Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tinige'-hu put si Grandpa

This article about my grandfather, the Chamorro Master Blacksmith Joaquin Flores Lujan or "Tun Jack" was first published in the Pacific Daily News on October 14 and October 21, 2016. I have been missing my grandparents like crazy since they passed away in 2013 and 2015, and sometimes only writing about them can help me overcome the sadness I feel. 

December is always difficult, as this is the month that grandma, Elizabeth Flores Lujan, passed away three years ago. This is also a difficult month emotionally because of all the family emphasis and for Chamorros, the fact that December 8th represents when our elders, i mamparientes-ta, i manamko'-ta, were swallowed into the beast of a great war. 

I keep writing about my grandparents because I find myself remembering things that I struggle with at other times. It don't know why that is the case, perhaps it is because I feel more secure in the fact that as I am writing/typing, I am keeping their stories live. Keeping what they believed in, lived for or represented alive. 

Hekkua', tåya' tiningo'-hu put este. Tåya' kinemprende-ku lokkue'. 

Lao estague i tinige'-hu put si grandpa.  

Joaquin Flores Lujan
By Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Ph.D.
When my grandfather, Joaquin Flores Lujan was 9 years old, his father woke him up earlier than usual. It was still dark outside; everyone else was still sleeping in their house in Anigua. Behind their house, my great-grandfather, Mariano L.G. Lujan, had a blacksmith shop. He led him there with a torch in hand, the light flickering and dancing across piles of metal, coal and tools. He told my grandfather, Este i magåhet na irensia-mu. “This is who I am, and as my oldest son, this is who you will be as well. Starting today you will learn this trade and you will carry it on for the family.”

My grandfather, today commonly known as “Tun Jack,” would later become an internationally-recognized cultural master, un Chamoru na Herrero, or Chamorro blacksmith after his father. But in that moment, he was too sleepy to appreciate the gift he had been given. He was too young to understand what was being asked of him. He would not comprehend the importance of his father’s trade until much, much later.
But he would receive his first inklings of i bali-ña i tiningo’ Herreron Chamoru, during what Chamorros of his generation referred to as “I Tiempon Chapones” or the Japanese time – the World War II occupation of Guam. During that period, his work as a blacksmith was something that not only supported his family, but also helped his family survive during the war.

Grandpa’s first task as an apprentice blacksmith was to walk along the beach in Anigua and Adelup and collect coal that had washed up along the shore from Navy barges, which had passed between Hagåtña and Piti. He soon began helping with the bellows – the pumps that feed oxygen into the forge. The first time he shoed a horse was also the last time. He didn’t angle the nail properly, and he hurt the horse and was promptly kicked across the room.
He worked on fosiños, kamyo, figsa, machetes, and other tools, but his father was always the one who finished them. My great-grandfather had an eye for metal and wood that grandpa said he could never match, not even years later with all the nice modern tools and machines that money could buy. The first tool that grandpa finished on his own was a mini-machete, a smaller but still functional knife that my great-grandfather would sell to the U.S. Navy to be given as gifts for officers whose assignment on Guam had ended.

Grandpa became skilled working with metal, eventually working on and finishing his own tools. But as he got older, he became more and more distracted. Other young children spent time playing in the village after school, whereas grandpa had to go home and pound heated metal with his father. When my grandfather told his father he wanted to join the U.S. Navy, as everyone else in the village seemed to be doing, his father told him no. “Hågu i mas åmko’ na låhi-hu. You are the oldest; you are the one who has to carry on the trade. Your brothers and sisters can choose their own paths, but your responsibility will always be to this family and to this trade.”

