Håfa adai and aloha todus hamyo! Gof måhalang yu nu Guåhan, lao hu guaguaiya i Hawai’i nei (I really miss Guam, but I’m loving Hawai’i.)
Now that the Festival of Pacific Arts and Cultures is long over and the fever is long gone, I felt now is a good time to reflect upon the historic, once-in-a-lifetime event that can change the course of our cultural and colonial history. Guåhan hosted the 12th quadrennial FESTPAC in which twenty-seven island nations– independent and colonized came together to share their stories and cultures through dance, song, sailing, tattooing, weaving, film, healing, and various mediums of ancient and contemporary art. It truly was the “olympics of Pacific cultures”. Many might agree that it wasn’t well-planned, organized, and funded, however everything flowed and came together by the hard-working hands of all the delegates and our people. I know everyone enjoyed it and misses it now that it’s over.
Thousands of locals came to watch the opening ceremony, and almost everyone showed pride in where they’re from– Chamorus wore their sinahis, tapon (spondylous), and repped their beloved Guåhan brands. Chuukese, Belauans, Pohnpeians, and other islanders wore their native-wear proudly. Being submerged in the ocean of Pacific cultures encouraged us to embrace the islanders in us and rejoice our uniqueness and likenesses. In those two weeks, we started to feel free to express ourselves, explore our cultures, learn our pasts, face our presents, and navigate our futures. FESTPAC was a great experience for Chamorus especially to reconnect with our inner islanders and neighbor islanders because we aren’t so connected to our culture. Many of us don’t speak our language or remember our ancient arts; most are modern interpretations of what we believe our ancestors did. That sacred knowledge and stories were stolen from us by brainwashing, assimilating colonizers. In one of the demonstrations at Saggan Kotturan Chamoru, Solomon Islanders made spondylous beads using all-natural, hand-made tools– an ancient art passed down by their ancestors. They made me wonder how my ancestors made their tapon and feel disheartened that I don’t know. However, instead of mourning what we lost in the past 4,500 years, I focused on how we came together, with 26 other island nations miles and histories apart to celebrate håfa iyo-ta, håfa guinåha-ta, yan håfa ta påtte (what is ours, what we have, and what we share). Maybe our ancestors made their tapon the same way the Solomons did– we are kind of related.
On the contrary, one issue few islands share with Guahan is a colonial status. Colonization has been an issue for too long especially in the Pacific, however the uproar of appreciation and pride for our cultures raised awareness on it. The Guåhan delegation ended the closing ceremony with a giant banner reading, “DECOLONIZE OCEANIA, FREE GUAHAN.” Now that we’re learning and loving what makes us unique, we must protect our cultures and languages from outside forces. Colonizers don’t know or understand our cultures and lands, so they don’t know what it takes to resolve our problems and take care of our peoples. Whatever they do with their colonial subjects is for their benefit only. As long as someone else’s flag is flying over our lands, our futures aren’t in our hands. We must reunite our communities with all our strength and voices to end colonization.
FESTPAC ignited flames of interest, passion, and respect for all cultures, but now that it’s over, we must keep the fires going. Don’t let pride in your culture stop at clothing and jewelry, dig deeper: unearth your history, make your language live on, explore and protect your homelands, and wear your island-skin every day.
Saina ma’åse nu i tinaitai-miyu.