Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Adios Governor Ota

Last June, Masahide Ota, former Governor of Okinawa passed away. He had been governor of the islands in 1995, when long-time resentment and culture of protest against the US military bases achieved a much greater and more widespread character after the rape of a 12 year old girl by three US servicemen. His was a powerful voice for peace and demilitarization in Okinawa. During a trip in October of 2015 Edward A. Alvarez and I (with the help of the intrepid interpreter Shinako Oyakawa) got to visit him at his Naha office one afternoon. When he learned that we were from Guam, he mentioned several Chamorros that he had met over the years and inquired about them. He told us a number of stories from his life, including as experience after being drafted into the Japanese army during the war. He shared others about the struggles to survive for average Okinawans, after the destruction of their island and displacement in order to build new US military bases. I have long written that Okinawa and Guam/The Marianas have very similar histories of colonization, militarization and also resistance. This meeting was more profound evidence of those connections. I am grateful that I got to spend that time with and hear his stories.

Below is the column I wrote for him honoring his life and legacy for the Pacific Daily News. 


Adios Governor Ota
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Pacific Daily News
July 14, 2017

Last month a noted figure for peace and demilitarization in the Asia-Pacific region, former Governor of Okinawa Masahide Ota passed away. He was 92 years old. 

Ota had been governor of the Okinawan islands in 1995 when the community’s long-held resentment over the US military bases there exploded following the rape of a 12 year-old girl by three US servicemen. Close to 100,000 people demonstrated to show their outrage over not just this particular atrocity, but decades of similar crimes against women in Okinawa at the hands of US troops. As governor and later as a private citizen, Ota undertook a number of activities aimed at promoting peace and also facilitating the demilitarization of Okinawa, which to this day has nearly 20% of its land mass occupied by US military bases and training areas. 

I had the honor of meeting Governor Ota in October 2015. Through an interpreter I interviewed him in the office of his Peace Institute in Naha. When he learned I was Chamorro from Guam, he mentioned several Chamorros (including Robert Underwood who he had met while he was still a member of Congress) he had met over the years and inquired as to how they were doing. He told me many stories, about the war, the struggles to survive after thousands were displaced from their lands to build postwar American bases and then the continuing fight to close and limit the expansion of those very bases. I have long written that Okinawa and Guam/The Marianas have very similar histories of colonization, militarization and also resistance. This meeting was more profound evidence of those connections. In light of his recent passing, I am thankful I was able to spend that afternoon learning from him. 

One of Governor Ota’s most poignant accomplishments was the Cornerstone of Peace, which sits at the southern end of Okinawa and is part of the Prefectural Peace Museum. The Cornerstone is a large outdoor memorial built for all the souls, Japanese, Okinawa and American that were lost during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Ota himself was part of that fighting, after being drafted into the Japanese military. That battle was known as a “typhoon of steel” where 1 in every 4 Okinawans perished. 

As a result of the death and the destruction from the war, many Okinawans, including Ota, came to firmly believe that their island should be an instrument of peace and not war. In the Peace Museum, you will see many artifacts from the Battle of Okinawa, but scattered throughout are profound poems, reflecting on the nature of peace and justice. One such poem reads, 

Whenever we look at / The truth of the Battle of Okinawa / We think / There is nothing as brutal / Nothing as dishonorable / As war. To be sure / It is human beings who start wars / But more than that / Isn’t it we human beings who must also prevent wars? To acquire / This / Our unwavering principle / We have paid dearly. 

It is during this month, that we on Guam spend the most time reflecting on our own wartime legacy. But ours is far more complicated. Chamorros saw their island destroyed and their family members killed, but there isn’t as strong of a desire to be an island of peace. As our connection to the US has long been one defined by strategic interests and military service, it is hard to see ourselves as an island of peace, and far easier to accept our lot as an American weapon of war. 