Grandpa left school a year before graduation in order to start working. He got a job at the U.S. Navy’s machine shop. The Chamorros, such as Demetrio Cruz, who worked there, knew my grandfather and his father, and recognized his skill with metal. Thus, he was quickly promoted. Grandpa’s goal was to save enough money to be able to pay for travel to Hawai’i and tuition for college courses so he could become an engineer someday. The war put an end to grandpa’s time in the machine shop and his hopes of becoming an engineer.
On December 8, 1941, news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hit the island, causing panic in the streets. This was compounded when word travelled around the island that planes had bombed Sumay. Most Chamorro families left their homes in villages such as Hagåtña and headed for ranches or the jungle. Grandpa and his family stayed in their home in Anigua. On December 9, the Japanese bombed more locations around the island, but the invasion itself did not begin.
Early on the morning of December 10, there was a banging on the door of their home. Grandpa checked and saw that it was one of his friends from Anigua, who was working as a policeman. My great-grandfather worried they might be asked to leave their home; perhaps Anigua was being evacuated in addition to Hagåtña.
The officer did not order them to evacuate, but rather asked my grandfather to come out into the darkened night.
“Are we safe here?”
“No one is safe anywhere. They say the Japanese are coming any moment now, I just caught some boys looting from the warehouses in Hagåtña.”
“You should go home and be with your family.”
“I stopped them, but then realized they were right to take it. If we don’t take it, the Japanese will. No one is there, Kin. Our families need that rice. If you come with me, you can take as much as you can carry. If anyone stops us, I’ll say we are on the Governor’s orders.”
As they entered Hagåtña, they saw others with the same idea, carrying whatever they could from the stores. When the looters saw the police officer in the dark, many of them paused for a moment, before continuing on with their arms and hands overflowing with canned goods, kerosene, rope, nets and any other supplies they could scrounge in the dark. Grandpa and his friend each took two fifty-pound sacks of rice and began to slowly carry them back towards their homes. They heard firing in the distance to the north. Grandpa was worried some sailors or Marines might see them and arrest them. But no one stopped them.
As they walked along the beach, they noticed movement on the water. They heard the whine of boats and more gunfire. Grandpa quickly forgot about sailors finding him and began to worry about the invisible ships approaching the shore. This was the Japanese invasion! He and his friend, with strength they did not know they had, began to run, still lugging the hundred pounds of rice atop their shoulders.
When grandpa returned home, his father chastised him for going out and also for stealing the rice. “Båba i bidå-mu, lao guaha maolek lokkue.” They hid the rice carefully, vowing to save it for an emergency, which there were no shortages of during the occupation.
Several months into the Japanese occupation of Guam, my great-grandfather’s blacksmith shop in Anigua was visited by a Japanese general. Before the war it was common for people to stop by the shop. Young kids from around the village loved to visit and watch my great-grandfather work. Sometimes he would even let them operate the bellows or practice hitting the metal. Farmers would visit regularly to purchase everything from fisga’ to soh’soh or tiheras pugua’ to se’se’ gåyu to even horse-shoes for Guam’s vibrant farming community. The Lujan family name, “Bittot,” was associated with good-quality tools at a time when good metal was difficult for most Chamorros to come by.  

But things were not business as usual during the war. Imports into the island had stopped. Most Chamorros were put into work crews in order to feed the Japanese. The major villages emptied, as Chamorros hid on ranches to escape the watchful eyes of their new occupiers. The English language was banned and Japanese was taught in schools. The Japanese pushed families from their homes to turn them into quarters for Japanese troops. 

When my grandfather saw the Japanese general at the entrance to their shop, he froze, fearful that this could be the end. Earlier that year, two Chamorros had been accused of hiding weapons and helping the American holdouts and were executed at Pigo Cemetery. Along the walls and tables of the shop were metal tools, all of which could be used as weapons. My grandfather worried that the general had come to close them down or, worse yet, arrest and punish them. Somewhere deep in the corners of his mind, he also worried that he might get arrested for stealing those bags of rice, but this never came to pass.

The general did not visit the shop alone; however, he came accompanied by my auntie, my grandfather’s younger sister Margarita,who is known by most today as Sister Therese, a Carmelite nun. The general had asked her what her family was doing. She had said that they were making tools for farmers. My great-grandfather, a small, skinny, but very stern man approached the general and offered him a machete they had been working on. The general took it, feeling the handle and the weight of the blade.

