Friday, July 04, 2014

Inauthenticity Minagof

Dinana' Minagof, the annual Chamorro dance competition sponsored by Pa'a Taotao Tano' is happening this weekend. On July 5 and 6th at the UOG Field House you will see different houses or guma' within the Pa'a' Taotao Tano' family competing through dances from ancient, Spanish and contemporary periods. I've been to many Dinana' Minagof competitions over the years, but I am most excited this time around because I will be a judge for the competition! I have always sat in the audience or sat at a table selling my grandfather's tools. This time I will be judging the performances of so many students and fafan'ague that I know.

Pa'a Taotao Tano' does such amazing work in the community, especially in terms of building Chamorro identity and a sense of cultural continuity. For years people criticized Frank Rabon and his groups for "making things up." This criticism makes no sense when you think about it, but as culture is one of those things that is totally and clear contradictory but people just refuse to acknowledge it, people nonetheless tried to argue this very forcefully. Rabon and Taotao Tano' never argued that this dance or that dance was the way it was before colonization. Taotao Tano' is a group that is supposed to connect to Chamorros of the past and created homages to them through dancing and chanting. Frank Rabon never claimed what he was teaching was the way it was, but only that what is created may have had some similarities to Chamorro dance once upon a time. This is possible he argues through the research he has done both on Chamorros and non-Chamorros.

People always make the mistake in assuming that for groups like Pa'a Taotao Tano' or I Fanlalai'an or any others, even if they are working to weave something that looks like the past, the politics are all from the present. The motivations, the choices, the desires, all of it speaks volumes about today and is meant for people today. Although people may argue that one group is more "authentic" than others because their appears to be less "invention" or less "influence," this is a distraction and doesn't touch the real issues involved. These cultural groups are all meant to connect us to the past and instill in people today a certain relationship to it, a reverence, a respect, a knowledge, a love and so on.

This is a round about way of reminding us that hating on groups such as Pa'a Taotao Tano' for not being "historical accurate" or "authentic" misses the point and is generally useless. The relationship to the past is always an interpretation, it is always some dejavu, some memory and lots of improvisation. Cultures change, they adapt, they invent and re-invent, they are influenced, they replace things, they sometimes do things for different reasons, sometimes they forget why they are doing something and create new reasons and justifications.

Pa'a Taotao Tano' was a very important and continues to be a very important group because of this. For much of their colonial history Chamorros became disconnected from their own history, their own past. They began to take the pasts of others and use it as their own. They celebrated the heroes of others, champions of colonialism and took them on as their own saviors. There was really no question of their past or their history. They had either come to believe that they had no history, or at least no real history, or they had accepted the fact that their pre-Christian past was filled with primitivism and savagery and was best forgotten, or left fallen and overgrown with plants in the jungle. This is the place in which colonization feels most effective and invasive, when it has made you feel that you have come from nowhere, and by default made you feel that the only "where" you can go is through the colonizer and through his guiding hand.

Pa'a Taotao Tano' was helpful in getting Chamorros to shatter that blinding screen over their past. It was not about being authentic in the sense of dancing exactly the way Chamorros danced 500 years ago. But it was about acknowledging that Chamorros have ancient ancestors, those who came before the men with crosses. They were not savages and not evil miserable filthy things. They were people who had noble men and women amongst them. Who sang and danced. They loved, respected and hated things. In other words they were real people. They were not the black shadows on the jungle floor cast by shrieking demons, they were their own people who were judged wanting by would be Gods and Saints. They deserve more than what colonizers and colonized alike have given them.

That is what Taotao Tano' did. They offered a positive and inspiring portrayal of our ancestors, one that we could look to in a non-Catholic way and hopefully feel connected to and inspired by. For those who obsess over how their portrayal is inauthentic should measure and nuance their criticism. Their homage to the ancestors is not one meant to be ancient ancient ancient. It is not meant to be "authentic" in that way, but instead be something which pays respect to many different types of Chamorros that have existed over time. Other groups such as I Fanlalai'an do incredible work by trying to create things that are more authentic and in line linguistically and culturally with what we do know about pre-European contact Chamorro life. But their work also requires invention and is still an homage. Their politics are different, but their intent is the same. To create a strong and interesting connection to that past, which will have some sort of crucial and powerful meaning today.

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