Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saonao yan Eyak

The PDN has been publishing a series of columns under the banner of "Saonao yan Eyak" or "Join and Learn." These columns are meant to help inform and inspire the community in advance of next year's FESTPAC which will take place in Guam. Hosting a FESTPAC is a massive endeavor. It requires layers of public and private cooperation, as tens of thousands of people descend upon that island in order to experience this cultural Olympics of the Pacific.

I first wrote a column for them last month for Ha'anen Fino' Chamoru Ha', which by the way we are working on formalizing and trying to get back to honor at the start of each month. This month I wrote about how much Guam's consciousness has changed over the past four decades and how FESTPAC played a significant role in that.


"Guam's made huge stride since 70s"
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Pacific Daily News

When we think of what "Chamorro culture" means to us today, particular images and forms come to mind. Most people would recall terms such as "respect" "chenchule'" or "inafa'maolek." Others might think of latte stones or sakman sailing the seas. A great many people might think of dance groups such as Pa'a Taotao Tano', Inetnon Gefpago or chant groups such as I Fanlalai'an.

Chamorros see themselves today as being in the midst of a cultural renaissance, where Chamorro language and culture are being celebrated and promoted.

If you asked Chamorros 60 or even 160 years ago what their idea of Chamorro culture was, it would have been very different from the answers today. Some things -- such as respect or chenchule' -- might be similar, but almost all the symbolism would be different, in particular with regards to thing such as chanting and dancing.

The evolution of this Chamorro cultural consciousness has a great deal to do with Guam's participation in the Festival of Pacific Arts, or FestPac. As Guam has sent delegations to represent itself and its native culture at this event, it has provided a mirror through which Chamorros could see themselves and how others see them, and cultural practitioners and political leaders have taken strides to shift that representation.

Very different

In the 1970s, when FestPac was first formed and Guam began to participate, the consciousness of the island was in a very different state. Although this was a time when there was a growing "brown power" movement and the birth of a bilingual education program, there was still a heavy intoxicating haze of Americanization. English only was being emphasized in public and in the homes.

Chamorros saw their culture and their place in the world in a very limited and narrow way. They considered themselves to be tragic victims of history, where centuries of colonization had bequeathed them a culture which they could not call their own, but was instead a mishmash of everyone else's heritage. The way Chamorros saw their own culture, was through the eyes of an antiquated anthropologist, that it was meant to be static and never change or adapt.

Matched expectations

When other islander delegates saw that first FestPac performance from Guam, it matched their expectations. They knew of Guam as a big American military base, and so of course they would have American rock bands for culture.

The experiences that Chamorros had at those early FestPacs created the impetus for the shifts in cultural consciousness that we see around us today. FestPac is meant to be the cultural Olympics of the Pacific, a time when each of the close to 30 island nations that participate share with great pride their particular way of expressing Pacific islander identity and sense of history and place. In the 1970s, Chamorros largely felt that they didn't have anything to show the world. Their continuity with their ancient ancestors had been cut in terms of the most visible facets of culture.

Living and breathing

But what cultural practitioners, some of whom led the dance and chant groups of today, realized is that culture is not simply some static inheritance that one merely passes between generations. It is a living, breathing and changing thing. Even if we do not know the exact dances and the chants of Chamorros before, it does not mean that Chamorros cannot create new dances and new chants that are meant to reflect, through research and through creativity, interpretations of our past.

Guam is no longer viewed the same way when our delegations attend FestPac. People now see Guam as a place which has a vibrant culture and is rich with expressions of that culture.

In 2016, as we take the honor of being the host island for the festival this is our chance to continue to show our cultural traditions and creativity.

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