Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fina'kuentos Chamorro #5: An Meggai Sinangan-mu...

Last year I gave a presentation to a high school class here on Guam about the way we can understand Guam history, its trends, its tendencies, its cycles through various Chamorro sayings. For some reason, today I have that presentation on my mind.

I undertake a similar activity in my World History and Guam History courses. In order to understand what history as a concept is, I don't give students definitions per se, instead I give them 28 - 30 quotes that people have said about history and its characteristics, its importance or its irrelevance. No single quote is meant to encapsulate everything or explain and cover everything, but rather they each provide some texture to aspects, some structural understanding or descriptions to tendencies. History in the mind of one scholar is an essential part of human activity, for another it is an illusion, a means of trying to imagine control over things you have no control over. I find the complicated mess that the quotes create an important philosophical metaphor for students, especially those who are looking for a single sentence to write down in their notes, so they don't have to think about anything beyond that.

For that presentation, I tried to do something similar about Guam/Chamorro history, but using quotes in the Chamorro language. Not quotes from famous people per se, but rather axioms, proverbs, small fragments of wisdom, from a variety of epistemological sources. I wanted to show something similar in terms of the complexity of Guam's history and also infuse a Chamorro flavor to it, to try to not interpret it from some impossible universal position, but rather to give it the metaphor, the cultural weight, the epistemological relevance to Chamorro pasts. When I presented this to a high school class however my intent was lost of my students, who didn't appear to get what I was trying to do. Even the teacher who had invited me, found a polite way of expressing that she wished I had presented something a little bit more straight-forward, like maybe just giving basic facts and information about historical events or figures. Not something so complicated, like thinking of history as a complex thing.

Esta payon yu' nu este na klasen kuentos. I'm already used to this gap between what I intend to communicate to people in things I write or present and what is received. Sometimes people tell me they really liked my column in the Guam Daily Post. When I talk more with them about what they liked, it is revealed that they liked one sentence or even just the title. The overall argument was lost, but that one aspect, they ended up hanging on to. Sometimes it is fun, bei admite, because people end up attributing to me arguments I was nowhere near in what I wrote or presented, but it reveals much about the imagined castle they formed in their mind, building off of a single word or sentence that they processed. For example, I once gave a presentation in which I argued that the danger that the military buildup represented to Guam in cultural terms, was primarily about "Americanization" and how it can represent another way that we degrade ourselves locally and imagine the US, our master and savior to be liberating us from always evolving problems. The danger is not so much from the direct ways culture might change, like there will be less weavers or blacksmiths or cultural dancers. It doesn't even directly affect the speaking of the Chamorro language. What it does affect though is the culture of the island in terms of its sense of self and community. Hafa na klasen taotao hit? It affects culture in terms of how you see the choices of the world and the natural relationships, the tendencies for resources, for power, for possibility. The buildup as proposed, as discussed and as lauded as holding messianic properties, affecting the culture of the island negatively because it reinforced so many colonial ideas that are still vibrant and alive, even if no one is forcing them down anyone's throats directly anymore.

After my presentation, a few people approached me to talk about what I had said. The person who ended up speaking with me for more than 10 minutes, had understood almost nothing of what I had said, but repeatedly thanked me for how much clearer things seemed for him. He boiled my talk down to "culture is what we make of it and if it is lost, it is because we lost it." On one level, he was right. There was an element of truth to his interpretation, but it focused on  single thing I had said, and ignored everything else. I tried to talk to him about it being more than that, but wasn't successful. He was looking for a way to ignore something he was concerned about with regards to the buildup (namely cultural harm) and what I had said could be fashioned into his missing ideological piece.

After I gave my presentation to that high school class, I had hoped that at least one of the students, hopefully had misinterpreted me in the way that man had years before. At least some misinterpretation like that would mean, something had passed through and it was processed, even if in a gof ma'i'ot na fashion. As I packed up my laptop and papers, one student did linger and followed me out asking me some hesitant questions as I went. She was surprised to see someone as young as me (ai na minaolak na patgon) speaking Chamorro and talking about Chamorro things. She shared some ideas with me for history projects she wanted to work on. She also said something to me, that made me feel like someone had appreciated my intent.

In my presentation I had shared a number of Chamorro sayings, all are in the Chamorro language, and while most are known to i manamko', they are not widely used or known to younger generations. They expressed the ways in which someone who grew up closer to the land, living in a tightly regulated Catholic existence, with an incredible native heritage that still persisted and insisted its presence in some ways, might see the world. It is a worldview that most would say is complicated, because the social and cultural contradictions for colonized people or native peoples seem more obvious that for others. Some like to say hybrid, and sometimes I might even approach such characterization, if only to save time in writing or explaining. But all communities bear similar forms of contradictions, there is just particularities to some based on their histories and a variety of other forces. In my presentation I tried to imagine what my grandparents or my great-grandparents, or even my great-great-grandparents might say if asked to analyze or discuss the vagaries of Chamorro history. They couldn't see everything or know everything, but they would speak from their positionality nonetheless. I tried my best with the proverbs to catch those certain possible Chamorro judgements or explanations of history. 

This student appreciated my effort, and in a way connected to my intent. She was far younger than me, but had her own elder experiences. She said, that although she hadn't heard most of the Chamorro sayings I presented, they reminded her of her great-grandmother, and the way she would talk about politics or history.

The saying that I used with the image of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump says "an meggai sinangan-mu, meggai dinagi-mu lokkue'" or "if you have lots to say, you have lots of lies as well." This reflects one view of Chamorro leadership or virtue. Those who speak alot, lie more, justify, excuse and distract more. Those who speak less, may be more virtuous, they have less to hide and can therefore be trusted more.

Over the years I've collected more than 400 Chamorro sayings. Here, below is a short list of some of the more common ones, some of which I used in that presentation.


Yanggen guaha minalago’, guaha siempre nina’siña

Tangga yan båchet i saina

Todu un dåggao mo’na, siempre un sodda’

Puti ñålang, lao putiña mahålang

Fa’cho’cho’ ya un chocho

I linachi-mu siha mås hao muna’kåpas

Ekungok i sinangan manåmko’, sa’ siha mas tumungo’

I salappe’ un sosodda’ un yuyute’, lao unu ha’ nanå-mu

Saosao nå’ya i matå-mu antes di un sångan i aplacha’ i otro

Un nota na tentasion, nahong na rason

Nina’i hao gi as Yu’os i chetnot-mu para un espiha i amot-mu

Tåya’ pinekkat sin fegi

Tåya’ aksion sin råson

An meggai sinangån-mu meggai dinagi-mu

Mungga manasse’ anggen ti ya-mu makasse’

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