Mina'tres na Lisayu
for Elizabeth Flores Lujan
My grandmother would cut out anything in the newspapers related to Chamorro language. She gave me several reasons over the years for why she did this (other than her being a hoarder/collector), but once she said to me, that she was worried that the language would disappear from this island just as the songs of our birds had. This statement struck me because I had grown up in an island where the only birds I’d seem to hear were planes and helicopters flying overhead. For most my age the lack of birds is a piece of Guam trivia, a metaphor to use to talk about how fragile the state of the Chamorro people, or how we should be vigilante about what comes into our community, or a footnote to discussing the brown tree snake issue.
For my grandmother and her generation the native birds of Guam were half of the soundtrack of life. If you imagine the singing that Chamorros did being the social opera, the birds were the orchestra, their songs weaving in and out of ever moment. I asked my grandmother several times which was her favorite bird before World War II, each time she answered a different bird. At first I thought she may be forgetting things since the first time I asked she said the ga’kariso but the second time she answered the tottot, later the chunge’ and so on. After listening to her however I realized that each bird had some special importance to her because of the way they were attached to different memories and different emotions in her life.
She told me that there were no therapists before the war and sometimes the only person you could talk to would be a bird visiting outside your window, or visiting beside you by the river rocks, or serenading you from above at the ranch. From what I gathered the ga’kariso or nightingale reed warbler, had a special place in her heart. They would arrive around dusk like long lost friends, with a tale that you would not believe hidden in their song. Grandma never told me what she told the birds in return, but I imagine love, dreams, and loneliness were part of the conversations.
This past Thanksgiving I got to hear the song of the ga’kariso for the first time while I was in Saipan. I almost didn’t recognize it, as I had only heard it through the imitations that my grandmother would make of it while sitting at the dining room table, that would make both of us laugh hysterically. I was so excited to finally hear this bird that grandma was always talking about. Soon after I returned grandma went to the hospital and I never got the chance to tell her.
Thinking back, I wish I had listened to the song of the ga’kariso more carefully. I imagine somehow that it had a message for me, perhaps a story of my grandmother from long long ago.