Master blacksmith and artisan

Joaquin Flores Lujan (1920-2015), commonly known as “Tun Jack” and “Kin Bitud” to family and friends, is part of a legacy of more than 100 years of Chamorro blacksmiths.

Lujan was born in 1920.  He began his training from the age of nine under the guidance of his father, Mariano Leon Guerrero Lujan, a renowned toolmaker.  The older Lujan had been taught by an uncle who, in turn, had been mentored by Tun Jack’s grandfather.  For generations the Lujans have produced high quality, fire-forged metal work, such as the machete (a heavy knife), teras pugua (betel nut scissors), the fisga (a pronged fishing spear), the si’i (a tool for preparing weaving materials), the so’soh (used to extract coconut meat), the kamyo’ (coconut grater), and the fusiños (a garden hoe).  These traditional metal tools were commonly used in Guam and the Marianas, particularly for daily tasks such as harvesting crops or preparing family meals.  However, because of their quality and rarity, some items manufactured by Lujan are prized as family heirlooms and are passed down from one generation to the next.

Lujan was the only child in his family to learn his father’s blacksmithing skills.  After World War II, Lujan was the sole link to Guam’s blacksmithing tradition that spanned as far back as the Spanish era.  Because of the expertise and patience necessary to produce quality tools, blacksmithing was not a preferred occupation for many Chamorros.  Lujan, however, continued to have an appreciation for the craft and understood its significance as part of Chamorro culture.

Lujan married Elizabeth Flores, and together they raised their family.  A welder before World War II, Lujan spent most of his working years as a United States immigration officer after the war.  Upon his retirement, he returned to blacksmithing, proudly demonstrating his skills and craftsmanship at schools, festivals and public events.  In 1985 he began his apprenticeship program, beginning with three apprentices, all members of the Guam Fire Department.

Over the years, Lujan has been featured in television programs, newspapers and magazines, and eventually he was invited to exhibit and demonstrate his work in Australia, Taiwan and the continental United States.  The Consortium of Pacific Arts and Cultures included his pieces in their “Living Traditions” exhibit of crafts from the Pacific Islands region.  He has been recognized for his work in the preservation of Chamorro culture and was awarded the Governor’s Art Award several times.  In 1996, he received the Maga’lahi Lifetime Cultural Achievement award and the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award.  The NEA fellowship granted Lujan national recognition as a traditional artisan, and in fact, Lujan is the only person from this region who has received this honor.

Lujan’s skills as a traditional blacksmith reflect a strong attention to detail and quality.  He puts his name on every piece he makes, inscribing his initials to ensure authenticity.  One of his challenges is dealing with the availability of cheap, factory- or machine-manufactured tools that unscrupulous people try to pass off as Lujan’s work to make a profit.

Despite the challenges of the counterfeit products, Lujan is selfless in his desire to preserve the art of blacksmithing, and is willing to train those who want to learn.  He continues to be featured at regional cultural arts events, such as the Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPac) and the annual Micronesian Island Fair on Guam.   Over the years, he has trained more than a dozen apprentices in the hope of preserving the traditional art of blacksmithing.  His more recent apprentices have included his grandson Jeremy Lujan Bevacqua, and his first female apprentice, Nathalie Pereda.

On 29 April 2011, Joaquin Lujan was recognized, along with three other distinguished Chamorro artists—master carver Robert Taitano, master weaver Philip Sablan, and tattoo artist Maria Yatar McDonald—as a Master Folk Artist by the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Agency (CAHA).  As part of this recognition, Lujan will conduct the CAHA Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.  His grandson, Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua, was his first student in this apprenticeship program, carrying on the Lujan legacy of metal blacksmithing.

Joaquin “Tun Jack” Lujan passed away 20 March 2015 at the age of 94.

By Tanya M. Champaco Mendiola

For further reading

CAHA Artists Directory. (Accessed 15 June 2012)

Guam Humanities Council. Picturing Guam Teachers Resource Book, 2011. (Accessed 15 June 2012)

Guam KAHA. “Kahan I Kutturan Guahan: A Tribute to Masters of Chamorro Tradition.  Master Blacksmith Joaquin “Jack” Lujan” 20th Micronesian Island Fair.” (Accessed 15 June 2012)

Onedera-Salas, Selina. “A living legacy: Tun Jack’s resolve to keep blacksmithing craft alive is as strong as steel.”  Pacific Sunday News, 1 May 2011.

Sweeney, Ronna. “Blacksmith Jack Lujan keeps Chamorro heritage alive.” KUAM News, 26 August 2007.

Thompson, Erin. “Keeping the fire burning: Preserving traditional arts in the modern age.” Pacific Sunday News, 22 August 2010.

1996 NEA National Heritage Fellow: Joaquin Flores Lujan. (Accessed 15 June 2012)