FISH ON TABLE AS CHUUKESE DISCOVER THANKSGIVING

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By Oyaol Ngirairikl

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 24) – If the fish is bigger than the turkey on Joysa Basiano's Thanksgiving table, then that's a fine Chuukese Thanksgiving feast.

Basiano, a Chuuk-born entrepreneur, said both fish and turkey have a place on his table, considering his Pacific island heritage and his life in an Americanized Guam.

With an embarrassed grin, Basiano admitted he thinks turkey meat is "kind of dry."

"And anyway, fish is the food of the Chuukese people. We don't have turkeys on Pacific islands," said Basiano, who owns Angarap Fish Mart in Dededo. "The turkey is for the kids, mostly. And some of the adults."

For many Chuukese people and other migrant groups living on Guam, Thanksgiving Day is part of the process of assimilation, as they build homes and lives and raise their children in a culture that uses the fourth Thursday of November to give thanks for family, life and food.

Assimilation is a complex process, said Kiniena Sachuo, a University of Guam assistant professor of early childhood education. Sachuo also is an immigrant from Chuuk.

"Back home in Chuuk, we don't have a Thanksgiving," Sachuo said. "The whole idea of Thanksgiving with the pilgrims - that's just not within our (cultural) practice."

In the islands of Chuuk, as in many Pacific islands, the staple foods, including fish and other seafood, breadfruit, taro and other tropical foods have various seasons of harvest.

Ritis Heldart, who works for the Federated States of Micronesia consulate office and is from the island of Nema, said celebrations were held throughout the year as islanders gave thanks for the bounty of various foods.

"We already had the process for celebrating every season of harvest. We have traditional seasons of fishing and harvesting different foods," he said. "We celebrate life, that's all."

Heldart said traditionally the best of the harvest or first fruits are brought to the different levels of chiefs, who run the villages and the clans.

With the coming of American missionaries and Christianity came the religious celebration of Thanksgiving, Heldart said. On the islands in the lagoon, which have stores that sell turkey, more and more families are including a turkey in their church-centered celebration.

"It's difficult," Sachuo said. "There's friction between the old people and the young people. The old people want to instill the culture; ... but what I'm seeing is changes and we need to accept some of those changes."

The trick is in balancing culture and change, Sachuo said. In her family celebrations on Guam, Thanksgiving takes a twist as she tries to incorporate the new culture while maintaining a cultural identity for herself and her children.

Sachuo said celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with traditional Chuukese foods is one way she tries to balance the old and the new.

"The sense of family in the Chuukese tradition is what Western culture calls the extended family. So the concept of having all of my extended family ... share the Thanksgiving meal with the traditional foods included is a way of expressing some of the values of my culture with my children," Sachuo said.

She said her children look at some of the traditional foods and ask what they are. But she said she won't clear the traditional foods for turkey and mashed potatoes.

"It has to be a mixture. Because they need their identity, which is rooted in the culture, and global knowledge to survive in this world," Sachuo said.

November 24, 2005

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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