Respect the Chamoru People Rally Recap

On April 7, 2017, more than 800 people gathered in the field in front of the Ricardo J. Bordallo Government Complex in Adelup, Guåhan for the “Respect the Chamoru People Rally.” The event, organized by a grassroots collective of volunteers, aimed at celebrating the culture of the island’s indigenous people, the Chamorros, and at helping remind the Guam community about the need to maintain a respectful relationship to them in their island homeland. The event was non-partisan, backing no political candidates or agendas.

Over the course of the event’s 2 ½ hours, 15 speakers shared stories of the struggles of Chamorros in the past and the need to protect their island and heritage for future generations. Cultural groups offered blessings. Poets and musicians delivered inspiration through powerful words and melodies. Community organizations manned tables providing information on the military buildup, decolonization, and cultural preservation. The Håya Foundation, which seeks to preserve and promote the practice of traditional Chamorro healing, had a table that featured not only pamphlets and brochures, but also samples of medicinal teas. The canopies, chairs, and tables for the event were all generously donated by Kevin Susuico, the mayor of Hågat.

As a colony for centuries, governments, militaries, and missionaries have all challenged the place of the Chamorro people here in Guåhan, their homeland, in the name of strategic interests or religious imperialism. This rally was meant to be an open space where all who call Guåhan home could celebrate the Chamorro struggle and journey while supporting them in their efforts to protect their heritage and drive for self-determination. The rally was organized in response to recent forms of disrespect against the Chamorro people; most prominently, the decision of the U.S. District Court ruling the decolonization plebiscite as unconstitutional and the threats to the Chamorro Land Trust as being discriminatory.

The rally began with emcees Shannon McManus and Hila’an San Nicolas welcoming the crowd, which at the start of the rally consisted of more than 100 people. The sun was bright in the sky, although a cool breeze moved across the field. Shannon McManus sang the Fanohge Chamorro and Lino Rosario sang Gi Talo’ gi Halom Tåsi. Master of Chamorro Chant, Leonard Iriarte, offered an ancient style blessing, calling for all to respect the Chamorro people, who are descended from the great navigators who settled the islands of the Marianas, thousands of years ago. Påle’ Eric Forbes offered a Catholic blessing for the event and prayed that the cries of the Chamorro people be heard and the justice they have long awaited finally arrive,

“Ekungok i katten i taotao-mu ni’ un pega guini na isla komu taotao tåno’. Ma tatanga i hustisia yan tininas ni’ apmam na tiempo ti ma ekstende para siha.”

The first speaker of the afternoon was Bob Pelkey, current President of Inetnon Lalåhen Guåhan or the Young Men’s League of Guam. The YMLG is the oldest Chamorro organization, first established in 1917 and celebrating its centennial this year. Pelkey spoke of the origin of his organization, which was formed in response to the racism and segregation of the prewar Guåhan Naval era, and only exists today because of the protests of Chamorros of the past. He called on the Chamorro people to unify in the face of the challenges of today,

“Dedi di hit på’go ta fanohge Chamorro! Ya ta fandanña’! Mungga hit ta fanmumu.”

The cultural arts group Inetnon Gefpågo, under the guidance of Master of Chamorro Dance, Vince Reyes, performed a medley of songs and chants aimed at moving the growing crowd. The medley began with the chant Fakmåta, a call for Chamorros to wake up and prepare themselves for whatever forces the world has marshaled against them. It then ended with their newest song Sen Guaiya Hao Guåhan, a serenade to the island of Guam and a contemporary promise to treasure this island we call home.

Former Senator Carmen Artero Kasperbauer spoke as an elder, connecting her experiences as a child surviving World War II to the struggles Chamorros face today. Her family lost massive tracts of land to the U.S. military’s land takings after World War II. However, even after losing so much, her father had nonetheless instilled in her a connection to the island as being deeper than deeds or property.

“Ti tano’-hu este. Tano’-mu. Lao ti tano’-mu lokkue’. I tano’ i famagu’on-mu!...Rikuña hit na råsa anggen ta adahi i tano’. Go’te i tano’ para i famagu’on. Mungga hit na ta fanriku put salape’ yan kosas.”

Singer Stacia Guzman followed Senator Artero Kasperbauer, but prior to performing, she welcomed dozens of dancers from different Pa’a Taotao Tåno’ houses to the side of the stage. They performed a chant inviting all the villages of the island to come together and unite.  

“Fanhita, fanhålom ya fandanña’ mañe’lu-ta. Ta usa i galaide’ ya ta gosa lina’lå’-ta.”

Once the chanting was finished, Guzman performed the song Hågu i islan Guåhan, calling on the old to teach the young their culture, and for the young to protect their island home.

            “Mungga mana’falingu i hinenggen i guelo. Fa’nå’gue ha’ i famagu’on-mu!”

The emcees kept the crowd excited between speakers and performances, most notably by offering free “Fanohge” t-shirts, donated by Ene Wear Clothing Co., to those who could, for example, tell the crowd what the word “mattingan” meant or whoever was wearing a flower in their hair.

Jamela Santos, a social worker, spoke as a non-Chamorro ally in the Chamorro quest for decolonization. Although she is of Filipino heritage, Guåhan is the only place she has ever called home. And even though that’s the case, she argued it doesn’t mean she can’t also support the Chamorro people in the protection of their homeland. It rather means that she feels an obligation to help. She recounted that the Chamorro people once lived in balance with the world around them, but colonization had taken this from them. In their fight for self-determination she said, “I believe the Chamorro people just want to find that balance again.” She ended her speech with a plea to her Filipino brothers and sisters to stand in solidarity with the Chamorro people.

Nichole Quintanilla, a poet and undergraduate student at UOG, performed the poem Maga’håga, which she had co-written with Arielle Lowe. Her poem reminded us of the ancient strength that persists in the Chamorro people and their culture, primarily through the power of women.