But it is never too late for us to reframe those legacies and lessons from the past, especially in the light of increased tensions in our region. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Storyboard 18

ISSUE 18: Sustainable Islands
While sustainability is often associated in the mainstream with the practice of “going green,” for island communities, it means much more. Sustainability includes a multi-tiered system of people, resources, legends, heirlooms, land, traditions, and practices. In this 18th issue of Storyboard, writers and artists are invited to draw inspiration from all elements of what sustainability means to islands and island peoples. Possible topics to explore include, but are not limited to:
•Traditions • Land Ownership • Land Development • Ocean Practices • Fishing • Planting •Money/Currency • Health • Religion • Resources • Recycling • Reusing • Materialism  •Legends • Stories • Degradation • Consumption • Balance • Inheritance • Ancestral Connections  •Traditional Healing
Storyboard: A Journal of Pacific Imagery is accepting submissions of previously unpublished work from the original writer or artist for Issue 18 until Monday, December 10, 2018. The journal’s mission is to foster literary activity in Guam and the broader Pacific. Storyboard publishes quality poetry, fiction, and non-fiction written in English or any other Pacific language (with translations into English), as well as visual art. We welcome submissions from published and unpublished writers and artists in or from around the region, or writing/art about the region. We particularly encourage writers and artists from Micronesia.
Submission Guidelines
Poetry: Submit up to five poems, a maximum of 10 pages in Microsoft Word format documents. Prose: Submit up to three prose entries, with a maximum of 2,500 words each, double-spaced in Microsoft Word documents. For longer pieces, please query first.
Authors of works in Pacific languages should provide at least rough translations into English for initial evaluation. The journal is willing to help arrange help with translations.
Accepted pieces may be copyedited and will require the review and approval of the writer within a timely fashion.
Artwork: Submit up to five pieces of visual art. Artwork must be submitted in .jpg format (minimum 72 dpi). If accepted for submission, we will require a larger format (minimum 300 dpi). If you need to mail in a CD, DVD, or submit through Dropbox, please send an email request to Artwork must include a title and caption for each piece submitted in a Microsoft Word format document.
Please visit to download the submission requirements and required forms. Included in this link are the following fillable documents:
• Cover Letter Sheet An introductory letter with name, email, phone number, titles of writing and/or captions of artwork, and biography including credentials, expertise, previous publications (if applicable).
Send all required forms along with the writing and/or artwork submission/s by no later than Monday, December 10, 2018 via email to All documents are required to be submitted electronically.

Storyboard is published by the University of Guam’s Division of English and Applied Linguistics in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences in partnership with University of Guam Press. The purpose of Storyboard is to foster and promote literary activity in the Pacific Islands.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Lessons in Tinatse and Typhoon Etiquette

When talking about legends many people become focused on what is true and what isn't true? What is authentic and what really happened? What can be determine from the story that is real and what isn't? These types of discussions may have some importance within a historical context, when trying to understand it from the perspective of aligning stories with a particular history or historical context. For example there are ways that you can look at the story of the Iliad from a historical perspective. There are ways you could try to draw out historical truths from it, and even if some of the details may not be real, you can nonetheless see larger societal dynamics at work in the poem.

This is something to keep in mind when we look at Guam or Chamoru legends. Is that there are some ways to examine, analyze or understand them from a historical perspective, but this misses the larger point of their purpose. Legends serve a social or a culture purpose. They aren't meant to be picture perfect, literal representations of anything. This is why when you hear legends or myths, the first instinct isn't to decry all the ways that they can't be real or true. If this was the case, can you imagine during a performance of The Iliad thousands of years ago, how often people would stand up and shout, wait! That can't be true, there's no way Achilles could actually do that!?

Legends are about something more human than strict documentation and that is why they change over time. That is why as cultures and values change, as memories fade and are adapted, the legends of a society change. You can analyze and track these changes to help understand how societies evolve and grow or forget, but it is the nature of this form of storytelling and social transmission.

