ANCESTRAL GRAVES HALT RENOVATIONS AT GUAM HOTEL

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By Gerardo R. Partido

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, July 31) – The US$30 million expansion of the Guam Hotel Okura has hit a snag as representatives of Chamorro activist groups asked the hotel owners to save what’s left of the ancient Chamorro cemetery being excavated at the hotel’s renovation construction site.

The groups claim that more than 280 ancestral remains have already been excavated without public notice and that the archaeological contractor, PHRI, allegedly has plans to mail these remains off-island via parcel post.

In a letter sent to Guam Resorts Inc., the owner of the hotel, former Senator Hope A. Cristobal asked for a meeting with hotel officials to discuss the preservation plans for the cemetery and the exact number of remains that have been removed, including when they were found and where the remains are being stored.

"We feel that the whole scale removal of this Chamorro cemetery is unnecessary and disrespectful. We want people to respect the dead in our ancestral cemeteries," Cristobal said.

The Chamorro groups are also asking the Hotel Okura to discuss the effects that the hotel’s construction activities are having on the existing cemetery, as well as the hotel’s re-internment plans.

"As the organizers of the Chamoru burial commemoration ceremony in September 2006 when 18 human remains were excavated, we communicated with your representative, Mr. Mark Day, our concerns that the Pre-Latte and Latte Period Chamoru cemetery and burials located on the current hotel renovation site are being desecrated.

On Friday, July 27, Mr. Mark Day confirmed that one more month of these burial diggings remain. At that point, we again requested that the whole scale removal of this ancient Chamoru cemetery from its original site cease until we could meet," Cristobal said.

The Chamorro groups claim that over 280 human remains have now been secretly excavated from their final resting places without being accorded the traditional Chamorro ceremonies given to ancestral elders.

"Furthermore, your contractor, Mr. David Defunct of PHRI, has made a public statement implying that it is now our Chamoru elders and traditional masters of ceremonies who are suspect in grave diggings and destruction. We object to Mr. Defunct’s disrespectful and blasphemous statement; one that flies in the face of the profane purposes for excavating our ancestral elders’ ceremony in the first place," Cristobal said.

The Chamorro groups also allege that the "archaeo-business" contractor plans to mail Chamorro ancestral remains off-island via parcel post.

"This is unacceptable and we consider this another in the continuum of further desecrations in this treatment of our ancestral elders by your contractor," Cristobal said. Just as the Japanese people have great respect for their dead, Cristobal said the Chamorros also respect their dead and thus, the hotel should stop further desecrations. Graduate student Victoria-Lola M. Leon Guerrero also signed the letter.

The owner of the Guam Hotel Okura is investing upwards of US$30 million to create the new resort, which will have 23 luxury villas with both one and two-bedroom options. Each villa will have its own individual swimming pool or Jacuzzi overlooking the ocean. In addition, there will be 68 luxury family-type suites and 148 deluxe rooms.

When completed, hotel management said the renovated Guam Hotel Okura will create a sense of opulence and privacy, blending with Guam’s natural surroundings to offer an unparalleled luxury destination resort.

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