Friday, January 03, 2014

Mina'singko na Lisayu: Band of Bihas

Mina'singko na Lisayu

It is strange but some of the happiest memories I have of my grandmother were going with her to funerals. These funerals were like my cultural, linguistic and genealogical boot-camp.

I didn’t grow up knowing much about Chamorro language, culture or my family relations. When I became interested while attending UOG, it gave an entire new dimension to our relationship. Whenever there was a funeral of a family friend, relative and so on, grandma would tell me, you’re gonna take me to this. “you’ll find lots of Chamorros to talk to there.”

I enjoyed riding in the car talking to my grandmother. This would be the briefing, where a genealogical minefield  would be laid out in front of me. My grandmother would trace a convoluted route that would connect so and so with so and so and with us and us. Along the way she would take us into a seemingly infinite number of cul de sacs, providing tangential stories of this family that family. Afterwards I would try to repeat the genealogical links, trying to remember the names of people who died sometimes before my grandparents were even born. I would usually fail miserably, hitting one tripwire on this path accidentally confusing the “Casamiro” family with the “Kandaso” family or the “Bino” with the “Badu.”

When we would arrive at the church my training would be put to the test in something I came to call “Band of Bihas.” At these funerals grandma would have her gang of old ladies that she would chat with and catch up with. They were here old classmates, coworkers, relatives, in-laws. Grandma would show me off to them and tell them I was trying to learn Chamorro. Grandma was always supportive of me learning, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t enjoy a good laugh when I would make a mistake like confusing såbanas and sabånas.

I learned so much just by sitting in circles of folding chairs listening to them talk. Like any gathering of Chamorros they would reminisce and gossip. The excitement in these conversations was the way they so much of their conversation was prewar vintage. Gossip is always a sinful pleasure, but it was exciting to see these bands of bihas glide effortlessly between generations of gossip, from HD, to color, to sepia, to black and white. One moment they would be talking about so and so last year and then they would be talking about so and so 70 years prior.

The people that grandma would see most were her sister in law Margie (Bilmar), Mrs. Lane, a longtime educator and her aunt Mrs. Elsie Miller. All three of these ladies were known to drive themselves to around on the island, especially to attend funerals. Sometimes grandma and I would pick them up and I would be the chauffer for the morning. Whenever we would arrive at the church and people would see me helping them out of the car, someone would always remark, “thank you so much for driving them. I always get scared when I see them on the road driving” 

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