In order to get through our lives we will divide our consciousness into layers. There will be things that we will let float atop our consciousness on a daily basis because we judge them to be important enough to have access to all the time. There will be things that the context of each day will force to the surface. Things that we maybe didn’t wish would reveal themselves all the time, but will anyways because of what is happening around us. Then there are the things that we will knowingly or unknowingly push down as far as we can and hope they never emerge. These are notions, faint ideas, principles, realizations which pumuha todu. They have the ability to upset everything, like flipping over a jar filled with water and watching everything within be taken away by the momentum of the chaos.
These are things that are banished or submerged deep below because they cost too much to acknowledge on a daily basis. They extract so much ideological flesh in their recognition, that it comes to feel like it is taking actual flesh from you when you consider it. There are things that make you go “hmmmm” and then there are things that make you go, “what? No, it can’t be.” Mixed into the banality of our daily lives is unraveling of everything that feels real. Mixed into every moment is a trace of the world’s dissolution. Just as you might look around you and accept that what you see, think, feel or touch is real, every fragment of being also carries with it a sort of anti-truth. It doesn’t mean it's a lie, but it means that its truth resists your integration. Its truth will not play nice. Its truth does not help you in terms of making sense of life, its truth actually might make life impossible. You may know this feeling as “thinking to hard about something.” If you consider just about anything for too long you can easily reach a point where the framework you started with seems silly and stupid. It is easy at the start of the day to say that this country is a democracy, but if you spend all day thinking about it, by the time the sun sets, the word that comforted you at the start now mocks and appalls you at the end.
This is the feeling that these ideological points may take on, but it doesn’t not mean they are actually impossible or that they are pure terror. But we react to them as such because it feels like they require us to give up too much in order for you to achieve a new sense of ideological equilibrium with them. Most people don’t immediately restructure their lives when they find out the truth about something. Some people do and you do have to admire the ethical commitment of those who do, but most people do not. There are many ways to interpret or theorize this general resistance and so I won’t do it here, but it does seem like humans have a general resistance to joining causes. There is a sort of weird gray-area-glitch where humans for the most part enjoy being part of a mass or a mob but only do so as long as they do not think too hard about it. To know or consider the framework for your inclusion into a cause feeling like you are sacrificing yourself for something that isn’t worthy of you. This discussion is better saved for another post.
I have had many moments where these sorts of submerged, buried notions have forced their way to the surface. Sometimes I respond in a true ethical way, other times it is too much for me to integrate and I find ways of minimizing what I have learned. One of these such moments took place in 2002, when I interviewed a woman in Malojloj, Margarita Yoshida, who was made a Master of Chamorro culture by CAHA before her death. I interviewed her as part of my research project about World War II and the hijacking of Chamorro war stories. As a longtime resident of Malojloj and Inalahan I was very interested to her if she had any stories of Pale’ Jesus Baza Duenas, the second ever Chamorro priest who was killed during the war. She did have some interesting stories, but like so much else in this post, that will have to wait for another day.
Prior to the interview, her granddaughter had told me that Tan Margaret doesn’t speak English. I responded that it was fine because I speak Chamorro. In the back of my head, however, I had unconsciously misinterpreted her statement, believing that what she really meant was that her grandmother doesn’t speak English very well.
I, like nearly every other Guam Chamorro of my generation, didn’t learn Chamorro naturally. Faced with a period of rapid modernization and Americanization following the Second World War, most Chamorro parents didn’t pass on I mismo na lenguahi-ta] to their children for fear it would ruin their chances at economic and educational success. The English language became the the gi hilo’ tano’ equivalent of Fino’ Anghet or Fino’ Yu’us, meaning it offered possibilities and opportunities which seemed beyond this world, or at least beyond the world as they had experienced it. Chamorros came to believe many of the propaganda point of the US Navy before World War II, that learning English and giving up Chamorro = civilizing.
Because of this gap in linguistic transmission, I was forced to find other means of learning Chamorro. I took Chamorro classes at the University of Guam, used the language as often as possible, and even forced my own grandparents to fino’ Chamoruyi yu’ kada na ha’ani. Within a year’s time I was fluent enough to conduct interviews in the language, as well as gossip at parties or funerals. But in all the time I had been speaking it, and in all the time I had lived on Guam, I had yet to meet a Chamorro person who didn’t speak English. It was just as natural to hear a Chamorro person speak English as it was Chamorro. In fact, when interacting with the Chamorros of my and my mother’s generation, it actually seemed more natural for a Chamorro from Guam to speak English than anything else. Para Guahu yan i manachaamko’-hu a casual disconnect had been formed between Chamorros and their language.
