The People and the Land in Guam

The Pacific Daily News released a fascinating article earlier this month written by Artemia Perez, Juan San Nicolas, Lazaro Quinata and Manuel Cruz and commissioned by Kumision Estoria-ta about how the relationship that CHamoru people have with the land is one of interconnectedness and respect. Their ancestors were not taught to see land as a commodity. Instead, they coexisted with nature and saw themselves as givers just as much as they were takers, protecting and witnessing it as an invaluable force.

Knowledge of the land as both a resource and a connection to life beyond us is seen across many indigenous cultures. Their ancestors, for example, looked to the trongkon niyok (coconut tree) as the tree of life and skillfully utilized every part of it. Additionally, the trongkon nunu (banyan trees) were respected as ancestral homes to the taotaomo’na (the people of before). It was natural for CHamorus to be raised knowing the function and vitality of their land.

History tells us that Spanish expansionism came with the naming and thus claiming of land.

While our ancestors referred to themselves as I taotao tåno, or the people of the land, Spaniards who sought to either conquer land for economic gain or evangelize its people first took to naming it as a means of procuring ownership. In these times of early encounters, European cartographers placed our island on a world map that painted us first as remarkable seafarers, then thieves, and finally an archipelago that honored a queen (Mariana) who had only heard about us in written letters.

From 1565 to 1815, Guåhan was a critical juncture for the Crown of Castille’s Manila Galleon Trade Route, as ships leaving Manila would depart for Mexico loaded with spices, porcelain, silk, ivory and other goods from China. On their return, the ships are said to have carried at least one-third of the silver extracted from Peru, as well as other parts of the Americas. The route was so prosperous and expansive that it is referred to by historians as “The Dawn of the Global Economy,” and “The Birth of Globalization.”

Although the trade route was lucrative, the voyages were treacherous.

With a mortality rate of approximately 50%, the likelihood of malnutrition, starvation, and infection was also a persistent threat to the 400-person crews living in cramped quarters. However, Guahan was much more than a strategic location. The responsibility that CHamorus felt to tend to the land was interwoven into the fabric of their society.

The land and its people, believed to be formed through the love and sacrifice of siblings Fo’na and Pontan, was also managed by clans overseen by siblings — a Maga’lahi and a Maga’håga. CHamoru society was comprised of two classes: The CHamorri and the Manåchang.

The CHamorri were divided into an upper class referred to as Matao and a middle class called Acha’ot. They lived along the coastline and were skilled fishermen. The Manåchang caste lived inland and were skilled agriculturalists. Furthermore, as a matrilineal society, land was passed down through a mother’s bloodline and as a result, much of CHamoru culture was reflective of this high regard for both women and land: providers of life.

The act of taking from or venturing through the land was and continues to be a sacred exchange; usually involving asking permission from either those who tend to the land, or the spirits of the land in the absence of a clear caretaker.

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Ancient Chamorro, picture from http://www.pinterest.com.au

I Kumision Estoria-ta

In preparation for Guam’s participation in the 500th anniversary of the Circumnavigation of the World in 1521, Guam Public Law 35-23 established the Estoria-ta: Inetnon Estudion Umali’e’ yan Umafana’ I Taotao Hiyong yan i Taotao Tano’ — I Kumision Estoria-ta.

Its members are appointed by public officials and organizations which are collaborative partners in telling the Guam story from the CHamoru point of view in 2021.

Mission statement

I Kumision Estoria-ta will serve as the primary vehicle through which the government of Guam and the people of Guam represent the perspective of the CHamoru people of Guam as they encountered the circumnavigation voyage of Magellan and Elcano in 1521. 

It will coordinate heritage and cultural programs, the production of educational materials and establish relationships with international and national partners in order to ensure a rich, vibrant and respected CHamoru perspective on the encounter and the subsequent historical changes to Guam, the Marianas and the Pacific Islands.

As the first Pacific islanders to encounter Europeans, it is a special responsibility of the CHamoru people of Guam to provide our island point of view of the original encounter which is historically accurate and serves as a source of pride for this and succeeding generations.

Platform

The Guam Pacific Daily News in cooperation with the Estoria-ta Kumision, the Guam Preservation Trust, MARC/UOG and Humanities Guåhan is using the media as an alternative platform to provide this historic document, “I Hinanao-ta: Our Journey,” written by our young scholars to portray our history, Guam’s history with our local narrative through the power of perspectives.

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