CHAMORRO CULTURE IN THE PACIFIC

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Dr. Jose Nededog President, University of Guam

Perhaps you have heard legends of how islands or continents were created, some through the hands of their God and others through supernatural powers. What I want to do is share a legend about the creation of Guam, the island I come from . . . as it was told to me by my ancestors and transition into the culture as we know it today.

At one time in history, the planet Earth was covered with water, and man had no place to live. There were, however, during this particular time in history, many giants who roamed the planet. These giants had great powers and could use them to help change the planet's surface. Two giants instrumental in making many of these changes were Puntan and his sister, Fu‘una. Puntan, getting very old and wanting to do something great before his death, called his sister, Fu‘una, and explained to her what he wanted done with his body. She would have little trouble in carrying out his wishes because she would receive his magical powers. With the aid of his sister, Puntan's body would change the planet. His eyes would be used to create a sun and a moon. His eyebrows would be turned into rainbows of beautiful colors. His breast was to be a colorful sky. His back would form the island of Guam. After his death, Fu‘una did as her brother had commanded. Using these magical powers, she mixed the red earth of Guam with the seawater and created a great rock. She divided the great rock into small stones and tiny pebbles. It was from this that the people of Guam came into being. (Cited from Legends of Guam, DOE 1981.)

This story of how the island of Guam was created was passed down from generation to generation. Before the introduction of electricity and technology, the Chamorro people spent a great deal of time together and much of this time was spent telling stories. This is still evident in some families today, but television and modern technology have replaced the ritual of storytelling and family dialogue.

Historical records do not reveal the origin of the Chamorros. As a result, cultural and physical changes are difficult to characterize. Having endured the incursion of peoples from other lands and modification through time, the language represents the only authentic culture of the Chamorro people in existence today.

Every culture is defined by its social behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. These patterns, traits, and products are considered an expression of ancestral practice of a people passed on from generation to generation.

In keeping with the topic of "Chamorro Culture in the Pacific," it is best for me to recollect from my own experiences and share some of my interesting stories with you.

The Chamorro culture, as we know it today, is very different from the way it was when I was a young boy. In those times, much of our day was spent working in the farms and managing to get as much done before the sun goes down. I worked tirelessly in the hot, humid weather, sweat dripping down my face, looking forward to the end of the day. My whole family would gather together for dinner. There is something special about being with family and sharing stories about the day. Almost all the stories would result in laughter and teasing. This is typical of most Chamorro families. Their warmheartedness and playfulness are evident in their storytelling skills and their contagious chuckling. And always during the course of a story, it would remind one of the elders of a legend and my favorite would be that of the taotaomo‘nas. The Chamorro people believed that when a person died their spirit remained alive. These spirits are believed to be those of our ancestors and can be easily offended when people neglect to ask permission to use the land or when they disrespect nature. Such disregard is often punished by marks on the skin, sickness and even death. Taotaomo‘nas are present in the air, jungles, caves and trees. The taotaomo‘nas are most notably found in the area of the banyan (nunu} tree. Some people also believe that some taotaomo‘nas can be friendly and helpful spirits.

The core of the Chamorro culture is deeply rooted upon respect. Kostumbren Chamoru, as Chamorro culture is understood in the vernacular, is still reverently practiced by many. When an elder is present, the act of mangi‘nge‘, kissing the hands of the elder is performed. The Chamorros respected nature and were taught to live in harmony with nature and each other. Today, we continue to pass on the core of the Chamorro culture to our children and their children.

So today, I inspirit upon my children and grandchildren the music, songs and proverbial dances of the Chamorros. We read stories describing sea navigation practices. We indulge in the flavor of our island's unique cuisine and play games that our ancestors played such as batu, chongka, and bayogu.

Fashion and dress have been influenced by the arrival of peoples from other lands and have been adopted as cultural representation for a specific period of time but no historical reference defines the original fashion of the Chamorro culture. Today, my wife and I continue to sport our matching island print outfits, which reflect our island spirit of hospitality and warmth.

Many people continue to practice the culture we have come to learn from our introduction to the many visitors to our island. Courtship rituals, canoe-making, making of the Belembautuyan, fashioning of slings and stones, burial rituals, and preparation of herbal medicines by suruhanos continue to be practiced today.

So, if you ever find yourself boonie-stomping on Guam or entering sacred ground you must remember to request forgiveness from our spiritual ancestors. Lest you forget, you will be reminded by a bruise mark or a swollen body part.

The Chamorro culture is full of many different practices and its richness is found among the people who still practice and respect the culture. In closing, "I erensia, lina‘la‘, espiritu-ta." This translated means, "Our heritage gives life to our spirit."

Wave of Pacifika Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund The Saskakawa Hall 3-12-12 Mita Minato-ku Tokyo, Japan 108-0073 TEL: 81-3-3769-6359 FAX: 81-3-3769-2090 Email: spinf@spf.or.jp  Web: http://www/spf/prg/ 

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