In the CHamoru culture, as in many other Pacific Island cultures, elders (mañaina) are held in high regard and treated with deep respect. Individuals grow in status because of their age and experience as keepers of traditions, customs, genealogy, history, landholdings, and family secrets. We recognize that those before us (manmofo’na), still guide us today (pa’go), and will continue to lead us into the future (para mo’na). These intergenerational relationships are key to centering a CHamoru worldview and cultural practice. A clear demonstration of this is how CHamorus pay respect to their elders when greeting them. Children sniff their saina’s slightly raised hand (‘nginge) or kiss their cheek while referring to them as “Ñot” or “Ñora” and receive their praise and blessing, or “Dioste ayudi,” in return. This seemingly simple interaction conveys deep cultural meanings. People know their place and the occasions when such displays are appropriate. This exchange is oftentimes reciprocal; The older person confers a blessing on the younger one, each recognizing the value of the other.
In this section, Fanoghe CHamoru honors the mañaina whose contributions have paved the way for contemporary activism in the quest for self-determination. Let us listen and learn from these elders’ perspectives to understand how they saw their actions and how their efforts have helped bring us to where we are today.
Why US Citizenship?
Early efforts toward CHamoru self-determination emphasized the community’s treatment by the US government under the US Naval Administration. During this period, a long list of appointed naval officers served as governor. These governors had complete executive, legislative, and judicial authority over the island and its people. With the lack of checks and balances in place for the governor and the complete absence of democratic rights for the island’s people, the Naval Government is likened to an autocratic dictatorship. Using the language of democracy and US Civil Rights and seeing US citizenship as a route to accessing these rights, CHamoru leaders initially pursued self-determination by advocating for US citizenship.
Grassroots Movements: A Historical Perspective
Political change often occurs through movements which develop from the grassroots—people from within a community who advocate and mobilize others around a shared issue. In Guåhan’s efforts for self-determination several grassroots organizations were formed and historically have been instrumental in bringing awareness to CHamoru identity and cultural preservation.
PARA-PADA was formed in the late 1970s from the merging of two activist groups: the People’s Alliance for Responsible Alternatives (PARA) and the People’s Alliance for Dignified Alternatives (PADA). Led by Dr. Robert Underwood, PARA was founded in 1978 to challenge the English-only policies of the Pacific Daily News. They also succeeded in promoting the use of CHamoru language signage in public places. PADA was an organization which contested the draft constitution written by the 2nd Constitutional Convention as it did not address CHamoru political status and contained other deficiencies regarding immigration control and dealings with the US military and the Department of the Interior. PARA-PADA was unique because it presented an Indigenous CHamoru point of view regarding issues of Indigenous rights and Guåhan’s political status. Many of their members were CHamorus who were highly educated and willing to speak out.
In 1981, PARA-PADA was reorganized into the Organization of People for Indigenous Rights (OPI-R), which focused on CHamoru self-determination and Guåhan’s political status. OPI-R took the stance that the right of self-determination belonged specifically to the CHamoru people because it was the Indigenous people of the island who held a special and extensive historical relationship to the land. Through the 1982 plebiscite and discussion of the Guam Commonwealth Act, OPI-R continuously pushed for the rights of Indigenous people. They even brought their message to the United Nations.
Another important grassroots organization is Nasion Chamoru. Founded in 1991 at Latte Stone Park in Hagåtña, Nasion Chamoru comprises a number of different family-based groups connected through a commitment to the CHamoru people and to the protection of their lands, culture, and rights. Their message and actions challenged and shocked many island residents but also had a significant effect on the consciousness of the CHamoru people. They appealed to the landless and “less powerful” within CHamoru society. Through their language and dress they embraced their connection to ancient CHamoru ancestors and used civil disobedience to protest and bring light to issues of land, the military, and self-determination.
View all images of the exhibition items here in Flickr.
Seals and flags are important symbols of organizations, communities, and nations.
The Guåhan Seal is an oval outlined in red that tapers and comes to two pointed ends. This shape resembles a slingstone, a weapon skillfully wielded by the ancient CHamorus. Included in the seal are the Hagåtña River which empties into the sea, graced by a lone coconut palm and a flying proa. The distant cliff along the horizon references Puntan Dos Amantes (Two Lover’s Point), named for the legend of a romance between two lovers who, rather than be separated, tied their hair together, and leapt to their deaths. These specific aspects of CHamoru culture symbolize the courage, perseverance, and prowess of the CHamoru people. “Guam” is printed across the middle of the seal in bold red letters.
The seal is the centerpiece of the Guåhan Flag. The flag itself is a deep blue encased on all sides by a red border. Today, Guåhan flies this flag together with the flag of the United States.
The Guåhan flag made its first appearance on 6 July 1917 when it was formally received by the Guåhan Cadets at a parade on behalf of the people of Guåhan. It was first raised on 4 July 1918 in Hagåtña. A dark blue field was added with the Guåhan Seal in 1930, and the following year, Governor Willis Bradley designated it the Island Flag of Guåhan. In 1948, a red border was incorporated into the design.
Many of Guåhan’s problems were not resolved with the passage of the Organic Act of Guam due to federal laws which impede and/or restrict the island’s economic growth. One of these federal impediments is the “Jones Act.” The Act “requires shipping between US ports to be conducted by US-flag ships.” The special interests protected by the Jones Act are not shared by Guåhan. Given its proximity to neighboring Asian countries than to the US mainland, there are times when foreign-built and foreign-owned vessels offer Guåhan merchants better service at lower freight costs. However, Guåhan merchants are prohibited from using their services as a result of the Jones Act. This in turn inflates the prices of goods purchased by the people of Guåhan on a daily basis. Despite efforts by local leaders to secure certain exemptions for compliance with the Act, such efforts have yet to be successful. How might self-determination impact Guåhan’s shipping and economy?
Featuring Dr. Laura M. Torres Souder and Julie Quichocho Benavente.