Kantan Manmatatnga

When I first began to really study Chamorro history and culture indepth, I would constantly come across frustrating, empty mentions. The accounts by the Spanish are littered with moments where they mentions something which to a Chamorro today sounds interesting, intriguing, exciting, cool, something we desperately want to know more about. But for people who were primarily interested in forcing a new religion on a people and “saving” their souls, those things weren’t too important, and so they quickly and casually move on. Those of us today are left hanging for the rest of time, wondering what was the substance of that mention. Some aspect of Chamorro culture at that time is invoked, but little explanation or illustration is offered. This is the case with female historical figures, who are barely even mentioned and given little to no description. Parts of Chamorro culture such as dancing, the fighting styles of Chamorros, and so on, where we know they existed from the accounts, but their form lies beyond the text.

We know for example that Chamorros at that time emphasized oration and exaggeration in their public speaking, in particular at social gatherings. We have a few examples that were documented. Trying to recreate or imagine what that style might have been has always been an interesting exercise. Trying to take what we know and what we might be able to assume and give some life to that past. This is a form of decolonization. Taking those things in your past, which you may feel were stripped and stolen from you and giving them life again. It is creative, it is invention, there may be adaptation and innovation, but this is an important reminder that the idea that native peoples are rooted in tradition and in a sense stuck to those things and non-existent once detached from them is part of the limiting gaze which we have been long ensnared in. There are traditions, there are ways that we can keep things alive, preserve them, but part of life is also being able to create and recreate. To create anew. To create after a great loss. When we see the caricature that many people have about indigenous people and their cultures and culture loss, it is ridiculous and unsustainable. I have often written about this in terms of dance. How when the dances that were alive at the time of Spanish occupation were lost, Chamorros did not stamp their name on dances for centuries. Only recently have they begun to create and connect again. To stay within that limiting caricature is akin to someone having their shoes stolen and then screaming that they will never wear shoes again!

To make a long story short. I began writing what I thought were interesting epic poems in Chamorro that might be something similar to what Chamorros created long ago. I drew inspiration from different warrior cultures throughout time, Spartans, Vikings, Romans, Mongolians and taking some of their texts, poems, lyrics and seeing how it sounded in Chamorro. Here is one that I wrote up years ago, based off of a Viking prayer, which was popularized in the film The 13th Warrior. Here it is:

Guatu guihi hu li’e Si Nana-hu
Guatu guihi hu li’e Si tata-hu yan todu i mane’lu-hu
Guatu guihi hu fakcha’i i hale’ i taotao-hu guihi gi i fanutuhan’an
Ai ma katiyi yu’
Ma agangi yu’ sumaonao siha na u fanhami
Gi i gima’ i langhet
Nai manla’la’la’ i manmatatnga taifinakpo’

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One thought on “Kantan Manmatatnga

  1. This is beautiful. It is what is needed to build our body of literature.

    But I also think we can together begin to remember our dreams. Pay attention to our dreams to call up and bring back to life that consciousness that was never lost.

    I see that so much now in your generations. Saina Ma’ase.


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