Guinaiyan Guåhan

Buenas yan håfa adai! Aloha nui!

As I took my final exams, thanked teachers, and packed up my dorm room to close my first year at Kapi`olani Community College in O`ahu, Hawai`i, I felt very sentimental. I couldn’t help but reflect on the beginning of a very pivotal chapter of the rest of my life. A lot of time, learning experiences, and preparation went into moving to Hawai`i, so it wasn’t a smooth, easy jump from the nest.

My first year as an independent adult in Hawai`i was very difficult. In the first two summer months, I struggled to make connections while maintaining a strong identity in a new land. I was somewhat lonely having only a handful of friends to connect with, and little to no means of transportation to explore. I had many expectations from the anticipation of arriving that led to many disappointments. However, encouragement from loved ones, and the warm, embracing arms of family and O`ahu herself eased me into a new life. Throughout my first semester, I struggled learning to live on my own; I had to fend for myself and defend myself. It’s mapot (difficult) to be independent; working two jobs and going to school full time leaves me with little to no time to be carefree. I struggled to manage my time and attention between school, work, and homework; manage my finances to ensure that I can afford living expenses and tuition; and take care of myself. I made gof meggagai (many many many) mistakes, and stumbled a few times, got sick and injured the most in my life, met and unmet different people, but grew tougher, wiser, and more responsible. I learned so much so quickly, ultimately because I didn’t have a choice; either learn to swim or drown. Despite all the hardships and i minahålang (the feeling of missing a person/people), I was exposed to the mana (spiritual potential) of Hawai`i. I opened my eyes, my ears, and my heart to her, and she blessed me with the beauty of her spirit. As I walked through i tano/ke `āina (the land), touched i hanom fresku/ka wai (the freshwater), and swam in i tasi/ke kai (the ocean), I could feel her feeling me. I learned fundamental pillars of Hawaiian culture, history, and heritage which helped me see Hawai`i from a more insular perspective. It wasn’t hard to love her.

Things began to turn for the better as I entered my second semester and seventh month in Hawai`i. I expelled all the negative energy and vibes from my life and let only positive energy flow through me. Hawai`i has taught me that what you put in is you get out, and what you give is what you get. For example, I shared sustenance and conversations with so many people because cooking with si nanå-hu biha yan si tatå-hu meant cooking to feed families. Per karma and inafa’maolek (see Inafa’maolek in earlier posts), my mini-fridge was never empty and my stomach was always full. I learned to manage my time relatively more efficiently, when to apply myself, and when not to apply myself. With healing time and trust in Asaina/ke Akua (the Lord), I was better able to open up, bring down defensive walls I built so high, and connect with genuine, loving people. I have learned that food, good times, and memories are most enjoyable shared.

I participated in an enriching service-learning organization called Mālama I Nā Ahupua`a which means to setbe (take care of) land divisions. An ahupua`a is an ancient Hawaiian division from the tip of a mountain to the coral reefs in which mågas siha/ali`i (chiefs) would manage resources to sustain local populations and future generations. Through the program, I helped restore sacred cultural sites and perpetuate traditional Hawaiian culture, values, and beliefs. I heard the stories of i taotaomo’na/nā kūpuna (those that came before) through the voices of their descendants. Both generations welcomed me, and I felt blessed, humbled, and immensely grateful. I learned a lot about plants and the island ecosystems of Hawai`i nei, which set the course for my college path. Ecology of the Hawaiian Islands taught by my Kumu Mike Ross unearthed my love and curiosity for the environment and the inner scientist in me. Kintodu i aniten tåno yan tåsi (with the spirits of the land and sea), I decided to major in Environmental Studies along with my original goal of Pacific Island Studies. Of course, I made meggai mistakes again, but I acknowledged them, accepted them, learned from them, and moved on taking the lessons as tools in my brain or scars on my skin. I was almost sad to leave.

Being away from my home island of Guåhan and my family for a whole year made me incredibly grateful and appreciative, because again, you never truly appreciate something until it’s gone. A year away from my home in another people’s home made me appreciate what it means to have roots and history. In Guåhan, I am a native daughter of a 4,500 year-old people, society, and culture where the ancient spirits communicated with me and loved me. In this big, new island of O`ahu​, I was a haole (foreigner) with no connections aside from my feet on the ground. Over time, I learned that what you do and who you associate with, whatever land you are in, are the seeds you plant. With time, love, trust, sunshine, rain, and a little dirt, your seeds will grow, root deeper and deeper into the land, and branch higher and higher above the earth, making all kinds of connections. Being away from family for so long made me love and appreciate i mangaffå-ku on a much deeper level. Although I have a few aunties and uncles in Hawai`i, I couldn’t lean on them as much as my family and I leaned on each other. Not only did I realize how much ma sumesetbe yan ma pumupulan yu (they took care of and watched over me), but how much I depended on them for love, comfort, support, and physical and spiritual nourishment. I didn’t have my parents to hug and kiss goodnight, nor my Grandma Kotla’s house where I can eat and sleep anytime, nor older cousins to keep an eye out for me in potentially dangerous situations. I was so scared at times, but with trust in God, the spirits, and my family, fear did not prevent me from life. I learned how to always have my own back because if not, no one else will.

