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.
In 1929, my grandfather Joaquin Flores Lujan was led by his father Mariano L.G. Lujan in the morning darkness behind their home in Anigua to where my great-grandfather had his blacksmith shop. Grandpa was familiar with the shop: people came everyday to trade with his father, and village boys sometimes helped man the bellows or took turns pounding metal. My great-grandfather led him into the shop with a torch, light dancing across piles of unfinished tools and coal, and told my grandfather, "Este i magåhet na irensia-mu.” (This is the legacy of your family.) "You will carry it on."
My grandfather, also known as Tun Jack Lujan, became a locally and internationally recognized Master of Chamorro Culture for his role in keeping alive the traditions of Chamorro blacksmithing. He passed away last year, just a few days shy of his ninety-fifth birthday.
My grandfather learned the trade throughout his youth. His first task: walking along the beach as the sun struggled its way over the morning horizon, collecting coal that had fallen from U.S. Navy barges that floated from Piti to Hagåtña. Later, he worked on the smaller tools, helping to make the teeth for kamyo or the handle for the soh’soh. As he grew older, he continued to work with in his father’s shop but also was employed as a machinist for the U.S. Navy.
Grandpa’s plan was to save up enough money to leave island, attend college in Hawai’i, and possibly become an engineer. But, as for so many plans made by Chamorros in 1941, the Japanese had something very different in mind. My grandfather spent I Tiempon Chapones continuing to make tools for Chamorro farmers. A Japanese general who had become close to their family gave them special permission to do so, even though the machetes that they made could easily be considered weapons. Grandpa was fortunate enough to later collect one of those machetes made in during World War II. We have it in our family collection and it bears the number 8242, meaning it was completed on August 2, 1942.
The postwar era was a time of dramatic and fast-paced changes, where so many daily features of life for Chamorros, whether it be trades, cultural values, or even the Chamorro language itself, was now considered to be outdated or backwards. Americanization in so many forms was the trend, and blacksmiths recognized this. As more stores opened, and it became more common to import almost every single thing we ate or used, traditional artisans began to disappear, no longer actively passing on their knowledge to the next generation or promoting their skills. In the postwar years, Grandpa worked as a taxi driver, a merchant marine, and, eventually, one of the first Chamorro immigration officers.
In the 1970’s, Grandpa was preparing to retire as a US immigration officer and it was then that he was called back into his father’s shop, which had been relocated up to Agana Heights after the war. As farming had once been the lifeblood for the Chamorro people, the blacksmith was essential in making the tools that they used to plant, to weed, to harvest, to slaughter, even to cut open their precious pugua’. But my great-grandfather had watched as his blacksmithing peers changed their careers and didn’t take on any apprentices, and this trade which he had dedicated his life to was on the verge of disappearing.
My great-grandfather was already close to the end of his days at that point, but he still blacksmithed, and, even though he was no longer the figure of straight-backed, resolute strength that my grandfather had grown up with, he still spoke with the same iron conviction. “Estågue i estoria-ta, estågue i taotao-ta,” he told my grandfather holding up a machete. This trade was the story of the Chamorro people. It was a story that showed that we weren’t stupid when others like Magellan came to our shores. We didn’t want their religion or their clothes, but we wanted their metal because we recognized how it could improve our lives. We took it and used it to sustain ourselves. Grandpa told me this story so many times, and it would change, sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly, in terms of what the moral of his father’s story was. But regardless of how he recounted it, there was always a central idea: “Mungga mana’falingu este na tiningo’.” Keep this tradition alive; do not let it disappear. My grandfather promised to do all he could to keep the tradition of Chamorro blacksmithing alive, and he kept this promise for more than forty years.
He began to blacksmith actively again, displaying tools and selling them. In response to his father’s tales, he started to refer to these Chamorro implements as “survival tools,” because, as he said, as long as you have these tools, you can survive. In 1985, he took on apprentices for the first time, training three fire chiefs. With his students, 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, being named a Master of Chamorro Culture by the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Agency and granted 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. 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.
Last week, I completed a series of presentations with Señot Lizama in Saipan and Rota about Chamorro blacksmithing on behalf of the Saipan Municipal Council. Señot Lizama has been actively teaching apprentices for several years now and looks to expand his outreach to those interested in the CNMI. Siempre magof si Grandpa put i bidadå-ña i eståba estudiante-ña. Ha na’lå’la’la’ mo’na este na presisu na tiningo’
Due to commitments to my family and my work, I don’t get to blacksmith much anymore. But I relish chances such as this to share the history of Chamorro blacksmithing and its importance to our culture. Over the years as I worked with Grandpa learning his trade and hearing his stories, he would echo the words of his own father frequently: “Este i irensia-mu, Mike. Susteni pat yute’. Hågu la’mon.” I am proud that in the time that we shared I was able to help carry on his legacy and help him keep his promise to his father.