“The Maga’låhi and Maga’håga once stood side by side like mountains…Today we are still trying to understand how our matrilineal ancestry was lost. Making us venerate founding fathers, while forgetting our foremothers. The strong Maga’håga who braved through the tides of change.”

Matthew Sablan, a well-respected singer, performed the song Decolonize, and stirred the crowd with his message of Chamorro survival and resilience. 

“Make the call, stand up tall, indigenous Manggåfa, tomorrow we roll! Decolonize!”

Catherine McCollum and Josephine “Ofing” Jackson spoke on behalf of Nasion Chamoru and invited those gathered to reflect on the work of two deceased Maga’låhi from the group: the late Senator Angel Santos and the late Ed Benavente. Jackson read excerpts from Angel Santos’ 1991 manifesto proclaiming the “Birth of a Chamoru Nation.”

“Chamorus know who they are. They are born, raised, and proud to be Chamoru. A Chamoru is allowed to keep his clothes, American car, a concrete home, and government job and still be a Chamoru. It is not an immortal sin to be a Chamoru.”

McCollum is the current Maga’håga of Nasion Chamoru and shared the experiences that had brought her into the conversation on decolonization. Her family’s ancestral land is at Litekyan, a sacred historical site, taken by the U.S. government years ago, where the U.S. military plans to build a firing range complex. As a young woman, she saw her parents protest and fight to get that land back, and in time they had passed on the responsibility to her. As she fought back tears, she recalled her elders standing in protest lines and passing on to her stacks of documents connected to the land. “It is the land that ties us all together.”

Josette Quinata, a poet and social worker, took the stage along with Eva Aguon Cruz. They both read poetry aimed at connecting ancient strength and skills to our lives today. Quinata highlighted in particular the need to remember the skills and values taught to us by our elders,

“Rooted in the land. Surrounded and grounded by the sea. Connected to our roots. United in our hearts…Together we weave this beautiful design. We create a basket…which has been passed down to us. The art of weaving has been taught to us. We are guided by our manåmko’, our saina.

Robert Underwood, former member of the U.S. Congress, current President of the University of Guam, and founding member of OPI-R (Organization of People for Indigenous Rights) was one of the final speakers for the day. As someone who has been involved in the fight for Chamorro self-determination for decades, he expertly summed up many of the themes expounded upon by previous speakers and performers. He joked that the Chamorro people should thank Dave Davis, as his racist rhetoric and actions helped bring everyone out to Adelup field that afternoon. Underwood closed out his thoughts by reminding the crowd that respecting the Chamorro people comes down to respecting the connection between two words, “Guåhan” and “tåno’.” He cautioned the crowd that

“When you separate Guåhan from tåno’, you separate Guåhan from taotao tåno’. Respecting the Chamorro people honors that relationship. That’s why this is the time for the Chamorro people to reclaim their God-given right…to determine the relationship between the people of the land and the island of Guam.”

Melvin Won Pat-Borja, an educator and founding member of the group, We Are Guåhan, delivered a powerful poem dedicated to Chamorro human rights attorney Julian Aguon. It was Aguon who had been the attorney defending the rights of the Chamorro people in court against the legal onslaught of Arnold “Dave” Davis. Melvin matched the fire which Julian Aguon brought to his argument with his poetry on the Adelup stage.

“You can’t make us second class citizens and then cite the Constitution…Because on Guam the constitution only ever really applies when it affects some white guys…But this is not new and we are not surprised…Let us never forget that we have been here for thousands of years. We are the descendants of Fu’una and Puntan. First people, our blood is thicker than Federal waters. Our roots deeper than development.”

            In his concluding verses he called on Chamorros to stay strong and unify, but also on non-Chamorros to reciprocate the respect and generosity that Chamorros have given them in their homeland.

“We gotta put our heads together and get outta this rat race. If you aren’t Chamorro but call this place home, ask yourself, why even though you got no family here, you’re never alone. It’s because the native people of this island have made you feel welcome. Those people need support, will you ignore them or help them?”

Amber Benavente-Sanchez, a Chamorro teacher and one of the main organizers for the Respect the Chamoru People Rally, was the final speaker of the event. As the daughter of the late Ed Benavente, former Maga’låhi of Nasion Chamoru, she spoke emotionally about the site of the rally to the 500 still gathered after more than two hours. At 12 years old, she had joined her family and dozens of others, and camped out in protest, eventually compelling the Government of Guam to implement the Chamorro Land Trust Act. Because of their sacrifices, the consciousness of the Chamorro people had been opened and transformed, and thousands of Chamorro families were able to lease plots of land and have a chance at a better life.

After paying tribute to the elders who had fought for Chamorro rights in the past, she called on the young people present. She asked them to remember the Inifresi, the Guåhan pledge that tens of thousands of children recite each day. She asked that all who call Guåhan home, but in particular those who were Chamorro to remember that the elements that make life beautiful and possible on this island must be protected and be defended or they can be taken away from us.

With the sun finally setting, Pa’a Taotao Tåno’, led by Master of Chamorro Dance Frank Rabon took the stage. The hundreds of people remaining all gathered together, in a giant circle, holding hands, as more than a hundred dancers chanted I Hinatsan i Latte around them.

As if to reinforce the theme of the rally and leave all feeling unified and inspired, Pa’a Taotao Tåno’ closed the event by leading all in the singing of Uno Hit, a song which emphasizes that the Chamorro genealogy is intimately intertwined with all aspects of the island.

“Este na estoria, estorian i isla, islan taotao tåno’ giya Marianas, Luta, Tinian, Saipan yan Islan Guåhan…Uno hit yan i tano’, i tasi, åtdao, yan i langhet.”


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