I have been home for about four weeks now and every single day has been a blessing. Guåhan has never been so gåtbo (beautiful) and mångge (gooooood). I hinasso-ku, i tatatato-hu, yan i ante-hu (my thoughts, my body, and my soul) feel replenished, healthy,  and whole again. I’m watering my roots and absorbing i fino’-ta (our language), ginefli’en mañaina-hu (wisdom of my elders), yan guinaiyan Guåhan (the love of Guåhan) as much as I can before I have to cross the ocean again. I know that it will be 12,000 times harder to dingu ta’lo (leave again), and as much as it will puti yu’, hu tungo na siempre na fitme yu (hurt me, I know that it will make me stronger).

I’m wholeheartedly grateful and truly blessed to be home again. I wish that I can spend time with everyone I know and love, and go everywhere that I haven’t been, but time won’t allow me. Please forgive me if we didn’t have time, and remember that tatman yu mågi ta’lo (I will be back again) because this is where I belong.

Saina ma’åse pot i tinaitai-miyu.

Mahalo no ka heluhelu.

Thank you for reading.

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Tumututuhon Ta’lo

Håfa adai and aloha!

Dispensa yu for not writing sooner, I am still getting into the motion of school, work, my internship at a marine lab, independence, and having fun. I can’t really sum up my time here in Hawai’i into one feeling so far; there have been different waves of events and emotions that I got caught up in and am still swimming out of. It was hard to adjust to living in a new place with barely anyone I knew. Before leaving Guåhan, I imagined my summer would consist of exploring and adventuring beautiful Hawai’i nei, but there is only so much one can do by oneself in an unfamiliar place. To add to that, i minahålang  (the feeling of missing someone) is real. Too often I would catch myself lingering in the past, looking back at happy memories of home, missing nånan Guåhan and i mangaffå-ku, and turning away from the path laid out in front of me and all the adventures it holds. I feel that way once in a while, but by going back to the faith of i mañaina-hu, I am able to see and seize moments as they come, appreciate them, and keep moving forward.

Moving to a foreign land, another people’s home is a humbling experience. All my life, I’ve been an indigenous child of the land that loved it, knew it, and was a part of it, but now I’m an outsider. I felt like an intruder at times because Hawai’i is already overpopulated, and like Guåhan, the indigenous people are a dwindling minority. In addition, it was hard to transition from going anywhere on Guåhan and seeing your auntie or old friend, to coming to a new place where you don’t know ANYONE. As a result, for the first time in my life, I tried to fit in. I wanted to be a kama’aina (child of the land) so badly so I could connect with locals, learn their culture, and fill the voids of my loved ones back home, but in doing that, I sort of uprooted myself. I realized ti kama’aina yu. Taotao tåno yu… Hagan Guåhan yu (I am not kama’aina. I’m of [Chamoru] land… I’m a daughter of Guåhan). No, I’m not local to this land, but I do respect it and love it like I am. I am not Hawaiian, but I’m one of their Pacific primus (cousins) with similar values of family, respect, and nature. Tumututuhon yu ta’lo (I was beginning again). I had to start from the bottom once more, but by using my open mind and heart, my experiences, my culture, and my håfa adai spirit as tools, I can build my new life, place new roots, and branch out. Hopefully my Kanaka Maoli cousins come around soon, I just have to be my Chamoru self.

Aside from my sad moments, I’ve been making the most of my time here in beautiful Hawai’i nei. I have connected with many Chamorus which made me feel a little more at home. I’ve explored and learned about Hawai’i, her history, and her culture through academic sources (although learning first-hand from the perpetuators and keepers of the culture themselves is the best way to learn a culture, I had to start somewhere). I connected to the land and the ocean here, and can feel the mana (spiritual potential) all around. I also learned the art of surfing, though I’m only a beginner. I have dreamt about surfing my whole life, so I was extremely blessed to start learning in its sacred birthplace.

When times get tough and i minahålang tugs at my heart, I try to refocus on why I came out here in the first place: my mission. There are so many things to learn, adventures to go on, and experiences to undergo anywhere I go that will make me a smarter, stronger, humbler, and worldly person, more equipped to defend my island, protect my culture, and serve my people.

Mahalo no ka heluhelu

Si Yu’us ma’åse pot i tinaitai-miyu