Sågue’ yan Goggue – What will we protect and defend?
A couple of days ago, I made a Facebook post asking the question to the general public, “Chamorro people say prutehi yan difendi – why not use the indigenous words?”
The question fielded a variety of responses from native speakers, language learners, and people curious about the ensuing dialogue. The discussion that followed has inspired me to start blogging about my perspectives on language revitalization and why I choose to learn, write, and create art in fino’ håya and how doing so taps into unique creative potential as a Matao artist, researcher, and cultural practicioner.
In my experience previous interest in ‘traditional’ or pre-contact language and cultural practices has been mired by a fascination with the concept of ‘authenticity’. My hope to avoid this concept and debate to suggest instead that our ‘traditional’ and ‘pre-contact’ language and practices can serve us in understanding our own creative potential and our pathway to asserting self-determination.
Over the past six years, I have pursued complex and often contentious conversations with a variety of cultural people and believe that to do so respectfully, open-heartedly, and generously will increase our capacity to generate robust thinking around issues that often get swept under the rug, sugar-coated, and/or avoided. And because of this, our entire community misses out!
We have been dealt a difficult hand to play in an increasingly inter-cultural and inter-indigenous world. But, my family loves playing cards, and never let a bad hand discourage us from going all in. Luckily, the growing movement to bring the indigenous voices back into their necessary positions as leaders in the global arena, relies on the spirit of mutual cooperation and the inter-connectedness of all life. I believe the revitalization of our cultural worldview will empower our people, and that to do so will bring great healing to the people of the planet, in ways we can barely, if at all, imagine today.
In today’s blog I will focus on the concept of fino’ håya. I will make clear that I define fino’ håya by the meaning of the words itself, ‘the language of the land’ or ‘the language from within the land,’ that is specifically the indigenous words and grammatical structure.
As a student of the language and a baby when it comes to actually speaking fino’ håya fluently, I offer my thoughts not as a language expert, but as a person who wishes to encourage our community to invest in it’s fundamental value. I view this space as a place to develop thoughts which I believe are nascent and in no way completely formed — yet as this is the state of our cultural revitalization — I hope that they can still be of use, either through their articulation and/or bearing witness to their development.
Let me first offer three thoughts on the topic of fino’ håya.
Fino’ Håya – The Language of the Land
I’ve been engaged in conversations around the impacts, affects, and effects of language for some time and it has been brought to my attention by a good friend of mine that ‘English is a trickster language’ because it came into being as a language of economic trade. This feeling about english has been well-documented by (indigenous) scholars who work with the struggle to translate indigenous culture and language into English. A lot of indigenous peoples find that English to be dubious, especially in attempts to translate indigenous concepts, because indigenous languages come form the land/natural world itself, while the English language emerged as a way of human beings accumulating capital and generating commerce.
Fino’ håya literally meaning the language that comes from within the land tell us that our language is seen as being one with the natural world, the environment in which we live. The name of our language alone demonstrates the definition of a ‘formal indigenous culture’ put forth by Māori writer, researcher, & muscician, Charles Royal, that “[a] formal indigenous culture’ is one that is conscious in its relationship with natural world environments” (Royal 2004, self-published ‘Exploring Indigenous’).
After World War II, the U.S. Military dispossessed Matao (Chamorro) of two-thirds of their land which has had devastating impacts on the successive generations of Matao exemplifed by the majority of Matao living outside of their homeland, and almost half of the homeless population on Guåhan are indigenous. To name and claim our language as fino’ håya we assert our fundamental relationship and role as descendants of the land and speakers and inheritors of the language as well as align ourselves with a global indigenous value system which agrees that “(t)he circumstances of life are approached through learnings derived from the natural world. The natural world is considered the best teacher, the embodiment of wisdom. A formal indigenous culture is one that is particular in its articulation of the features of the natural world into the activities of the culture” (Royal 2004, self-published ‘Exploring Indigenous’). Seeing the way we name our language as a cultural activity, when we name ‘fino’ håya’ as such we articulate the way the natural world informs our own identity.
Hagå’-ña or Agaña – The Spirit or the Politic
In many ways, we are on the brink of great change which has the potential to change the way future generations see their relationship to i tano’-ta. One example being the village called Hagå’-ña for thousands of years. Our ancestral stories tell us Hagå’-ña became called so because of the river which ran through the village is the blood of our ancestor.
Once an important waterway for spiritual and practical practices — as noted by the story of the women who saved Guåhan from the Giant Fish — Hagå’-ña concreted over for the Agaña Shopping center, a now polluted, underground waterway, only noticed when it floods the capital. The current seat of political power, the current governor has been investing in the revitalization of the village, focusing on the village’s rich Chamorro (read: Spanish) history.
When one advocates for a delineation between indigenous and Spanish words and cultural traditions, some people suggest that we must be proud of our colonial past and embrace the culture as our ancestors embraced Spanish surnames. I believe this argument under-estimates the force of Spanish colonizing and the limited decisions our ancestors had at the time to maintain indigenous identity, while simultaneously dangerously undervalues the value of indigenous language.
To name the language ‘Fino’ Chamoru’ or ‘Chamoru’ displaces the potential of ‘fino’ håya’ as the name of the language and obscures our fundamental relationship and responsibility to the natural world as taotao håya, people of the land. For example, Hagå’-ña can without consequence become anglicized Agaña, home to the (environmentally) corrupted seat of politics rather than the spiritual center of our people. I would suggest that using the term ‘fino’ håya’ asserts our relationship to Guåhan, Låguas, yan Gåni and points to rectifying land loss and environmental destruction as fundamental issues in the revitalization of our language.