Last night I watched the film “Last Knights” which is based on the story of the Chushingura or the Legend of the 47 Ronin. Over the years this story of loyalty, courage, honor and sacrifice has been retold in numerous ways, even treated to a Keanu Reeves version in 2013. The basic story deals with a feudal Japanese lord who commits an offense to one of the officials of the Emperor and as a result is forced to commit seppuku and all his samurai become ronin. Rather than move on however, the master-less samurai spend more than a year secretly planning their revenge, all the while under the surveillance of others. One night they attack the compound of the official who was responsible for the death of their master and behead him. They then walk several miles to the grave of their lord and leave the trophy as a sign of their loyalty and that his honor has been restored. They are all initially condemned as murderous outlaws, but allowed to commit ritual suicide to keep their honor and later become national icons and heroes.
As with similar epic national tales such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the multiple creative versions of this historical moment lead to issues over what part are fact and what parts are fiction. But what is important for us to consider is the ways that these stories are continually re-imagined and remade and bring life and meaning to different generations. They way generations hundreds or thousands of years later feel compelled to return there in order to make statements about today.
One saying in Japan about this is that to know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know the soul of Japan. People may contest this particular way of viewing or understanding the soul of the Japanese people, but if we are to look at Guam/Chamorro history, what story do we have that holds a similar place? What story do we tell in the same way? Do we have such stories or have we just adopted the stories of others and then pretended they are our own?