Why not the Chamorro? A possible peer in Taino cultural revival...

The discussion regarding the Taino language inspired me to further research other indigenous peoples who may be like us; folks struggling with their own individual decolonization while trying to help heal that of their people, reviving the culture and those things that are important to it, making it all work together- past, present and future-in balance. A people that may be similar to my own, in the ways I feel are important. My priorities lie in relationships; how we relate to ourselves, how we relate with each other, with the community and with the world at large. This to me, is the basis of society, and everything else depends on it.

When the Maori people were introduced as a possible example to follow and look up to in the growth of our Nation, I expressed disfavor regarding the idea. Although the Maori are an island dwelling people who also suffered colonization, I personally believe that the similarities between the Maori and the Taino people pretty much end there. In my opinion, the similarities we do share are cosmetic, too superficial to carry any real weight when it comes to rebuilding. The differences in our indigenous histories, customs and methods of colonization, as well as the identity of the colonizers can, and does, affect the world view of the people that are in existence today. These differences are important and need to be taken into consideration when seeking indigenous peer groups we can look up to, to serve as models in the growth of the Taino Nation. However, although I did not agree with the Maori people as a response, I find the questions it sought to answer not only important, but challenging.

Who comes from the same place we do? Who can we look up to in our growth? Who is our most related peer?

In reading up on different peoples, I have found that instead of the Maori, we have a lot more in common with the Chamorro people of Guahan (Guam). I found the similarities quite engaging. It was exciting, because the parallels were both deep and numerous even thought the Chamorro and the Taino are on opposite sides of the planet.

Ancient Chamorro social structure is very similar to ours, much more than that of the Maori. The Maori recognized inheritance via both parental lines, however, the chiefdom was more often passed through the male line- the first son of the first son of the first son- all the way to the original common ancestor that arrived to Aotearoa (New Zealand). This is a long and powerful patrifocal chain for that family group. The women could be assertive and achieve some social position but there were limits to their public interaction and socio-political aspirations. Maori Society was group oriented but the dominant factor was masculine. In contrast, the Chamorro and the Taino were both matrifocal and matrilineal, with the inheritance of land and title via the mother’s line. Like many ancient societies, the Maori, the Chamorro and the Taino had defined social stratification: nobility, sub-nobles and slaves/commoners. However, the Chamorro and the Taino are far more similar due to the strong female focus they share. Our women were community leaders, holding positions of power and respect among the people; on many occasions they wielded the authority to impose disciplinary action, choose tribal leaders and even deciding if the people were to go to war.

Guam’s first contact with Europe was with the Spanish conquerors who arrived on their shores just 30 years after they hit the Caribbean. This means our people were contemporaries upon first contact. I believe that the Spanish conquerors used subjugation techniques polished during the Inquisition and the Reconquista, not only on the Caribbean people, but everywhere they went. I offer that the Chamorro people suffered the same abuses the Taino did and where colonized in the same, or similar, manner in which we were. They also had but a few thousand people left by the 18th century, when they were appropriated by the United States as “spoils of war”, just like we were: in the same war, at the same time. Like Boriken, the people of Guam were subjected first to Spanish colonization, and then American colonization.

Our histories diverge in 1941, during the Japanese occupation. This ended in 1944, when the Americans “came to the rescue”. I believe those 3 years of Asian occupation makes a difference in the development of a people and their society, so I acknowledge this difference between us. However, I feel that the similarities we share far outweigh the differences; similarities shared with no one else… At this present moment, they are still an American territory, their people are a mix of the original indigenous people and other cultures and they are reviving their Chamorro culture, language and life while incorporating the world as it is now. They have changed the names and spelling of their lands and towns back to the original names given by the Chamorros themselves, something we are just talking about. And presently, they are seeking indigenous sovereignty and pressing for decolonization, to the point of independence from the US! This shows the Chamorro to be a people of courage, a people of heart, and a peer worthy of admiration.

I believe that in the Chamorro we have a relative with whom we can actually relate to much more closely than any other indigenous island people out there. The Chamorro are someone we can look up to, someone we can vent with, someone to share with, to teach and learn from while we work towards our independent, but similar goals; looking for a way back to remember our future.

(c) Anita “Nanu” Pagan, May 2009

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