When I arrived at Tan Margarita’s house and began speaking to her, it soon became very apparent that she really did not speak English much, beyond just a few words here and there. Although I was able to complete the interview it shook me and shocked me to come to terms with the limits of my own ideas. Mientras umakuentusi ham, I had inadvertently stumbled upon a piece of my reality and Chamorro reality that had long been buried, a discontinuity, as Michael Foucault terms it, which threatens prevailing ideologies and myths.
Prior to this encounter, I had never imagined that there were Chamorros on Guam who couldn’t speak English. But when confronted with this simple fact, in the form of Tan Margaret and other manamko’ that I would later encounter, and combined with what I know of Guam’s recent colonial history, it made perfect sense. America has only been part of Guam for a little over a century, and one could estimate that fifty years ago, more than half of the island wasn’t functional in the English language. How, in such a short time, had this consciousness been created in me where the English language and the Chamorro people had become inseparable, impossible to fathom apart?
This realization is one that helped lead me to take language revitalization more seriously. I found it ridiculous and terrifying when I was confronted with the limits of my own understanding and the reality of what had happened to the Chamorro language. Something that had existed for thousands of years had been disconnected from its people within two generations in such a casual way? For most Chamorros this realization would be irritating, would be interesting, would be trivia, would be tragic, but for me it came to define a new direction in my life.
Part of what made me think of this anecdote today is the article below about the last monolingual speaker of the Chickasaw language passed away.
What Happens When A Language's Last Monolingual Speaker Dies?
By Kat Chow
January 08, 201410:34 AM
Emily Johnson Dickerson died at her home in Ada, Okla., last week. She was the last person alive who spoke only the Chickasaw language.
"This is a sad day for all Chickasaw people because we have lost a cherished member of our Chickasaw family and an unequaled source of knowledge about our language and culture," Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a news release. The has about 55,000 members and is based in the southern part of central Oklahoma.
Dickerson, 93, was one of about 65 people fluent in the Chickasaw language, which has seen its number of speakers shrink from thousands since the 1960s.
"Chickasaw was the dominant language in Chickasaw Nation, both prior to and following removal [when Chickasaw people were forced to relocate to Indian Territory*]," says Joshua Hinson, director of the . "It was the late 1880s, 1890s and into the 1900s when we started to see a shift toward English."
The people who still speak Chickasaw — now in their 60s and 70s — started learning English when they were forced to go to boarding schools for Indians or local public schools. Dickerson didn't learn another language because, Hinson says, she didn't need English. She was from a traditional community, Kali-Homma', and didn't work in a wage economy.
"She lived like our ancestors did a long time ago," Hinson says. "What's important in Chickasaw is quite different than [what's important] in English. ... For her, she saw a world from a Chickasaw worldview, without the interference of English at all."
Though the Chickasaw language is very different from English, it shares features with other Native languages.
Chickasaw is a spoken language, replete with long, intricate words that have the same amount of information as a sentence or sometimes two sentences in English. Take the word Ilooibaa-áyya'shahminattook.
"This means something like 'We (including you, the person I am speaking to) were there together, habitually, a long time (more than a year) ago,' " Hinson wrote in an email. (The word was too long to spell out over the phone.)
Experts say the rest of the 65 Chickasaw speakers, all of whom are bilingual, might be a big enough pool to preserve the language. Greg Anderson, director of the , thinks the situation, though bleak, is not as bad as it could be.
"You can never really predict what the future will bring for a language that's in demise, even a language as far eroded as Chickasaw is," Anderson says. "As small as the number is, it could be a lot worse. ... You could conceivably, with very difficult — to be honest — time-consuming effort ... try to maintain and preserve and find main domains of use [for the language]."
Hinson's program tries to counter further erosion of Chickasaw by offering language immersion programs — for both kids and adults. Tools, including an and a , make the language accessible to anyone, as Hinson puts it, "on the face of the planet."
The death of Emily Johnson Dickerson last week is a "kind of reminder in how important the work we do in revitalization is, how important it is for us to be serious and committed and hard-working," Hinson says. "We don't want to have a situation in 30 years where we say our last Native speaker has passed and we don't have a speaker who can have a conversation in Chickasaw."