Recently, one of my students presented to the class his chosen project of translating a Palauan oral tradition surrounding natural birth customs into English — the first time this cultural story is known to have been translated. Gof magof ham yan i klas. He chose to do this because he had recently witnessed the customs firsthand. Another student was also familiar with the tradition, and discussion among the students ensued.
I always enjoy the days when my students present their work to their peers and myself. In graduate school, I never knew much of what my peers were working on in class projects, because we never were asked to share with the class. I only heard about my friends’ work. I enjoyed graduate school enormously, and we had excellent class discussions, but I left feeling disappointed that my professors hadn’t more strongly encouraged our entering into a greater conversation.
I teach a wide range of classes, from 100- to M.A.-level, and in all of my classes, we enter into that conversation. Ultimately, I hope it will allow my students to gain a stronger sense of their own voices and agency.
I am writing and working from an outsider’s perspective on Guam, and there are often days when I feel the awkward weight of this specific positionality — criticisms people have actually said, criticisms I can read in their actions, and criticisms that exist mainly in my own head. What does it mean for me, as myself, to be an ally of the Chamorro people, or in solidarity with the Chamorro people?
Is it even possible, or feasible?
I am very specific about who I am, as well as who I am not. So there are days when I find myself thinking about the Celtic legendary past, or Germanic ancient history. Yes, Fo’na reminds me to remember my own ancestors. Celebrations around me of the ancient Chamorro past open up a road into my own unknowable past, my dreamable past. I think of the curtailed Roman references to woad, which may be after all meaningless, a historian’s whim or mistake.
Irish/German folklore is widely available, though. Game of Thrones. The Lord of the Rings. The Dark is Rising. The Merry Gentry series.
It makes me think about how literature works to reinforce white supremacy but also how literature can reflect and magnify culture. Times trans-shifting, pasts prologuing, prolonging. How legendary or mythos-ridden literature can reflect an ancient Pacific worldview. That is a question I cannot answer myself, but it is definitely a question my students could work toward answering, and it makes me so happy when I see them thinking and working in that vein.