by Jasmine Stole
PROFESSOR Kyoko Nakayama’s interest in Chamorro culture prompted her to learn as much as she could about it so she can share it with her students in Japan.
Nakayama explained the journey of how her interest in Guam developed into two books, an art show and an ongoing educational tour yesterday when she addressed attendees at the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay.
Nakayama’s interest in the island quickly translated into her hope to share the culture with Japanese people. Eventually she met with various local people, including Ron Laguana, Ron Castro and Frank Rabon who would help Nakayama reach her goals.
A teacher in the education department at Teikyo University in Tokyo, Nakayama established an educational tour in 2009 which allowed her to share the knowledge she learned from Chamorros with her students.
The tour is for her senior-level students who travel to Guam for the tour. It includes a lecture about the history of Guam, how World War II affected the culture, and various tourist activities aimed to help her students better understand the Chamorro lifestyle as it was and what it is presently.
The students are also taught traditional Chamorro chants and dances as a way to further expose them to the island’s culture.
These dances are taught to them by Frank Rabon. In addition to learning the chants and dances, the Japanese students often perform in traditional Chamorro attire.
Nakayama’s students have showcased their knowledge of the dances in Japan during one of their campus festivals and, more recently, at the Guam Premier Outlets and Gef Pago this past weekend. Nakayama said they will perform again next month in Japan.
Additionally, Nakayama uses art as another teaching tool for her students to comprehend the island culture. During their educational tour, students put together collages that focus on Guam history or the present-day lifestyle of the Chamorro people. Last year, the collages were part of an East Meets West art exhibit held at the Nissan showroom in Tamuning.
In 2010, Nakayama partnered up with Ronald Laguana and published her first book which was 100 pages. Nakayama said her first book was more like a textbook about Guam. Two years later, she published another book, this time a collection of 54 chapters that delved into subjects other than Guam culture, like the history and culture of the surrounding Marianas Islands.
Nakayama said she hopes to publish another book but wants her next book to be longer and more professional.
Japan-Based Chamorro Dance Group Visits UOG
Organized by Dr. Kyoko Nakayama, a professor from Teikyo University in Tokyo, Japan, the group of more than 40 members studies traditional Chamorro dance and culture during her after-class activity. They also perform during parades and other cultural events in Japan and abroad.
Nakayama, whose interest in Chamorro culture originated from independent study and curiosity, three years ago started the dance group affiliated with the local Chamorro dance organization Pa’a Taotao Tano’.
“At first I was interested in the history and culture, not just dance,” Nakayama said. “I wanted to learn the Chamorro language. The easiest way to learn the Chamorro language is dance. The motions and language are strongly connected.”
The group performed for the first time at the University of Guam on Feb. 16 with the help and organization of Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua, program coordinator of Chamorro Studies.
“I love dancing just for fun,” Nakayama said. “I have a strong connection with the local dancing people, and they (have) a lot of things to share—knowledge and customs. I’m really interested in their ideas.”
Nakayama’s students practice more than 20 traditional songs and dances to be performed in the original Chamorro language. While Nakayama—who speaks both English and Japanese—said she is not fluent in Chamorro, she translates the lyrics of the traditional songs into Japanese for her students to understand the meaning and significance. They then memorize the words to the songs in the original Chamorro for their performances.
Depending on the song, the group also wears traditional-style grass skirts, sinahi necklaces, woven headbands, Spanish-era attire, and some special costumes that Nakayama makes by hand.
Other adornments like the Guam seal necklaces worn by members of the group were made by local artist Ron Castro, Nakayama said.
Wearing a purple and white wrap made especially for her “Guma” or house, Nakayama explained the cultural significance of the design made by Castro.
“He gave us this design,” Nakayama said. “This is a latte and Mt. Fuji…and this is a dancer in a grass skirt…this is a combination of Guam and Japan. It’s a beautiful design.”
Throughout their presentation, the select group of 16 students that traveled to Guam with Nakayama this time around performed traditional dances for a classroom full of students and community members, finishing off their visit to UOG with the famous song “O Saina.”
Afterward the students explained why they study traditional Chamorro dance and culture.
“No Chamorro dance, no life,” said Saki Morita, a 22-year-old student at Teikyo University who dances with the I Famagu’on I Tano’ Yan I Tasi. “If I’m interested in something I want to keep studying and understanding (it). So Chamorro dance is the same. I’m interested in Chamorro dance, and I like it so I want to learn more songs, dance, of course culture, and history.”
Morita also said it was important for everyone, both Japanese people and Chamorros, to understand the history between the two cultures, a lesson many of Nakayama’s students said they learned while studying the dance and culture of the Chamorro people.
“Many Japanese don’t know Japan-Guam history,” Morita said. “I started Chamorro dance, and (now) I understand the history. I want to tell my feelings and (what I learned) to many people. I want to tell and share the history and culture.”
Bevacqua added that University of Guam students benefit from visits like this because they can help inspire them to research their own culture, sparking an interest in perpetuating the Chamorro language, traditional dances, history and more.
“It’s definitely good for them to connect,” he said. “For the students here it is a good thing because it’s a reflection back on them. I’m hoping this exchange empowers our students. By seeing this, students on both sides can be empowered.”
“This really shows the importance of dance and how the university can really benefit from it,” he said, “how it can be a means for us connecting to other cultures, (and) be a method of sharing. It was very nice having a bunch of Japanese people showing us Chamorro style dances.”