Friday, April 04, 2014

Translating Historical Distances



"Translating the Garrido Manuscript"
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety
3/26/14

This Thursday, March 27 a very special presentation will be held at the University of Guam and titled “The Garrido Manuscript: A Unique Glimpse of the Chamorro Language in 1798.” The public is invited to come and learn about the translation of the oldest document known written in the Chamorro language, from 1798, more than 200 years ago. The presentation will begin at 6 pm and take place in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Lecture Hall at UOG. This presentation is sponsored by the Micronesia Area Research Center and the Chamorro Studies Program.

Dr. Carlos Madrid, a research associate at MARC has spearheaded the project with essential assistance from Jeremy Cepeda, a Chamorro teacher at Simon Sanchez. Lenoard Iriarte from I Fanlalai’an Oral History Project, Pale’ Eric Forbes, Rosa Palomo from the Micronesian Language Institute and myself also assisted in various ways with the translation and interpretation.

The background of the document is interesting in and of itself. In 1798, Manuel Garrido a Chamorro who worked for the Spanish Government of the Marianas was asked to translate into Chamorro an official proclamation from the Spanish Crown. Spanish and Filipino soldiers had repelled an attack by British ships in Zamboanga, Mindanao and this proclamation was meant to congratulate them for their great deeds in defense of the Spanish Empire.

The document was occasionally incomplete with the wear and tear of two centuries obscuring parts. The handwriting and spelling of Garrido presented its own challenges, as in some places the style and choices of the translator made it difficult to determine what would be the proper way to pronounce this word. Garrido was using a Spanish way of writing to give life to Chamorro on the page and it is interesting to see the choices he made and some things he invented in order to pull this off.

Translating the manuscript required working in three languages. Carlos Madrid took the complete Spanish account and provided an English translation of it. This English translation was important in terms of helping decipher the Chamorro, especially in cases where Garrido used words that were not familiar to Chamorros today. By working in this trilingual context, the team was able to develop theories as to what certain unknown words might mean. The chance to peer into the mind of a Chamorro 200 years ago, and the way that he would take one universe of meaning (Spanish) and transfer it into another universe (Chamorro), is definitely something you don’t want to miss.

The Spanish period of Guam’s history lasts for several centuries, but is not given much historical attention. As the Spanish are “so two colonizers ago” the legacy of their influence is something no one can deny, but people still aren’t sure how to reconcile with the politics of the present. The Spanish had an impact, everyone knows that, but do we determine their impact to be positive or negative? Do we look at it as a time drenched in nostalgia? Or as a time of oppression and lack of freedom? Even if we know things are more complicated than this, there is always a pull to articulate the past as one or the other, to try to keep things simple.

What I detest about the way this period is generally written of, is that Chamorros barely factor into their own history. Most historians write of this time as a changing of Governors, the heroic work of Spanish priests, and the Chamorro people are mindless extras that move from one scene to the other, without any clear will of their own. For those of you who don’t know Carlos Madrid, this is for me, why his work is of the utmost importance to the study of history and Chamorro culture in the Marianas Islands. He is not like many other historians who simply write around Chamorros during the Spanish period, he has attempted in this project and in others, to try to find the Chamorro experience, the Chamorro voice in a time of colonization and difficult religious, political and social changes.

For example his book “Beyond Distances” chronicles the stories of political prisoners from Spain and the Philippines in Guam during the second half of the 19th century. This is something most histories of Guam cover, however most histories of Guam implicitly or explicitly argue that the presence of thousands of revolutionaries and reformers on Guam at a time when the Spanish Empire was going through an identity crisis had little to no effect on Chamorros, and that they just went on with their lives. Carlos shows through events from that period that Chamorros were clearly affected by the reforming rhetoric of the time and found their own ways of protesting the abuses of the Spanish Empire in their part of the world. For example Luis Baza, sued and successfully ousted a Spanish Governor, while Jose Salas actually assassinated a Spanish Governor.  Carlos’ work shows that during this crucial period of Guam history, Chamorros were not mere bystanders, but actors, who could understand what was happening around them and found ways to express themselves or change their island for the better. 

Carlos Madrid will soon be leaving island for an exciting job in the Philippines. We have been lucky to have him here for the past few years to help us gain new insight into the Spanish period of Guam History.

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