Monday, December 14, 2015

The Importance of Puengen Minagof gi UOG

 I've been helping with the organizing of UOG's annual Puengen Minagof Nochebuena celebration for several years now. At first, I found myself very awkwardly participating, as much of the traditions involved, whether it be the praying of the nobena or the singing of Chamorro Christmas songs was foreign to me. I grew up in a home where we didn't make a bilen and certainly didn't go out into the jungle to obtain lumot for it. We sometimes sang some Christmas songs, but they were always in English and I was never really exposed to the exciting array of Chamorro Christmas songs, some of which are translations of popular English tunes (like "Similot" which is the Chamorro version of "Silver Bells") or gof katoliko na kanta siha, or Catholic Chamorro songs that feel like they were penned straight from the quill of Pale' San Vitores himself. As I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist, we didn't pray the nobena either. 

Boñelos were a part of the season however, that much I do remember. But I have never had a fondness for boñelos dågu, no matter how much syrup is applied to them. I have always preferred a variety of other types of boñelos, and so even that didn't really ignite the Chamorro Christmas spirit in me. So when I began helping coordinate Puengen Minagof and having my classes participate, ti bei puni na "apprehensive" yu'. I felt very awkward. I was teaching students songs that I didn't really associate with being Chamorro or with my own Christmas experiences. I was having them carry out traditions that were strange to me and didn't feel very Chamorro to me.

This year felt different though. Matulaika i siniente-ku. Ti hu tungo 'sa' hafa matulaika, ti siguru yu' hafa muna'tulaika, lao sasahnge yu', taigue ayu na minasa'. That awkwardness I felt was gone. Perhaps I was finally feeling a sense of ownership over the songs, the traditions that are showcased each December at Puengen Minagof. Maybe it helped that last year I went caroling with the Young Men's League of Guam (Inenton Lalahen Guahan) at Guam Memorial Hospital, and actually really really enjoyed singing these songs to people (even those who may have wished that we had skipped their room and avoided our energetic out of tune tunes).

Nuebu i inatan-hu gi pa'go na sakkan. This year I see things differently and I even put some of my thoughts to print this past week in my Guam Daily Post column. In my column "The Importance of Puengen Minagof" I first thank the part-time teachers in the Chamorro Studies Program at UOG, who do all the real work regarding Puengen Minagof Nochebuena and our other annual event I Inacha'igen Fino' CHamoru or the Chamorro language competition held each March. Second, I share some of my thoughts on why the Puengen Minagof celebration is important for students learning Chamorro, for students and their identity and finally for the larger organism of Chamorro culture and its future. Read below for more.

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The Importance of Puengen Minagof
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Guam Daily Post
December 9, 2015

Last Friday, the Chamorro Studies Program at the University of Guam held our annual Chamorro Christmas celebration, Puengen Minagof Nochebuena. Each year the instructors and students for the Chamorro language classes at the University of Guam work together to organize an event that will showcase certain features of what has become a traditional Chamorro Christmas. “Christmas” has only been a part of Chamorro culture for a few centuries, but during that time these traditions became an integral part of the ways that Chamorros commemorated their beliefs during this part of the year. For our Puengen Minagof celebration last week, more than 300 people showed up to take part in the singing of Chamorro Christmas songs, the praying of a nobena and the consuming of thousands of boñelos. 

The success of each Puengen Minagof Nochebuena rests on the hard work of our part-time faculty, who are not paid nearly enough given the service they provide for both the University of Guam and the wider community. This is also true for the other, much larger annual event our program organizes “I Inacha’igen Fino’ CHamoru” or the Chamorro Language Competition each March. Allow me to introduce you to our Chamorro language faculty at UOG who made last week’s event possible.

Siñot Joseph Franquez is a long-time musician and Chamorro teacher and also the lead organizer for Puengen Minagof Nochebuena. He set up the sound system for the evening and also provided musical support via his synthesizer. His had his classes sing a number of much beloved Chamorro Christmas songs, and under his guidance they sounded quite “linangitan” or heavenly. Siñot Ed Benavente, a retired Chamorro teacher and former Maga’låhi of Nasion Chamoru had his students open the evening with the blowing of the kulo’ and also added in a På’a Taotao Tåno’ style chant and a stirring rendition of “Fanmåtto Manhengge.” Siñora Ruth Mendiola was a Chamorro teacher for many years and is now the acting gehilo’ for the Guam Department of Education Division of Chamorro Studies and Special Programs (Inestudion Chamoru yan Espesiåt na Prugråma Siha). Her classes took on the important task of manning the tables. As part of their coursework they demonstrated and cooked the boñelos prior to the evening and even printed out instructions in Chamorro on how to make them. They made sure the tables were always filled with fina’måmes Chamoru even as hundreds of hungry mouths filed through. The most senior among our part-time faculty is Siñora Rosa Palomo, who is well-known and respected for her decades of work in terms of the study and perpetuation of the Chamorro language. She teaches the advanced Chamorro language courses at UOG and volunteered her students to conduct the nobena this year as well as participate in a life-size bilen, or nativity display. Siñora Terry Flores is a retired Chamorro teacher and a techa who teaches our intermediate Chamorro language courses. For Puengen Minagof Nochebuena, she helped organize an “Finattan Modan Chamoru” or a Chamorro fashion show, comprised of the students from different classes. Students walked past the life-sized bilen and Christmas decorations and showed off their loincloths, lancheru outfits and even Hawaiian print t-shirts.

I have only had my students participate in Puengen Minagof Nochebuena for a few years, as I am not particularly adept at teaching songs, making a bilen or judging on the culinary qualities of boñelos. But after assisting the others for a few years, I am understanding more and more the importance of holding an activity such as this. For many of my students, they are aware of the traditions that we showcase on this night. These traditions are still in their periphery in some ways, things practiced in their families or by certain members of their families. They don’t necessarily feel particularly connected to these practices, but they know that they are something that older generations took seriously in the past, and sometime take seriously today.

For instance, Chamorro Christmas songs is something that is heard around the island this time of year. Some stores will dust off their Flora Baza Quan or Jimmy Dee Christmas albums. Some groups will incorporate a Chamorro song or two into their caroling at Guam Memorial Hospital or around certain neighborhoods. Some families will incorporate them into their gatherings. When I asked my students about the songs we were practicing and how many of them had heard them before, most of them said they had heard them at some point in school, at church or at family. Some had strong cultural or familial memories attached to these songs. But few of them knew had any prior idea as to what the lyrics meant or the meaning of the song. When I polled my students, the song they most associated with Chamorro Christmas celebrations was “Fanmåtto Manhengge” which is our version of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” It was something that they enjoyed a great deal, but didn’t really understand except as an artifact of their families, like professing a great love for an heirloom passed on by a cherish elder, but never really looking at it or even knowing what it is.

In many of our Chamorro classes we worked with the students to translate these Chamorro Christmas classics so that they could gain a better understanding of the language and the traditions involved with the event. A final thought on the importance on Puengen Minagof Nochebuena is that it provides a reminder to students of their role in not just learning about traditions, but perpetuating them. There is a danger in associating these activities too much with our elders, as being their and belonging to them, and forgetting that younger generations are not only meant to learn about them, but hopefully take them up and keep them alive.

Biba Puengan Minagof Nochebuena!

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