Friday, August 22, 2014

The Machete That Never Needed Sharpening

When I have my students do oral history projects with elder Chamorros, they often times groan and moan. They knew that Chamorros suffered in World War II and don't need to interview an old person to know it. They know they speak Chamorro fluently and don't need to ask them about it. I generally have my students focus their questions on certain things that elders may have heard or been exposed to when they were very young, which wouldn't necessarily be the things an ethnographer or anthropologist or historian would ask them.

For example, one topic I am always interested in hearing about are legends or children's stories. What were the stories that the elders of today were told when they were kids? My students often groan about this because they assume that the stories that were told then were probably the same stories we tell today. So kids today can hear stories about Sirena, Gadao, Fu'una and Puntan and Duendes, these must be the same stories that people told their kids 100 years ago?

One of the reasons I have my students do this is because this is hardly true. Many of the stories that we take for granted today as being a central part of how Chamorros tell creative or mythical stories are not tales that Chamorros have been telling continuously for centuries. Some of these stories survived in fragments, but not in the comprehensive ways we understand them today. Some remained in the culture only in particular words, or in particular villages. Many legends that we accept as "Chamorro" today, were really only told by a certain Chamorro, usually from a certain part of the island. Or different parts of the island tell the same story in radically different ways. The White Lady from Ma'ina is the most infamous of all the potential white lady stories on island, and tends to hegemonize the possibilities, but the white lady of Tumon, the white lady of Malesso, the white lady of Umatac are all very different. Some of them have no back story. Some of them are more like omens than anything else. Some of them are nastier than others. Some of them are simply looking for someone to hear their stories.

What is very interesting about the stories that some of my students have been able to collect is the harshness of them. Some of them are very violent and very casually violent in the way some old fairy tales are. They are also at times very patriarchal and misogynistic. This meaning that women do not fare well in them and this means that the tales probably aren't from ancient times, or were at least drastically altered during the Spanish colonial period. Some of these tales were adaptations from legends brought in from Europe, such as Sirena or Cinderalla. Interestingly enough each of these stories differs wildly from the way the legends are generally conceived elsewhere. Sirenas in other parts of the world are Sirens who tempt sailors, and are not to be messed with. They are a metaphor for so many of the dangerous things (human, natural, animal, chemical) while traveling that can lure men into situations they can't escape from. Guam's story of Sirena is very different, focusing on family drama and how children should obey their parents or parents should be nicer to their kids. I should note that there are local versions of the Sirena story that do focus on them as being a race of mythical creatures that sing and tempt people, but this isn't the one that is most told or well known.

Cinderella holds a similar difference. The Disney version that so many people are accustomed to features meanness from the step-family of the protagonist, but is not particularly violent. The Chamorro version of Cinderella is quite violent. One that was recorded in the CNMI decades ago included the step-family of Cinderella being boiled alive in tar.

On his blog Pale' Eric Forbes featured one tale he titled "I Kadidok na Machete," which I've included below. I was very excited to see this because it was a story that one of my students have collected in their oral history research. Most of the stories that I've come across are unique, meaning it was most likely something invented from the storyteller or particular to that family. It is always exciting when you find more than one elder who shares the same tale. It means there may be some larger significance to it. The one my student recorded however was a bit longer, and went into the machete being magical, and able to cut through anything. Both tales however have the same anti-women theme unfortunately.


An old Chamorro tale.

Un taotao matåtå'chong gi pettan iya siha,
(A man was sitting at the door of their place,)

ya ha li'e mågi i asaguå-ña na ginen umo'mak.
(and he saw his wife coming who had bathed.)

Ya ma sosotta i gapunilu-ña* ya ma såsådda' i lipes-ña.
(And her hair was hanging down and her skirt lifted up.)

Nina' bubu i taotao ya ilek-ña :
(The man got angry and said :)

"Tai mamahlao!  Håfa na un bebende hao!"
("Shameless! Why are you selling yourself!")

Ya ha hakot i gapunilu-ña ya ha utot todo ni macheti-ña,
(and he grabbed her hair and cut it all off with his machete,)

ya ayo na machette tåt nai ha nesesita ma guåssa' desde ayo.
(and that machete never had to be sharpened since then.)

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