Cultural resurgence: Pa'a AmeriCorps Community Linala y Kutturan Chamorro program aims to educate
By Amritha Alladi
August 19, 2009
Before any hint of a military buildup, before the invasion of Japanese troops, and even before Magellan's white sails billowed in Guam's horizon, Guam was home to an indigenous people -- the Chamorro -- a people whose beliefs were steeped in respect for their elders and whose culture centered on the celebration of both the island's beauty and the strength of their communities.
It is that culture that the Pa'a AmeriCorps Community Linala y Kutturan Chamorro program at Agana Heights aims to preserve and promulgate. Through weekly lessons in basket-weaving, chanting and dancing, the program serves to instill awareness and love for the Chamorro culture, according to program director Nicole Calvo. She says Pa'a received funding through an AmeriCorps grant from the Serve Guam Commission.
"What we are trying to do is a resurgence, a renaissance into our ancient culture, something that we've lost," Calvo says.
Charmorro language, cuisine and family values have been retained, but the performing arts are absent from many of the celebrations, according to Calvo.
When Americorps applied for the grant, Agana Heights, Mangilao, Barrigada, Santa Rita and Agat were the municipalities most receptive to the idea, but soon, mayors from other villages followed suit. Now, Dededo, Yona, Talafofo and Inarajan are also taking part.
Americorps has hired Frank Rabon, master of Chamorro dance, to train the island's instructors on Guam's native dances. Rabon says he has been doing ongoing reasearch for the last 30 years, and has studied extensively the dances of the Austronesian, Micronesian and Polynesian islands to recreate a Chamorro dance unique to Guam.
Ironically, he says his generation lost the interest to learn those arts.
"There was a resistance from the elders 25 years ago," he says. "That was something that was not familiar to them, being that (what) they remember were the outside influences."
Instead, it's today's youth who are looking to reconnect with their roots, and so far, teenagers such as 16-year-old Luke Tedtaotao Jr., have been receptive in learning.
Tedtaotao has been learning Chamorro dance for the last six years under the tutelage of Eileen Meno of the Pa'a TaoTao Tano dance troupe, and now, he's attending Rabon's classes. As a child, he said he never bothered to ask his parents or grandparents what Chamorro culture was, but now, he wants to protect his identity.
Initially his peers at school teased him for learning the traditional dance in which he "shakes his butt," but it didn't faze him, he says.
"It's not just entertainment," he says. "This is my passion. It's in my heart to do this."
The costume for the dance is traditional: grass skirts and wooden staffs. Tedtaotao says the women cover up in a simple cloth and the boys and men where loincloths known as "sadi" and carry a wooden staff as the bachelors and warriors of centuries past once did. Tedtaotao says the movements express the stories of their ancestors.
"It's not just, 'Ooh I love this girl or this boy.' It's how strong your ancestors were in the past."
According to Rabon, Guam's hospitality industry needs to "wake up" to this reality. He says there is a Chamorro culture unique to Guam, and that hotels need to "start perpetuating what we are," rather than showcase Hawaiian or Tahitian dances as local.
"Wake up and smell the coffee because it smells good and tastes good," he says. But more than the hotels, it's the local residents who will benefit from the riches Chamorro arts have to offer, he says.
Plus, the classes will also prepare Guam for the 12th Festival of the Pacific Arts competition among the Pacific island nations, which will be hosted in Guam in 2016, says Calvo.
Classes begin this week in villages all over the island. Anyone interested in Chamorro culture is invited to attend.