This general had moved into the Dela Cruz home across the street in Anigua several weeks earlier. Over the course of several days, he had seen my auntie Margarita sitting on the steps of her home reading, and he eventually approached her. My auntie says that, because of her young age and her batchigo’ eyes, she reminded the general of one of his daughters back home in Japan. When he spoke to her, at first she was afraid, but eventually more surprised, as he was speaking English to her. He had attended college in the United States but returned to Japan prior to the war. He told her that their speaking to each other in English would be their secret. They spent afternoons playing a piano in the general’s newly acquired home. Eventually, he asked her what her family did, and she decided to show him her father’s forge.

When the general handed the machete back to my great-grandfather, he remarked on the good quality. He told my grandfather and great-grandfather that the work they were doing was very important, and he encouraged them to continue to do it so that the Chamorro people could sustain themselves in hard times like this. As a result of this general’s order, my grandfather’s family was exempted from working in the fields. Instead, they were left alone to keep making tools and trading them to farmers for crops and livestock. 

Despite being spared the forced labor that most other Chamorro had to endure, my grandfather and his family still suffered. They went hungry some days and sometimes gave tools away to those who couldn’t afford to trade for them. Their newfound friend, the Japanese general, afforded them some protection, but not enough. Several times while returning to Anigua from their lancho in Tutuhan, they were stopped by Japanese soldiers and had their crops seized. On one occasion, my grandfather as beaten. 

Grandpa found himself competing with a Chamorro interpreter from Saipan for the affections of a half-white, half Chamorro girl. The interpreter told some Japanese soldiers that grandpa was an American sympathizer, and so they beat him to teach him a lesson. Grandpa feared he might be beaten again and sought advice from his cousin Manuel Guerrero, who would later become governor of Guam. Manny’s advice was to marry the girl and hope that the Japanese would respect the union and put an end to the interpreter’s plan. 

Manestråña este Chapones,” Manny said. “An unmarried girl at the ranch or walking down the street, they feel they have the right to do with as they please. But if a woman is married, and, more so, if the marriage is blessed by the Japanese themselves, some of the higher-ups won’t allow it.” 

Manny made the arrangements with one of the two Japanese Catholic priests who were stationed on Guam, and the deed was done. It turned out he was right. Despite the interpreter’s continued attempts to get Grandpa in trouble, the Japanese soldiers left him and his new wife alone. The marriage forged under such duress was not to last, however, and, despite having two kids in short order, Grandpa and his first wife got divorced soon after the war. 

In the final months of the occupation, no one came to trade for tools with Grandpa’s family. The Japanese were becoming increasingly violent and brutal, as American military forces pushed their way closer and closer towards the Marianas. Eventually, American planes appeared overhead and the bombardment began. The U.S. intended to soften Guam up prior to their invasion, and normally densely populated locations such as Hagåtña and its neighboring areas were hit the hardest. Grandpa’s family stayed in their house in Anigua until they could see American ships off the coast and their bombs, which were relentless. Because of their connection to the Japanese general, they had avoided the march to Manenggon that so many others were forced to take. But, as the bombs continued to fall, they wondered if the general had really done them a favor. 

The general’s aide appeared just a few days before the American invasion. He had a Jeep and orders to drive them north, away from the fighting, where they could find shelter and safety until the battle was over. Grandpa’s family, as well as some neighbors, piled into the car. They sped north, driving along the tinchera, or what is today known as East Agana. On that long strip of beach, they saw the American fleet off Guam in all its menacing glory. Although they had hoped for months for an American return, in that moment the ships didn’t seem to carry much salvation. The Americans seemed determined to pulverize the island. Grandpa’s family braced themselves as they drove along the beach and bombs hit near them. They had a large wooden cross with them. Several hands all reached out to touch the cross, and prayers were thrown into the air as if to protect them from the bombs. As one of Grandpa’s sisters would later say, “It worked. God heard our prayers, and no bombs hit us as we drove.”

