Inspired by the CHamoru concepts of mo’na, pa’go and tatte, this timeline presents history in both a chronological and relational manner. The table covers important historical moments in Guåhan’s history showcasing the role that the CHamoru people, since the onset of American rule, have played in seeking a pathway towards self-determination and decolonization. The sails highlight the relationship of events in Guåhan to those taking place regionally, nationally, and internationally during a given moment in time.
Mo’na, Pa’go yan Tatte
How can a circular understanding of time and history help us imagine the possibilities for Guåhan’s future and quest for self-determination?
Similar to other Native Pacific Islander cultures, CHamoru culture perceives time as circular rather than linear. This circularity allows for the simultaneous existence of the past and the present and a connection to the future. As CHamoru scholar Dr. Michael Bevacqua explains, “A linear interpretation of time means that as we move through history, things happen one after the other, in a forward progression…things change and never return to a previous point.” This contrasts to the CHamoru understanding of time where the past is always with us.
CHamoru historian Dr. James Viernes describes CHamoru-Micronesian understandings of time “as fluid cycles in which the past, present, and future are interdependent on each other, entangled in infinite trajectories that are forever a part of our Islander worldviews.” Indeed, as part of Guåhan’s efforts toward self-determination Guåhan’s people are not merely observers but, as Viernes says, active agents past, present, and future that “make history happen.”
In the CHamoru culture, the canoe is a means of transportation. Historically, it enabled people to explore the horizons and brought CHamorus back home. Canoes are also sacred, spiritual vessels, lifelines during times of famine and environmental stress, and conduits connecting humans to ancestors and spirits of the natural world. Sailing, like many things in life, requires planning as well as knowledge of your equipment, where you want to go, and how to get there. There are times the wind propels you forward, and times it holds you back.
More recently, the CHamoru outrigger canoe has been used as a symbol of the resilience, innovation, and strength of the CHamoru people, similar to the latte and slingstone. Pohnpeian-Filipino scholar and Guåhan historian Dr. Vicente Diaz describes the canoe as a metaphor that carries meanings of CHamoru culture and history as well as what it means to be Indigenous in this place. The canoe, impacted by colonialism as seen in its diminished use and displacement from CHamoru culture, has reemerged in the articulation of the politics of decolonization and self-determination for Guåhan. It represents cross-cultural connections with other Micronesians and Pacific Islanders and is the vessel from which the continuing stories of Guåhan’s efforts toward self-determination are carried and new possibilities are imagined and pursued.
The American colonization of Guåhan has presented great navigational challenges for the journey of the CHamoru people. The new administration brought another language to learn and a different way of thinking, living, and doing things. Yet, the CHamoru people understood early on that when the US Navy took over, they were not being treated fairly and they accordingly made their grievances known to the American government. Like seafarers, they sought to understand the tools at their disposal and used lessons from the past to guide them. Through World War II and Japanese occupation, postwar reconstruction, and urbanization the CHamoru people have utilized the tools of democracy (submitting petitions and lobbying in Washington, DC), joined the US military, secured increased media coverage, and elected powerful leadership, to make their voices heard.
While the seas have been rough and the weather uncooperative, the CHamoru people’s navigation of this journey on their physical and metaphorical canoes remain steadfast and reliable, even through these uncertain times.