Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tinta and Faha

On Saturday, my special projects class "The Uprising at Atate" traveled to Malesso' in the South to take pictures of the two memorials at Tinta and Faha. Malesso' has the most notorious "village" story of the entire war. Despite being far away from the centers of Japanese power, by the end of the war it is the site of two massacres (Tinta and Faha) and one uprising (Atate). For this research project we have been studying why the massacres sites, which are zones filled with trauma and victimization have become so important in WWII memorialization, while Atate, a space where Chamorros fought back and killed their Japanese captors holds little to no significance over how people see the Tiempon Chapones tale unfolding.

Finding the exact location where the uprising at Atate took place has proven difficult, as those who have been there are generally too old to travel there, and other know the general area and can point at it from afar in a way which is attempting to be helpful, but ultimately meaningless.

But Tinta and Faha are easily found and I've visited each of these sites many times over the years.  Tinta is the more difficult to find out of the two as you have to walk through some jungle and cowfields to get to it. Faha is much easier as it is just a walk up to the hills overlooking the cemetery. The first time I visited each of these was sites were moments I will never forget. Each had a profound impact on me, albeit in very different ways, and in the case of Faha, in ways that have little to do with the historical significance of the place.

The first time I visited Tinta, I was working for a film crew and we were accompanying a Japanese tour. At Tinta, 30 Chamorros, men and women, were marched to a bokkongo or a man-made cave and then massacred by drunken Japanese forces. 14 survived, but only because the Japanese were eager to escape the downpour and did not finish mopping up the wounded. Given the fact that Japan is a country that has elite, global dominating capabilities in terms of amnesia-making, it might seem strange to hear that a group of Japanese tourists was actually visiting the site of one of their atrocities during a war they would rather pretend never happened, or re-imagine with themselves as the innocent victims of Western imperialism. I have written many times on this blog about the ways in which the Japanese "discovery" of Guam in a tourist context has the effect of washing away their complicity of the terrorizing of Guam in a historical context. Given this relationship where so many Japanese that swim in Tumon Bay and shop at ABC Stores or visit Latte Stone Park, have no idea that there might be any historical connection to them and this island beyond the satisfying of their tourist desires, why in the world would they ever visit Tinta?

This was a special tour that is offered by certain companies on island. It is part of a real island history tour, and doesn't not shy away from the particularities of Japanese colonialism and the violence that resulted upon the lands and bodies of Chamorros. Instead the tour acts as an apology. The tourists visit the sites where their ancestors hurt Chamorros and they ask for forgiveness and that the souls of those who were harmed and who did the harm please rest in peace.

When I followed this group to Tinta, I have to admit I was unable to process at first what I was seeing. Even if I had known ahead of time what the tour was and could imagine what it would entail in terms of rituals and things said, when it actually took place I found myself so taken aback and so completely unprepared for what was happening. The guide told everyone the story of those who were massacred. He spoke in Japanese, but someone translated for me, the words appearing in my ear as my mind already anticipated their meaning based on the hand motions the guide was weaving. Stabbing the air. Pulling out grenade pins. Someone grabbing their arm that is no longer there. Someone pulling a body atop them. The tourists there, each cried and offered prayers and left gifts at the memorial plaque. When we left, oranges, a bottle of wine, flowers and other snacks had been lined up, decorating the somber grey pedestal and black plaque.

So much of what I saw was ritualistic in nature. It had more to do with what was expected in that context, than any actually feeling or connection. Their tears were not necessarily because they felt the weight of a long-denied history pressing down on them, but more so because of their acceptance that their role their is to express emotion. I have seen Chamorros travel to Tinta and break down in similar ways, but it has never affected me the way that trip with the Japanese did.

You can understand from this perspective, why for so many Chamorros, their expectation from Japan is that they would apologize. We are no longer enemies, we are now friends, and Chamorros don't expect Japan to give them each a brand new car or a big reparations check. But there is an expectation that some recognition will take place and that an apology will be made. An empty gesture is always powerful the first time, because it is all surface, and so long as that is all you see, it will feel expansive, it will feel as if the world has been crammed into a moment, into something that can be purposed as somehow meant for you. But that surface soon becomes insufficient once attempts are made to build upon that gesture, to use it as a foundation for new political meaning or identification. The example I always use for this is the infamous 1993 Apology that Native Hawaiians received from the US Federal Government. More than a decade later when the State of Hawai'i tried to use that apology as the basis for a legal argument, they were told that the apology was meant to simply make them feel better, not to actually affect reality or actually assist them in their quest for justice.

The same goes for the apology of those Japanese tourists I saw in Tinta. There gesture could mean so much and conversely it could mean so little. So much depends o whether that gesture becomes the basis for new meanings to emerge or whether it becomes a wishful nail put into the coffin burying something that even those who admit to it, wish it could just never be mentioned again. As I watched the Japanese cry while learning about Tinta, I cried myself. I became overwhelmed with the idea that this could be something not empty, but powerful, and change the way Chamorros and Japanese in small settings at first, but eventually larger venues could see each other. It is something that I have been fortunate enough to feel and see every so often. There is still a national blindspot amongst the Japanese, but each year I meet more and more who know that history and choose not to simply brush it aside whether through minaleffa or false tears.

The first time I went to Faha, I knew close to little about it. This was years before I visited Tinta, soon after I had moved back to Guam to start going to UOG. A Chamorro girl in one of my classes was determined to make me more local and offered to drive me around the Southern part of the island. I had grown up on Guam, but after living for six years in the states I definitely seemed to code "po'asu Amerikanu" or "stateside Chamorro" to people on Guam. I was driving, as she was showing me around. Since I later became a historian, thinking back her history lesson was kind of funny and barely accurate. But I guess it was the thought that counted.

We parked at the top of the cemetery and walked up the hill. She was busy talking about something else and so I had no idea we were walking to a site where 30 Chamorros had been massacred during World War II. Unlike Tinta, there were no survivors for Faha. There was a memorial there, but we breezed right by it and went to the top of the hill. The view from there is actually breathtaking, meaning the first time you see it, the blue of the ocean, the elegance of seeing Cocos Island from above and from afar, the cool breeze, all of that will combine to temporarily suck the breath from your chest. I didn't have a cell phone and this was before I knew digital cameras existed and so all I had with me was a disposable camera and I took a quick snapshot of the beautiful blue world waiting before me. Sadly the picture didn't develop and so all I have of it are faded, overexposed memories.

She didn't say anything about Malesso', the massacres or even Cocos Island. She just stood beside me looking out at the world. It was one of those moments where you can't be sure if the lost look in someone's eyes has anything to do with you, but you desperately wish it did. She started talking, slowly and very deliberately, as if she was either finally saying something she had long practiced or was simply considering the storied history of every syllable for dramatic effect. She didn't look at me when she said it, but I will never forget it. I don't feel like sharing it here, but it was the height of poetry for me at that point in my life. No relationship was born from this kiss, but it was an unforgettable moment simply on its own.

Before I could even feel awkward or ponder that thought she was kissing me. It did feel like an ocean for a moment, at least for me. It felt like life, liquid life was washing up over my face. Nothing else happened, she quickly skipped down the hill, with my mindlessly following. The ocean had never seen more blue than it did that day.

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