I later found out that this phrase could actually be from a Who lyric from the song "Won't Get Fooled Again." For most people they might assume that since the Who is from the outside and part of a larger "civilization" the source of the quote must be from them and Chamorros borrowed it. This is possible, but I seriously doubt it.

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