Håfa adai and aloha todus hamyo!
As a Chamoru, Pacific islander, and Oceanian living in a Western world, my culture and values are challenged every day. My value of mangåffa’, belonging, and the past are almost completely opposite of those of American culture, or lack thereof. By beginning again and starting completely from scratch, it was easy to temporarily forget i hale’-hu (my roots). I thought I uprooted myself, but I didn’t truly realize how deep i hale’-hu actually go. I’ve been growing håle’ in i Islas Marianas for thousands of years, so no amount of distance or time could cut them.
Using my culture as a lens or way to see things, I try to observe society’s current realities. My current reality is that I live in a politically and economically Western place that is also a geographically and culturally Oceanic/Pacific island at its core. This goes for Hawai’i and Guåhan: we both have the U.S. flag flying over our lands (without choice or desire) but our cultures are in the roots of them. Although I have always seen it and somewhat knew it, I have finally come to understand that Western cultures value innovation, moving forward, and the future. They see time as a line: the future ahead of them and the past behind them. They turn their backs on the past and charge the future head on with full-force. They forget the rich knowledge gained by the people before them, therefore end up making the same mistakes. The newly elected president Donald Trump is the prime example. Growing up in a bi-cultural environment with Western surrounding me but Chamoru inside of me, I was somewhat a recipient of this mindset and way to approach life. I turned my back to the past and all the lessons it holds, and forgot that those lessons could guide me through the future. I always chose to learn the hard way and make my own mistakes even though someone I love and trust has literally been there and done that. Yes, I learned a lot from my experiences, but looking back now, I wasted so much time learning the hard way, and suffering because of it when I could’ve easily listened to my family, learned through their experiences, and learned something new and less painful. But hey, you live and you learn.
What I learned from my History of Guåhan class and am understanding in my Pacific Islands Studies and Hawaiian Studies classes are the Pacific/Oceanic approaches to life and views of time. Lilikalā Kame’eleihiwa said in her book Native Land and Foreign Desires,
“It is as if the islander (Hawaiian) stands firmly in the present, with his back to the future, and his eyes fixed upon the past, seeking historical answers for present-day dilemmas. Such an orientation is to the islander (Hawaiian) and eminently practical one, for the future is always unknown, whereas the past is rich in glory and knowledge.”
Micronesians, Melanesians, and Polynesians all view time as cyclical. Life is a natural cycle that we are very in-tune with (or used to be): the sun rises and sets, the tide comes and goes, i fufu’ mångga (the mango tree) gives you mangoes then leaves you waiting anxiously for next mango season. In the words of my kumu/fafa’någue (Hawaiian/Chamoru for teacher), “history repeats itself every day.” By knowing history, we can make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes as our ancestors. There is so much to learn from the past that will teach us how to overcome our present problems. When you know your roots, you can grow.
No, you don’t have to learn the entire history of your people unless you really want to, then you should. I actually highly recommend you to try! A good start is knowing your family history: ask your grandparents about when they grew up and what home was like, ask your dad the hardest decision he’s ever made, see how far back you can trace your genealogy. In knowing these things and the struggles that our own blood and spirits have overcome will inspire us and give us strength to overcome our own.
From there, learn the legends, stories, and significant historical events of your culture and people. Dig deep and unearth the wisdom and valuable information within those, and carry it with you kada ha’åni (every day) in everything you do and everything done unto you. One ancestor that we can look to for guidance for a present dilemma is Maga’låhi Hurao. In 1669, he unified 2,000 warriors to fight against the Spanish missionaries and soldiers whom colonized the islands, forcefully converted us to Catholicism, and exploited our people and resources. Four hundred years and two colonial world-powers later, what he did and said can inspire and guide us towards decolonizing ourselves from our new colonizers whom are similarly converting our ways of life and exploiting our resources. Maga’låhi Hurao said,
“The Spanish would have done better to stay in their own country… The knowledge which they have given us has only increased our needs and stimulated our desires… Under the excuse of instructing us, they are corrupting us. They take away from us the primitive simplicity in which we live they dare to take away our liberty which should be dearer to us than life itself. They try to persuade us that we will be happier, and some of us have been blinded into believing their words… If they didn’t have need for us, they would not expose themselves to so many perils and make such efforts to establish themselves in our midst. For what purpose do they teach us except to make us adopt their customs, to subject us to their laws, and to remove the precious liberty left to us by our ancestors?… If we are ignorant and blind, as they would have us believe, it is because we have learned their evil plan too late and have allowed them to settle here… We are stronger than we think! We must regain our former freedom!”
Now put that in today’s context and replace “the Spanish” with “the American government”. Everything still applies because history repeats itself.Although this was a great feat, Maga’låhi Hurao and his men failed three times. Failing three times followed by a typhoon says a lot about the situation. What we can learn from this is that we can’t decolonize ourselves with only 2,000 warriors, we need the entire island in this battle. We can learn that this doesn’t have to be a gory battle, but a well-coordinated transition. Instead of resorting to war, violence, and weapons, we can use peace, love, and education to regain the freedom given to us by our ancestors. Hurao was right though, we are stronger than we think.
Marcus Garvey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Realize and learn how you got here, who helped you, and why you are here. Plant your feet firmly and deeply in your land and strengthen that connection. Look forward to the past to be guided through the unknown future. Tungo i hale’-mu. Grow.
Thank you for reading.
Mahalo no ka heluhelu.
Si Yu’us ma’åse pot i tinaitai-miyu.