famalaoan / Ineyak / kuttura

Mother tongue

Hawaiki Rising is a book by Sam Low that covers traditional Pacific navigation.  We are planning to review it in the Fanuchanan 2015 issue of Pacific Asia Inquiry (University of Guam), a special issue on women, gender, children, and the family.

Tonight, I watched Sam Low’s documentary The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific with my parents.  It describes a Satawal (Yap State, Micronesia) sailing voyage led by Mau Pialiug and other traditional Pacific navigation and history, including the over 150 stars that Pialiug had committed to memory.

We’re also looking to review Lino Olopai’s The Rope of Tradition.  It’s already received some attention from the Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (2005) but according to the publisher has never received an academic book review.

You may be asking yourself how in the world navigation fits into a journal issue on women, gender, children, and the family.

I have also encountered a lot of people who ask why Guam or Micronesia “needs” a women and gender studies program.  It seems very Westernized, and in fact Haunani-Kay Trask (whose doctoral dissertation for UW-Madison, later published as a book, applied radical feminist theory) has written in “Feminism and Indigenous Hawaiian Nationalism” that she doesn’t find Western “feminism” to fit with her goals of Hawaiian nationalism, and in fact she never thought about gender solidarity in her activism.  On the other hand, Laura Torres Souder argues that Ancient Chamorro women had significant roles in society, ones that scandalized Catholic priests coming from patriarchal Europe, and supported the creation of a women’s studies program on Guam.

I’ve been asked why Chamorro people need women and gender studies.  Well, no one “needs” any academic program of study necessarily.  However, the answer is that some women are Chamorro and some Chamorro people are women.  And that gender plays a part in Chamorro society which is quite interesting.  Several of my female Chamorro colleagues at UOG have educated me a little through presentations at conferences, writings, and informal conversations about the importance of brother-sister relations in social leadership.  Women, manmaga’håga, led villages alongside brothers.  The creation story of the Chamorro people gives a great deal of agency and action to the sister Fu’una, whose brother Puntan passes away at the beginning of the story.  She memorializes him and herself by creating the people and land and sun and moon, and everything here.

But navigation?  How does that fit in?

The short answer is that, in my professorial point of view, everything is influenced by gender.  Everything is touched by gender in society.  There is no one whose gender doesn’t function socially.  We don’t usually view men as gendered, because in the Western mind the masculine man is the default neutral position, and all else is deviant.  But the masculine gender is absolutely fascinating from a scholarly point of view and certainly deserves our academic study.  There is a whole field within the broader umbrella of “women and gender studies” called masculinity studies; Michael Kimmel and Paul Amar are two of the scholars in that field who I have recently been reading most.

What I found quite interesting from the Navigators documentary was that, for the Yapese portrayed in the film, the ocean was men’s domain.  This is parallel to what I understand of ancient Chamorro society that the sea beyond the reefs was men’s domain as well.

Gender roles are arbitrary: socially and culturally constructed.  Souder is also the kamarera by matrilineal descent, an important role in the Catholic Chamorro church, as the church made certain concessions to the avuncular-matrilineal culture on Guam in order to win over the people.

In women and gender studies, we do not understand the sea as men’s domain.  We look at why a culture might have constructed it to be so in their minds and practices.  We do not start with assumptions.  We look at what is present, and at what is present in many different cultures, and ask “why.”  Or in our own lives, we look at the roles others require of us, and we ask “why.”  And we listen to our guts.  We listen to our own tears.  We listen to our own pain.

Your body is your mother tongue.  We must listen to the body, not dull or ignore its pains, its soul pangs as much as its physical injuries.  (I’ve forgotten who wrote that . . . I’m only paraphrasing here.)

I don’t have answers at present, but I have a lot of questions, and I am fascinated.


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