One of the issues that people often times overlook is how multi-layered or multi-faceted a simple legend can be. Even if it is just a simple paragraph or reduced to a minute or two of narrative, the complexity persists and can be drawn out in the ways in which an individual storyteller will focus on one thing differently than another. We can see this in one of the most famous Guam legends today that of the the Women Who Saved Guam from the Giant Fish. The storyteller can focus the telling on the geographic aspects, or why Guam's land mass is a certain shape. They can also focus on the gender dynamics, between the male and female actors. It can also be one of the importance of respecting ancestral spirits. It can also be interpreted as something on the importance of particular fish species to the Chamoru people. It can be the origin story for the village and people of Pågo, explaining part of their identity. There are numerous possibilities.

For my Chamoru class this past week we went over the legend of Åcho' Palåyi as told by Peter Onedera, which offers its own series of possible lessons and interpretations. It deals with plant species important to the Chamoru people because of how it could be used for fishing. But also the importance of respecting nature during the rainy season or a typhoon when conditions are unpredictable. It also describes a real place, a series of rocks off the coast of Agat in southern Guam.

Here is the narration from Onedera's version, which he envisioned as a play.


I Lihenden Åcho’ Palåyi
By Peter Onedera

Tiempon Fanuchånan. Meggai guihan gi I saddok yan bula lokkue’ gi i tasi. 

Ha diside este i dos na peskådot para u huyong gi i tasi ya u peska guihan siha ni’ kantida gi i duranten este na tiempo. 

Ha hålla i galaide’-ñiha ya ma na’listo siha i trastes-ñiha pumeska. 

Despues, humålom i dos galaide’ ya ma tulos siha huyong astaki gaige i dos gi tahdong na hånom.

Guaha na ma na’setbe ni’ peskådot siha i palåyi yan i hayu-ña para u ma tåtse i guihan pues u ma konne’ ni’ lagua’-ñiha. 

Put i tiempon fanuchånan, ha tutuhun gui’ i lamlam yan i hilo ya ma diside ni’ dos na u ma bira siha tåtte gi tano’. 

Dururu i dos ma tulos i galaide’-ñiha lao esta sen atburutao i tasi ya luhan na ti u ma hago’ guatu i inai. Ha fakcha’i i galaide’ un kalåktos åcho’ gi tahdong na hånom. 

Ma yute’ i trastes-ñiha ya duru ma lupok huyong i hanom. 

Annai pumåra i uchan, muma’lak i semnak ya ayu na matungo’ ni’ taotao i sengsong na måtmos i dos peskådot ya lokkue’ taigue i galaide’-ñiha. Humuyong un dångkolon åcho’ gi halom hånom ya ma fa’na’an este na åcho’ palåyi.

Ma tungo’ ni’ peskådot na piligru i hanom yan siempre hafñot i tasi. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Gaige yu' giya Okinawa ta'lo

Gaige yu' giya Okinawa på'go na simana.

Para bei fama'nu'i gi kolehio yan konfirensia guini. I fina'nu'i siha put decolonization yan nina'la'la' lengguåhen natihu siha.

Para bei faninterview taotao Chamoru ni' manmastastation guini giya Okinawa put i sinienten-ñiha nu i taotao guini. Put hemplo, kao hinasson-ñiha na mamparehu i estao i taotao Okinawa yan i Chamoru? Guaha meggai parehu put i halacha na hestoria-ta siha, lao kao ma ripåpara este? Pat osino gi lini'e'-ñiha kao manentrangheru?

Bai hu bisita lokkue' i kampon protest taiguihi gi este na litråtu. Este giya Henoko, nai i militåt Amerikånu ma keke ekstende i sagan-ñiha guihi, lao i taotao ti yan-ñiha este, ko'lo'lo'ña put taimanu na u ma destrosa i ginefpågon lugåt.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Håle' Para Agupa'

Back in September, I spent an afternoon with Håle’ Para Agupa’, a Chamoru cultural group based in the Washington D.C. area. It was an enriching and energizing afternoon. The fafa’na’gue of the group Teresita Guevara Smith organized a gathering of young and old, and I gave a presentation about Chamoru language and culture, and even a short language lesson. 

