Sunday, January 03, 2010

First person: Land is our cultural archive

First person: Land is our cultural archive

Monday, 04 January 2010 01:23 by Jude Lizama | Variety News Staff

IT is quite sad to acknowledge positive life-changing experiences are generally diluted and essentially robbed of all vigor by the mundane - and at times - trivial activities members of modern society commonly identify as necessary.

Teke Kaminaga is all smiles as he enjoys the strong coastal breeze after hiking through the Pagat jungle to visit ancient Chamorro village sites and freshwater caves. Photos by Jude Lizama/Variety

Additionally, the high volume of these modern time eating activities has directly caused these empowering experiences to become extremely rare.

Until this past weekend, I was a culturally blind and apathetic Chamorro man. I attended a Saturday hike in Pagat Mangilao to visit freshwater caves, remains of ancient Chamorro villages and more importantly, lands the U.S. military is threatening to wrest from the indigenous people. “We Are Guahan” headed the hike.

Understand, I am not ignoring what many debate as the cost of freedom. I only wish to express personal befuddlement as to why the Chamorro people, who also happen to be citizens of the U.S., must make sacrifices so severe they conflict with the very definition of the word “freedom.”

I refer to the potential of losing access to an area where our ancestors’ bones lie; an area where they experienced their own respective failures and successes, just as all humans do.

An assembly of a “meeting of the minds” by the We Are Guahan group, shortly after the release of the draft environmental impact statement, sought to educate and empower the population through the dissemination of information.

The hike was a shift away from informational pamphlets to education through experience.

Blanketed by the thickness of our island air we hiked through wildly growing foliage as the fury of the sun struggled to permeate the lush green jungle canopy with its white hot rays.

We hiked together, people of all ethnicities, to see some of the ancient Chamorro legacy: lusong – or grinding stones - undisturbed in the jungle’s tranquility, freshwater caves unobtrusively nestled away from even the trained eye and withered latte stones; all cultural gems and evidence of a past life in an area where soldiers would hone death-dealing skills.

Hike leader, Kie Susuico, told me “Chamorro culture is connection to the land. I hope, on some level, this hike helps people reestablish with the land and our history. Seeing these sites has helped me appreciate our history and our culture more. It’s also made the island bigger for me. For me, it’s about paying respect to our ancestors, and letting them know that some of us have not forgotten.”

The halfway point of the hike was a treat as the seemingly unforgiving jungle peeled back its suffocating tentacles only to reveal powerful and refreshing ocean winds.

Please know that the Chamorros and those who respect our cultural values and resources do not have much left to protect. We have a deep affinity for our culture and our land, and we will protect it. We are a humble, peace loving people. We respect our elders, especially those who have passed.

As an unincorporated territory of the United States, why do our own “countrymen” look to blatantly disrespect our ancestors? Perhaps the ties of kinship in this relationship are made healthy only by sacrificing all things sacred. Perhaps kinship withers when dominant nations feel threatened; when “might is right,” displays an inconsistent success rate.

Che Guevara wrote, “…when the great guiding spirit cleaves humanity into two antagonistic halves, I will be with the people.”

My soul tells me that I must be steadfast for the Chamorro people. What does your soul tell you? When a once culturally strong people find comfort in apathy, intuition will lift the veil of cultural blindness only when it is too late. By then, there will be no culture to preserve; there will be no culture to live for.

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