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!