Final Keynote Speaker – Indigenous Languages Conference
Inaugural Session, Festival of the Pacific Arts, Guam, 2016
I Unibetsedåt Guåhan
Notes by Isa Kelley Bowman
Rev. Dr. Upolu Luma Vaai (Pacific Theological College, Samoa)
The cosmic community
everyone and everything included, not just people
saluations and respect, tåno’, ancestors, spirits, sea, Chamorro people, etc.
We are in solidarity all the way with you Chamorro people in your struggle.
I am no professional linguist. I am not here as a scholar or academic. Passion for indigenous philosophy, including language. Indigenous language connects me to god, to my brothers and sisters, to the land and the sea.
“Language is the breast that feeds knowledge from within the maternal organs of culture. Culture is knowledge.”
Story of the Tapuitea. A star. Very cruel and ferocious to brother. Finally wanted to restore relationship. Offered herself as a gift to her brother, to be a star, a light for him forever. The sacredness of the brother-sister bond, the most important relationship. Tapuitea, a living symbol of relationality. Consciousness, foundational in Pacific epistemology, the relational consciousness.
- “both/and” (not “either/or”)
- manava (womb) – the center of leaning, one’s being, one’s identity. To eat is to know, to believe.
A decolonized approach to language
Tapuitea crosses between spaces without emotional conflict. Can move from one end of the sky to another in one night without confusion. Bring opposite spaces into relational unity. Crossing of time as well. A symbol. When she shines in the west, it signals storytime, geneaologies, origin stories, etc. Dialogue with legends, folklore. From the east — symbolic search for new thinking and new life.
Not a past/present/future approach where past is ignored because it is nonexistant. Present/past/future approach, which offers a way forward by first going backward.
Dualisms and polarized ideologies that centralize language in one single space or time. Notion of “purity” — part of the “one truth” ideology of the empire, restricting truth to one space, one generation, one period of time.
Define language within the structure of heritage and tradition. Suggesting language must retain its “pure,” pre-Contact state — not good idea. Embrace tradition, but blind to reality of change.
Transhistorical approach. Language is current and future, glued to social, political, economic changes and processes. Blame the older generation for being backward-looking and old-fashioned. Linear approach emphasizes centralization, standardization, confined to a certain time in history, very imperial approach. The Empire is both external and internal. Colon — to digest. Colonization – the individual is centered, digesting all other systems that give life to communities. We must confront any mentalities that privilege imperial mentalities and disempower Pacific ones.
Theology of cononut, sea, turtle . . . Revitalize and preserve. True and selfless gift-giving should come from within.
Mutual relationship, expressed in spoken words. The mind, the whole person, not just the mind as academic values. Drive those words into actions. “Fourfold structure of knowledge. Knowing, doing, relating, being. This process should be from birth to death. Empowers our people to fight for the right to land, the right to exist! We stand in solidarity with all the Chamorro people and with all whose languages are endangered. Value of our relational communities in the Pacific. Know who we are first before we know others. Our life-world, the world of our people.
- Collaborate with local governments to implement local polities, Sustainable Development Goals, ensure indigenous languages are taught, have same status.
- Forum to drive the aims and goals of language revitalization. Interaction, scholarly research collaboration, share knowledge. Use indigenous language as the language of instruction. Also for assignments, for theses. Hawaii and New Zealand already do this, up to Ph.D. level. Institutional collaboration across the Pacific.
- Conduct local and subregional language pre-conference that build up to the main FestPac one. Address language issues at those levels and propose suggestions for the main conference, every four years.
I stand in solidarity with the Chamorro people and all those whose languages are endangered.