Guam Hikers Protest Proposed Weapons Testing Range In Ritidian Wildlife Refugee

Participants learn about traditional medicinal uses of rare plants 

By Kyla P Mora

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 11, 2017) – On the way into the jungle, yo’åmte apprentice Ursula Herrera turned to participants near her and held out her hand. “Everyone got their Visine?”

In Herrera’s hand lay a cluster of small white buds from a cooler she’d brought. She demonstrated how to squeeze the bud to produce what she excitedly called “ancient Chamorro eyedrops."

“It grows by the ocean so that after you’re done swimming in the salt water you can squeeze it in your eyes. It’s best if you’ve had it in the fridge for a little bit and it’s chilled,” Herrera said. “They only last for a day but they’re so refreshing.”

One has to wonder, one walker suggested, who it was that first thought to use the plant that way. Herrera smiled. “Ancestral wisdom and plant spirit – as ‘woo-woo’ as it sounds, the plants let you know. They guide you to them.”

On Saturday, March 11, it was Herrera’s turn to guide people to the plants as part of the Prutehi Litekyan “Save Ritidian” Åmot Walk.  Åmot is Chamorro for medicine.

The group scheduled the walk as part of a series of protests and attempts to raise awareness about the proposed live fire training range for Andersen Air Force Base, which would be constructed in close proximity to endangered species, limestone forests and trees, including those housed in the Ritidian Wildlife Preserve.

About 25 walkers gathered at the preserve at 10 a.m. Before they started their walk, they stopped at the edge of the jungle. They recited a traditional Chamorro chant requesting permission to enter.

Activists were joined by students of traditional medicine, traditional healers known as yo’åmte or suruhanus, curious hikers and supportive friends.

The entire group, however, seemed united in their interest in the traditional plants and natural resources found in the preserve.

Sinajana resident and Guam native Kallen Perez, 27, brought her son Nolan Bamba along. Halfway through the walk, Nolan called excitedly to his mother to point out a design on a rock that looked like a hook from the popular Disney movie "Moana", set in Polynesia.

Perez’s response was cheerful and light – she’s seen the movie 10 times now, thanks to Nolan’s enthusiasm for it. But when it came to reminding her son of the heritage behind images in the movie, her voice grew stern.

“He says to me, ‘Mommy, Moana’s boat looks like the boat on my flag!’” Perez said. “I tell him, ‘It was your boat first before it was Moana’s boat. Okay? That’s your boat that Moana borrowed.’”

Perez came to support Herrera, a longtime friend, and to teach her son about the natural resources and plants in the jungle. Perez has always been interested in herbal medicine, especially since that time a late-night remedy prescribed by Herrera killed Perez’s nasty cold.

Walkers visited the limestone forests, viewed pictographs on the cave walls, and examined medicinal plants like tupun ayuyu and putpotput, also known as Pepperonia marianensis.

At the end of the walk, the group gathered in a circle, where Prutehi Litekyan spokesperson Sabina Flores Perez addressed the walkers, urging them to speak to their local leaders about the issue of preserving Ritidian.

One of Perez’s key concerns is a process known as mitigation, which she calls a weakness in the Endangered Species Act. Theoretically, Perez said, under mitigation, if a plant can be grown elsewhere, it can be considered okay to destroy a plant currently in existence.

That’s not good enough, she said, especially when it comes to plants that may be genetically unique to Guam, as well as limestone forests that will never grow back if damaged.

“We’re not willing to take that risk,” Perez said. “We need to stop this now. We need our people to speak out, come to our gatherings and develop a community around protecting our environment. Our elected leaders have the power to stop this.”

Perez said that the group has reached out to Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, and that they are currently awaiting a response from Gov. Eddie Calvo on the issue.

The walkers turned back toward the beach after about an hour of hiking, and one final chant of gratitude. As she thanked everyone for coming, Herrera’s voice broke.

“There’s so much here at risk,” Herrera said, tears in her eyes. “You see what we have to lose. This is everything we have.”

Pacific Daily News
Copyright © 2017 Guam Pacific Daily News. All Rights Reserved

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