They were taken to Mogfog and dropped off in the jungle. My family asked the aide if he would stay with them and hide. He said no, he would return south to take his place at his general’s side, and, if necessary, die with him. Before he drove off, he gave them a message from the general, an apology in fact, he said, “My general said that, for what this war had brought to your island, and how it has destroyed such a beautiful place, he apologizes. It will soon be over.”
The general did not survive the war but was killed early in the American invasion. My family remarked that he didn’t truly support the war, but only fought out of a sense of duty to his country. My family assumed that his gesture of driving them north to safety must have been his way of thanking my auntie for helping him feel connected to his family while he was away.
They spent days in Mogfog, foraging for food, living in bokkongo or man-made holes. My grandpa’s brother Roman went out looking for food. He was gone for several hours. Before they could go look for him, however, they heard the sounds of a large group headed towards their makeshift camp. A squad of Japanese soldiers appeared, retreating north, away from the American advance. They gathered everyone together and made the men kneel down. They prepared to execute my great-grandfather and father, so that they could not give intelligence on their movements to the Americans. Suddenly, they heard shots fired by American troops approaching in the distance. The sound of their arrival interrupted the would-be massacre. The Japanese left my family and scurried north toward Yigo, where they and most of what was left of their forces made their last stand. 

When the American troops reached my grandfather and his family, they gave them food and water and told them about the refugee camps which had been set up back in Hagåtña. They were in high spirits and prepared to head back home, but needed to find my uncle Roman who had missed the terror of the Japanese threat and relief of their exodus. “Siempre ha li’e’ i Chapones ya umatok gui’.” My great-grandfather assumed that Roman had seen the Japanese approach and had hidden out of sight. When they found Roman, they realized this was far from the case. He was tied by his hands to the branch of a tree, hanging in the air. He was unconscious and had been beaten. My great-grandfather and grandfather rushed to cut him down. “Look at what they’ve done to my boy!” My great-grandfather cried out. “Those devils!”

Roman came to, for just a few moments as they lowered him to the ground. He struggled to speak and when he did the words were more spat out than spoken. “Åhe’, Amerikånu… chumo’gue este…” My grandfather was so stunned he almost dropped his brother when he heard this. Later when Roman regained consciousness he claimed to not remember what had happened to him. My great-grandfather made the decision to blame his injuries on the Japanese and told the rest of the family so. 

Grandpa felt torn at what he had learned. The only way he could make sense of it was to think that the American troops must have captured Roman thinking he was a Japanese straggler or soldier. This was something grandpa could never reconcile in his mind and even decades after his brother was long dead, he had no peace over what had happened. 

By the time they got to the refugee camp, thousands of other Chamorros had already been liberated, and so the camp was crowded with stations for food, building supplies, shoes, and other things needed to help get life started again. My family rushed to get food and water first. They had been eating in very lean fashion for years and were astounded to see huge trays and pots of food. Grandpa gathered up some eggs, bacon, and powdered milk, and, with everyone else, began to chow it all down as quickly as they could. They all soon regretted eating so much so fast, as their swollen bellies began to ache. Grandpa’s stomach was worse than everyone else’s, and he had made a terrible mistake in not identifying where the latrines were before he ate. He rushed around looking for the bathroom, all the while feeling the pressure build in his stomach and the word “kinilak” echo over and over in his mind. Eventually he learned there weren’t bathrooms, but that he could get a shovel and dig a latrine. He hurried about trying to locate where the shovels were being dispensed. Unfortunately, he did not make it in time.
Hagåtña had been almost completely destroyed. My family had little hope that they would be able to return home, especially after seeing the wanton destruction as they had come north from their bokkongo’. Much to their surprise, their house in Anigua had survived the war and was still standing. Once they moved back in, life could return to normal. 

