When I hear people discuss nowadays their connections to i manmofo'na or Ancient Chamorros, it is always interesting to see their connections and how they express their similarity, their fidelity or their disaffection. There are things that we can identify as coming from ancient times up until today. Some of them are abstract, coming from the nebulous realm of values and ideas. Others are rooted in the land and those things which remain despite things appearing to be so drastically different.
When people want to draw affinity to those ancient ancestors it is rarely a reciprocal game. People will take up things that fit within their lives today, often times things which are incredibly simple or easy to integrate or provide verbal support for, but actually have little affect on their lives. It is common in all cultures to speak on behalf of our ancestors, to speak to them. But when people praise and pay homage to them it makes me wonder what their responses would be? Would they be happy? Would they see a link between them and us? Would they be appalled? Would they see us as proper guardians of their heritage or as shameful, impure, rejects?
In thinking about this I am reminded of a scene from the film Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott. This film had so much hype and hope attached to it in terms of giving some backstory and meaning to the world of the Alien franchise. It didn't so nearly as much as people hoped but was overall a very interesting film visually. Towards the end of the film, Waylon the man who funded the trip to seek out the Engineers, who perhaps hold the secrets of human life, seeks answers. He has his android wake up one of them from stasis. David attempts to communicate with the towering Engineer who responds by killing Waylon and the others and decapitating the android.
It is a telling moment. Most people imagine the past as sitting idly, stagnant, harmless in its stasis. The images of ancestors are filled with kindly ancient sages and saints who hold the keys to explaining where you come from, what you truly are and so on. But this encounter with the Engineer is a nice reminder that ones ancestors, if they are to be considered real, and not flattened shades to be used for tattoos and stickers, have agency of their own. They had their own contradictions, their own limitations and difficulties and they may look at those who pay homage to them today as being fakes and disgraces. They may feel the opposite as well and see the connection alive and well, but that potential leads so many to think very simply about their history, picking and choosing in superficial ways what to pledge allegiance to and what to discard.
It is intriguing to think what connecting to our ancestors in a more thorough way might be like. Not just taking on what fits with us, or what we find relevant today or what we don't find problematic today, but taking on their legacy in a more holistic way. I have over the years brought up examples of not just speaking of veneration for ancestors, but going so far as keeping the skulls of revered relatives as Ancient Chamorros today. I have another example below, in terms of Ancient Chamorro loveplay. From historical accounts and archeological records we can deduce that the teeth were important to Chamorros, as a means of self-expression and also as a means of romantic expression. Biting and marking of flesh was considered to be a way of showing affection and interpersonal ownership. According to one account Chamorros would show off bites as a memento of a particularly good time spent or relationship.
I have a poem below that I wrote to give some sense to this.
Ti ha sangåni yu’ ni’ fino’-ña
na ha guaiya yu’.
Lao i nifen-ña muna’klåru…
Anai ha åkka’ yu’ gi painge
Ya ha ette i apagå-hu
Milalak papa’ i haga’-hu
Taiguihi i lago’ guinaiya siha.
Ya i dinigridu pa’go
i muna’hahasso yu’
put i guinaiyan-måmi