Thursday, March 05, 2015

Our Voice of the Pacific

Last week I penned a column for the Pacific Daily News on the connection between Ha'anen Fino' Chamoru Ha', a challenge for increasing the amount of Chamorro that you speak for one day at the start of this month and FESTPAC, the largest cultural event in the Pacific. Guam will be hosting FESTPAC in 2016 and representatives from 27 different island will be traveling here to share their own heritage and learn more about what Chamorros have to offer the Pacific. 

Each week the PDN is publishing a column on FESTPAC titled Saonao yan Eyak, encouraging people to support FESTPAC and help prepare this island to become the cultural center of the Pacific. My column focused on the need to bring the Chamorro language to a healthy state in order to help represent ourselves in a deeper way. The theme of the festival focuses on uniting our different voices of the Pacific. What kind of message do we send to the rest of the Pacific if the voice we use is English? A language that has only been in the Pacific for a few hundred years, and not Chamorro a language that ties us to so many other Austronesian peoples and has been here for thousands of years. 

A draft of my column is below:


Hosting a Festival of the Pacific Arts or FESTPAC is one of the greatest honors in the Pacific. The attention of hundreds of islands and peoples across this huge blue continent all turn to you and your culture. It is a chance to become the point at which thousands from different island cultures gather together and share the beauty of their languages and histories. 

The question for Guam is what do we want to show? What part of our heritage will be put forth through the arts, through dance or musical performances? As the cultural eyes of the Pacific turn towards us, we have chanters, dancers, musicians, painters, carvers, blacksmiths, writers and a host of other innovative and creative artists ready to represent Chamorro culture. There will be a diversity of interpretation and styles, just as there is a diversity of cultural possibilities within Chamorro culture. But one thing that should unite all is the use of the Chamorro language. No matter what type of art we use to represent Chamorro culture in FESTPAC, the Chamorro language should be a central element.

In my opinion the Chamorro language above all, is the most enduring and interesting part of Guam’s heritage. You can find the history of the Chamorro people, you can hear their history in their language. Their origins, their influences, their creativity, their emotions, their values. In everything that we organize to represent ourselves for FESTPAC we need to make sure that the Chamorro language component is always present, always oppan (audible).

In recent years however the Chamorro language is being used less and less and therefore being heard less and less around Guam. The exciting cultural renaissance we have been experiencing may have slowed the erosion of the Chamorro language, but it has not reversed it. With each month, more and more manåmko’, people who were born into the Chamorro language pass away, and for a variety of reasons many of them didn’t pass on the language to their children or grandchildren. Because the natural transmission of the Chamorro language has been interrupted, meaning parents or grandparents do not automatically use it with their younger relatives, those wanting to learn have to resort to more difficult means of language acquisition, such as college courses or textbooks.

The key to revitalizing the Chamorro language, the key to bringing it to a healthy state again is to use it. That those who know it, use it with those who don’t know it, and those who don’t know it try to use it around those who do. Standardized curriculum, Rosetta Stones, flashcards and convenient Apps can all help, but at the core of saving the Chamorro language is getting people to use it.

It is with this in mind that myself and a group of friends are organizing for March 1st, Ha’ånen Fino’ Chamoru Ha’ or “A Day of Only Chamorro.” Ha’ånen Fino’ Chamoru Ha’ represents a challenge to use the Chamorro language as much as possible this Sunday, no matter where you are or what you are doing. This Sunday if you are buying a couch at the Flea Market in Dededo, try to buy the couch in Chamorro. If you are ordering a pizza from Pizza Hut, order it in Chamorro. If you are having an online argument with some troll over a PDN article, type your angry comments in Chamorro.

There is a group on Facebook called Ha’ånen Fino’ Chamoru Ha’ that people can join in order to learn more about this challenge and meet others that have committed. You can find tips for surviving and succeeding this Sunday gi Fino’ Chamoru there as well as phrase lists to help communicate with others if you are struggling. People who are unable to spend the entire day speaking Chamorro but nonetheless want to show their solidarity have begun to make videos of themselves speaking Chamorro, with plans to post them on March 1st. Even if Ha’ånen Fino’ Chamoru Ha’ is only symbolic for some people it can still be an important step in pushing some to start learning the language in earnest. For both Chamorros and non-Chamorros this can be an important reminder that Guam has two official languages, one of them has been here for about two hundred years, the other for thousands.

I am hoping that through this challenge and also the other activities that GovGuam agencies and social groups have planned for Mes Chamoru next month that we can ensure that a key part of the momentum that is building for FESTPAC is the use and promotion of the Chamorro language. The theme for the 2016 FESTPAC is Håfa Iyo-ta, Håfa Guinahå-ta, Håfa Ta Påtte” Dinanña’ Sunidu Siha giya Pasifiku. The English translation is “What We Own, What We Have, What We Share: United Voices of the Pacific.” The Chamorro language is meant to be the voice of Guam. How loud that voice is however depends on how much Chamorro we learn from our elders and how much we use in our daily lives.

I hope that this Sunday, our Voice of the Pacific is a little bit louder than usual.

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