Except – everything had changed after the war. The island changed, and Grandpa changed. In the rebuilding years, some villages disappeared, and new ones appeared. Chamorros, seeking new opportunities and worried about another war on the horizon, migrated to the United States in increasing numbers. Much of the island became locked behind military fences, as new bases appeared in the southern, central and northern areas. The farming lifestyle that had sustained Chamorros for hundreds of years began to disappear, in part because of the loss of land, and also because of new employment opportunities, with the formation of the government of Guam and the installation of the new Navy and Air Force bases. 

With changes everywhere, it was only natural that Grandpa’s life would change as well. Like many in his generation, he felt new desires to Americanize, to give up the simple life of blacksmiths, fishermen, and farmers, and work for wages instead, to gain more independence away from the land and networks of reciprocity. Even though the art of blacksmithing had helped Grandpa and his family survive the war, Grandpa wanted more out of life and hoped to leave blacksmithing behind. It took some convincing, but eventually my great-grandfather gave in and let Grandpa live his own life. Although he wasn’t able to serve in the Navy, he did serve for a short time in the Merchant Marines and also drove a taxi. After the Organic Act was signed, he started a career with U.S. Immigration and married my grandmother, Elizabeth D.L. Flores Lujan (familian Kabesa), who had been his classmate before the war. 

Even though Grandpa didn’t blacksmith much for more than twenty years after the war, the art remained with him, most prominently through his father, who staunchly refused to let it die. Prior to the war, the island had many blacksmiths. My family was just one of many who practiced the art of tool-making. These blacksmiths helped sustain the vibrant farming community of the era. But, after the war, for a variety of reasons, manma’pos ha’, these blacksmiths disappeared. They didn’t pass on their skills to their children. They stopped making tools, and took up other careers. My great-grandfather saw that the art he had dedicated his life to was being lost and he could not stand to see that happen. When my grandfather was close to retiring from U.S. Immigration, my great-grandfather made him promise not to let that loss happen.

“Estågue i estoria-ta, estågue i taotao-ta.” My great-grandfather told him that this trade was the story of the Chamorro people. It was a story of how they saw the metal and technology of outsiders and took it and learned it in order to sustain themselves. During the war, it was what kept them alive, what made it so that people could survive. It was after this conversation with his father that Grandpa began to refer to the traditional Chamorro tools as “survival tools,” because, as he said, if you have these tools, you can survive. My great-grandfather insisted that this trade must not be lost. Grandpa made a promise to keep it alive.

He began to actively blacksmith again, displaying tools and selling them. In 1985, he took on apprentices for the first time, training three fire chiefs in the blacksmithing tradition. With his apprentices, he traveled around the Pacific Rim displaying their creations and providing blacksmithing demonstrations at venues such as the Festival of the Pacific Arts. For his efforts in keeping Chamorro blacksmithing alive, he received numerous awards locally and nationally. He was recognized as a Master of Chamorro Culture by the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Agency and received a prestigious National Heritage Award Fellowship in Washington, D.C., in 1996. He remains the only artisan from the Western Pacific to receive this honor. He took on a dozen more apprentices in order to help keep this tradition alive, including myself and my brother Jeremy Lujan Bevacqua. His promise to his father seemed complete, especially when, in 2013, one of his first apprentices, Frank Lizama, was recognized as a Master of Chamorro Culture as well for his role in helping keep alive the blacksmithing tradition.

My grandfather passed away on March 20, 2015, just ten days shy of his ninety-fifth birthday. He continued to work in his blacksmith shop, using a walker and later a wheelchair, well into his ninety-fourth year.

The blacksmithing tradition continues in our family, having persisted and survived for more than 150 years, through three different colonizers and a World War. We have in our family collection some machete siha that are over 100 years old, made by my great-grandfather when he was a young man. The rarest and most difficult tools to find are those made by my great-grandfather and grandfather during the war, the time when good tools weren’t a luxury or an accessory, but a necessary part of survival. In my collection, I am honored to have found one such machete. On the blade is the number 8242, meaning that it was forged on August 2, 1942.

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