Wherever I go, in Guam, the CNMi or even the diaspora, I am always encouraged to see Chamorus wanting to learn more about who they are as a people and want to do more to keep culture and language alive. After all, for a group that numbers perhaps only 200,000 in the world, we always have to ask ourselves, “anggen ti hita, pues håyi?” When it comes to preservation and revitalization of our heritage, if we won’t do it, who else will?

This is an issue that Chamorus have to confront sooner rather than later, especially in light of the fact that more Chamorus now live outside of the Marianas. The realities of cultural maintenance change dramatically whether you are talking about Guam or the CNMI, versus the diaspora, which exists in small pockets in various spots around the US. 

Migration to the US actually began during the Spanish era of Guam’s history, with Chamorus leaving as whalers and eventually more than a thousand of them settling in Hawai’’I and both East and West coasts. Since World War II, most migration began initially through military service, with Chamoru communities appearing around Navy or Army bases. 

In a few places these communities formed associations or Guam clubs. Sometimes the groups were formalized and had charters and boards and regular activities. Other times they were more informal. The majority of the smaller clubs existed to commemorate a particular event, usually Liberation Day or a Catholic saint or feast. The largest club, the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club in San Diego went beyond incorporation in spirit alone and possess its own physical clubhouse. 

For Chamorus living stateside, these clubs or activities would often be the majority of their exposure to Chamoru cultural facets. At the Guam Society of America, considered to be the oldest of the Guam Clubs, they have an annual event called Chamorro Night. I was fortunate enough to attend last year and there was kelaguan månnok, hineksa’ agaga’ and even Matua Sablan singing his father Johnny’s greatest hits. These social gatherings provided a sense of the homeislands in the Marianas, for some who had never been.

As I’ve bounced around the US and spoken to people involved in these clubs, there is a regular worry that Chamoru youth stateside aren’t interested in getting involved in leading the clubs or sustaining them. Some of the Guam clubs that I spent time with a decade ago while attending college in the states have long been inactive. 

After spending time with the members of Håle’ Para Agupa’, I feel like the solution to the sustainability problems in Guam clubs, is to move them beyond just being social clubs, and actually transform them into cultural spaces. Places not only where Chamorus gather to share food and laughs, but where they gather to share knowledge, cultural traditions, the language and songs.  If we want youth to take up their heritage, we have to first teach it to them and help them understand why its important. 

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Peaceful Demonstration over Magua'

Groups Organize Demonstration Against Disturbance of Cultural Site

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (October 31, 2018 – Hagåtña)Amid a complex election season and Typhoon Yutu relief efforts, our residents have also been challenged with news of the recent disturbance of the ancient village of Magua at the site for the new Marine Base in South Finegayan. Local news sources, both radio and print, have reported that the U.S. Navy may have breached negotiations to mitigate the site. As the buildup progresses, it is clear that cultural preservation is not a priority for the Department of Defense.  

Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian (PLSR) and Independent Guåhan call on the leaders of our island to rise up and take immediate action against this disturbance and to ensure that further harm will not take place. 

PLSR and Independent Guåhan invite our community to gather for a peaceful public demonstration this Saturday, November 3 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in front of the gate to the Naval Communications Station (NCTAMS) base, which is the entrance to the South Finegayan site. 

We must make it clear that we will not stand for this injustice. Disturbing ancestral and cultural sites despite repeated claims that cultural preservation is a priority is a deceitful and disrespectful act towards the CHamoru people and our ancestors. 

We also call on our leaders to look into the role of the contractor in this disturbance and make their findings public. We must hold all involved accountable. 

Our organizations sincerely thank Dave Lotz for coming forward and informing our community. 

Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian (PLSR) is a direct action group dedicated to the protection of natural and cultural resources in the areas identified for DOD live-fire training on Guam. For more information, please email

Independent Guåhan empowers the Chamoru people to reclaim our sovereignty as a nation. Inspired by the strength of our ancestors and with love for future generations, we educate and unify all who call our island home to build a sustainable and prosperous independent future. 


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