This blog is dedicated to Chamorro issues, the use and revitalization of the Chamoru language and the decolonization of Guam. This also blog aims to inform people around the world about the history, culture and language and struggles of the Chamorro people, who are the indigenous islanders of Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Luta and Pagan in the Mariana Islands. Pues Haggannaihon ha', ya taitai na'ya, ya Si Yu'us Ma'ase para i finatto-mu.
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.
On my last full day in South Korea, after traveling north to hear about the struggles against the expansion of the Mugeon-ri training areas, I had a few hours to myself, to do whatever I wanted with. After five days of tightly scheduled trips, visits, meals and transportation adventure, I really appreciated being able to explore on my own for a bit, the area I was staying in Seoul.
I did not know my way around Seoul at the start of the trip and I still don’t know much about its geography, except for the little area near downtown that I was staying in. In my little area I could tell you where almost anything was (so long as its signage contained some English letters or images which indicated what was inside). I could tell you how many Dunkin Donuts were in the area and lead you to all of them, and could show you were the three music stores that I had found were, and even the chick place, which has a sign where a friendly looking chicken invites you to come in and partake of the flesh of…
For the past two years now I've been speaking to i hagga-hu Sumåhi , almost entirely in Chamorro. For a long time I wasn't sure if this was paying off, and if she was retaining anything, as more and more of the words she started using or started understanding were either English or Cantonese. Fihu estaba annai hu kuentusi gui' gi fino' Chamoru, ha atan yu' kulang langga' yan taikinemprende. In order to make sure she understood me sometimes, I would even resort to using certain Cantonese words.
In the past few weeks however all of this has changed, and at last she is starting to both use and understand some basic Chamorro words. At this age, learning words for Sumåhi is actually an exciting activity, because while all around her live to see her face light up and smile, she is actually always on the search as well for ways that she can make our faces light up. Using certain words is one of the ways that Sumåhi can get everyone around her laughing or happy. Which i…
At the Guma'famoksaiyanconference last month, I organized a session on Learning Chamorro Language Through Songs, which went very well. Songs is one of the most fun ways through which you can learn a language, and so while most Chamorros who don't speak the language, might have some knowledge about Chamorro music and songs and may even enjoy listening to it, its unfortunate that there isn't more effort being put into using music as a medium through which we can revitalize the language.
For this session all those present divided into three groups, and each group had a song leader who would teach one Chamorro song to those in their group over about forty minutes. When time was up, all the groups would gather together and present the the rest of the conference their song. It was decided during the session that there should be judges too in order to select which group was the best. The session went very well and people incorporated different performaces and dancing into their pr…