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  • By Louella Losinio

Where thoughts and words share a common DNA factor

A shared history of colonialism and migration, a strong seafaring tradition and commonalities in culture and language connect the Philippines and Guam, according to Dr. Felipe de Leon Jr., chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in the Philippines.

De Leon, spoke about these connections during the 8th Philippine Studies Lecture on “Strengthening Philippine-Guamanian Relations through Cultural Understanding,” held recently at the University of Guam.

Marciano R. De Borja, Philippine consul general in Agana, introduced De Leon as a person who lives and breathes culture and the arts: a composer, scholar, professor and cultural administrator. This is of no surprise, according to De Borja, given the NCCA chairman’s artistic pedigree. In fact, he said De Leon is the son of the Philippine National Artist for Music, Felipe Padilla De Leon, who wrote the first full-length Filipino opera.

De Leon is also known for establishing Schools of Living Traditions in the Philippines. The concept involves a living cultural master or bearer teaching or handing-down the traditional skills and techniques distinctive of a particular artistic or traditional discipline.

According to De Leon, he has always been interested in the Asia Pacific region.“This is the area of the Austronesians, meaning the Southern islanders, who have been the greatest seafarers of all time. In fact, before colonization, the widest coverage of any language is probably the Austronesians,” he added.

He said the great Austronesian family of languages, which includes Chamorro and Filipino, includes more than 1,200 members. “Austronesia is the family of language that first developed in Taiwan some 5,000 years ago, and spread from there through the Philippines, to Indonesia and Malaysia and ultimately into all the habitable islands of the Pacific, with some groups settling in mainland Southeast Asia, and as far as Madagascar,” De Leon said.

He emphasized the link between the Filipino and Chamorro language saying that nearly all Austronesian languages share the same matrix of cultural and technological ideas. He added that all Austronesian languages share a common ancestral language, a common DNA factor.

“All of our modern languages started as a dialect of that single ancestral language and that single language embedded its concepts and grammar into all of the modern Austronesian languages and therefore carries over even into our modern cultures,” De Leon said.

He said Chamorro is an independent branch of Proto-Austronesian and does not belong to the Philippine group of languages as a whole. However, De Leon noted some similar words in both languages which elicited reactions of interest from the audience. An example is the word “male,” which translates to lalaki in Filipino and lalahi in Chamorro. Another is “sneeze,” which translates to “hatsing” in Filipino and “hachem” in Chamorro.

De Leon also described the shared cultural heritage among the Austronesian language family, such as the “preference for stories with happy endings, mountains as sacred sites, the high degree of gender equality, and the ability to live with one another in peaceful co-existence.”

“We have evidence of six or seven distinct cultures in Thailand during the first millennium B.C. How can cultures be so close to each other and yet retain separate identities over at least several hundred years yet the core values, perception and traits are still there because all of our languages evolved from the same ancestral source or ancestral voice” he said.

De Leon described the similarities between Filipino and Chamorro culture such as the practice of Inafa Maolek and “pakikipagkapwa,” which are similar for giving high importance to social relationships.

“It is the value of belongingness, sensitivity to the feelings of others and avoidance of conflict with other people. These values of inafa maolek and pakikipagkapwa overcome egocentrism as they promote a shared identity of the group a community,” he said.

Similarly, he related “pakikipagkapwa” to the Chamorro social code of ina’gofli’e and inimi’di. De Leon said the concept of “kapwa,” in Filipino culture means “the other person is also yourself,” implying oneness and solidarity. In the same way, ina’gofli’e, a Chamorro core value, puts importance to caring for one another or working together, while inimi’di, refers to the concept of belonging and collectivism.

De Leon also discussed cultural differences across the Austronesian language groups, which occurred due variations caused by several factors. These factors include geographical distance, time adoption of foreign vocabularies, religions, and certain historical events such as colonialism, which has led to changes in these societies.

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