Håfa Adai! Sometimes a shift in consciousness takes a whole generation of work and achievement before it can be appreciably measured. Yet, in the case of reviving i kotturan CHamoru (the CHamoru culture), I can feel within our community a groundswell of yearning and commitment to reacquaint with Guam’s indigenous heritage.
The tourism lull during the pandemic presented an opportune time to center our mindset as a destination and to harness that energy and resurgence of cultural pride.
I enlisted the Mayors’ Council of Guam from the get-go, knowing that they were a critical component in any effort to solidify, advance and promote an authentic Guam experience. After all, while Tumon might be our visitor hub, it is our villages and our people that truly offer the best of Destination Guam USA.
I am so grateful to our island mayors, who not only signed on enthusiastically to our request for their partnership, but have gone above and beyond to do their part.
From taking it upon themselves to water-blast and clean landmarks and visitor sites even past the boundaries of their respective villages, to offering up innovative and creative ideas on how to optimize our island’s treasures for visitors and residents alike, our mayors have been invaluable and deserve our highest praise!
Picking up where we left off
While there’s no escaping the fact that the world and Guam’s role in it have changed too much for us ever to return to prewar life, we can still study that period and the eras that preceded it to reframe our cultural identity and our relationships with one another to deepen and authenticate our civil interactions.
And by viewing our everyday lives through the long lens of our 4,000-year CHamoru history, we will be all the better equipped to distinguish the Guam experience in the hearts and minds of all those who pay to visit our one-of-a-kind island.
Furthermore, a mounting cultural renaissance will only help artisans, entrepreneurs, and mom and pop businesses to think through ways to authenticate visitor experiences with the hallmarks of CHamoru culture, be it with warm “Håfa Adai” greetings and a CHamoru-centric sense of welcome; through the infusion of the vernacular into everyday conversation and the naming of products and services; through a proud return to a modernized version of living off the fat of our bountiful land; through the ancestral work ethic and CHamoru flair interwoven into finished goods proudly produced right here on island; or through the way we beautify and maintain our villages as much for a sense of ownership and pride as for welcoming all guests enthusiastically!
And let us never forget that the strength of cultural tourism hinges on the survival of our culture, and our culture, in turn, is inextricably linked to our language.
The surest way to celebrate and safeguard our lifeblood as a people is to instill in even the youngest among us a deep love and appreciation for our beautiful CHamoru culture and language.
To anyone who is struggling to feel pride in our CHamoru culture and language or who thinks cultural revival is a lost cause, I challenge you to spend even one hour among the youngsters attending Chief Hurao Academy CHamoru immersion school in Barrigada.
Tånom i simiya tåftåf. That is a pearl of CHamoru wisdom advising us to plant our seeds early, and that is exactly what Chief Hurao not only does within the school day, but also gives families the tools to do at home: Plant the seeds of our culture and language in our famagu’on (children), so they will grow strongly rooted in our culture.
I had the distinct honor of joining the Chief Hurao family for a recent hinanao pumasehu (field trip), as the proud grandfather of a 3-year-old little girl in the Manneni (toddlers) class.
As this group of children ranging from toddlers to teens paid homage to an ancient CHamoru burial site and original åcho’ latte (latte stones), the school president, Angelana Sablan, spoke so movingly in our CHamoru language as she explained to these youngsters the deep significance of the hallowed ground upon which they stood. The children chanted and sang songs of reverence, and I was moved to tears.
Whether those little children realize it yet or not, under the tutelage of their language, history and culture instructors, they are the key reason the CHamoru culture and language will not only survive, but thrive in Guam.
My granddaughter comes home proudly singing the CHamoru songs she learns, and there is a line in one song she sings that struck me. In her tiny voice that matches her tiny stature, she sings: Hu’u, hu tungo’ håyi yu! Yes, I know who I am!
I applaud Chief Hurao for helping to ensure that our children always know who they are and how important it is that they never forget it.
My team and I are committed to keeping our culture at the forefront of any and every effort to reshape and rebuild our tourism market.
In so doing, for the sake of our pride as a people with a compelling story to tell and earn a living from, we deserve to keep our history thriving and our culture strong and on full display not only for the visitors we welcome from off island, but for ourselves and fellow residents, lest we lose sight of all the ways CHamoru culture adds enduring value to the world we inhabit.