For most people in life, the history of your family is something behind you and nowhere near as important as getting to work on time, getting kids through school, or watching to see who will win next on “The Voice.” It is something almost all will say has value, but like so many things, it gains the most value only after it is out of your reach. Stories of your family are always there as you drive on the road of life. You will see signs that hint at how you should ask grandma or grandpa questions about your family, but most people just keep on driving. Only when it is too late and you can’t ask those questions, then do you look into the rear view mirror with longing, wishing that you had stopped and wishing you had heard those stories while they were still alive.
For most of my life on Guam, I spent it living in my grandparent’s house in Mangilao. From my grandfather, Joaquin Flores Lujan (Bittot) I have learned about Chamorro blacksmithing and how to make tools like the kamyo, the si’i, the soh’soh, the heggao and the machete. From my grandmother, Elizabeth Flores Lujan (Kabesa) I have learned so many things, but most importantly are her stories. My grandmother often says that she inherited her stories from her mother, who died the same year I was born. Her mother lived during the last years of the Spanish period in Guam history and was raised by her grandfather and grandmother. She was educated, got married and raised kids during the American colonial period. She survived the Japanese occupation and lived to reach her late 80s. Through her tales, the coldness and emptiness of history has been replaced by a familiar warmth. I swear sometimes when my grandmother speaks I can hear the clanging of large metal pots after a party at the Spanish governor’s palace, the smell of coconut oil lamps, the sounds of clothes being beaten against river rocks.
If you were to talk to my grandmother she would gladly tell you many of these tales. But for me I am grateful for the sense of responsibility they have instilled in me. Not just for the stories of my own family, but for the Chamorro people in general.
This fall I am working at the main writer for the text of the Guam Museum, set to open in December of next year. This museum represents a wonderful opportunity to tell the story of the Chamorro people in a way that has never been done before. The design of the museum calls for the collection of quotes about Chamorros, describing their history, culture and natural landscape. As of now I have a collection of thousands of potential quotes, that include song lyrics, Chamorro sayings as well as historical accounts and academic analysis.
Victoria Leon Guerrero, a local creative writer is helping create the museum text with me, and felt that in order to truly give voice to the Chamorro people and especially our elders today, we needed to go further than just archival work. She has conducted oral history projects in the past, most recently she assisted the office of former Senator Frank Blas Jr. on the War Survivors Memorial project. She proposed that we go out into the community and try to talk to our elders today, to capture their perspective on our recent history and to record stories and knowledge that may be lost when their generation is gone.
As a result this fall, through the Chamorro Studies program at UOG we are undertaking a project called “I Hinekka i Tiningo’ i Manåmko’” which translates to “the collection of the knowledge the elders.”
Our hope for collecting this knowledge is divided into two categories. The first is Chamorro-language based. We are hoping to ask elderly Chamorros to share the creativity of the Chamorro language they can remember, especially from their younger days. As the Chamorro language is declining in use, much of its complexity and its creativity is being lost as well. We are hoping to gather as many children’s songs, jokes, sayings and even bedtime stories in the Chamorro language that we can.
The second deals with parts of recent Guam history that have yet to receive adequate attention from standard histories. For example, there are already a great deal of oral histories about Chamorro experiences during World War II. But there are nowhere near as many histories about the period of rebuilding afterwards. We may know the stories of where our grandparents were on December 8th, 1941 or which concentration camp or bokkongo they were in on July 21st, 1944, but there has not been as much attention given to the difficulties in rebuilding after the war. This is just one of many under-documented avenues we hope to explore.
At the end of the project, all interviews will be archived in the Micronesia Area Research Center. If you have someone that you think would be important to interview, either in your family or your village, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.