Lessons in Tinatse and Typhoon Etiquette
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.