Dr. Robert Underwood, chair of I Estoria-Ta Commission, discusses the panel's duties and plans for the 500th anniversary of the Spanish expedition during a press conference in Hagatna on Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Alex Rhowuniong
As the world prepares to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Spanish expedition that landed on Guam in March 1521, a local panel hopes to correct a 500-year old legacy that labeled Guam "Isla de los Ladrones" (Island of Thieves).
“We know that even though that was a historically significant event— it changed a lot of things in the world— we also know that it was a tragic event. We acknowledge that there was tragedy associated with it,” said Dr. Robert Underwood, former congressman and former president of the University of Guam.
“And one of the enduring legacy that came out of that is that. We ended up being named Islas de los Ladrones! Island of Thieves! Maybe in a formal way, we’ll be able to deal with that and correct it in the course of this 500th anniversary.”
In a press conference in Hagatna on Wednesday, the newly formed I Estoria-Ta Commission, established last summer by virtue of Guam Public Law 35-23, defined its purpose and announced a host of planned activities to kick off soon, leading up to the anniversary in March 2021.
“We’re here to announce various things,” said Underwood, commission chair, opening the press conference. “One is that we are the members of the I Estoria-Ta Commission.”
The commission unveiled is logo, symbolizing the significance of this 500th anniversary.
Dr. Michael Bevacqua, commissioner representing the Department of CHamoru Affairs, explained that such logo— an artwork within the frame of a sling stone containing elements and colors from the official seal of Guam— portrays a Spanish vessel on blue waters along with a CHamoru sakman side by side moving forward.
“An important message,” continued Bevacqua, “the ocean connects us, right? So it’s part of reclaiming that idea that the ocean is not something that isolates us. But it connects us to our neighbors in Micronesia and the Pacific. And it can also connect us to people from across the sea in Europe.”
The UOG professor said keeping in line with the name and the spirit of the commission, “there is a sense of balance between the two ships. It’s not one ship in front of the other, one ship discovering the other, but a balance, a dialogue.”
The anniversary, Underwood said, will draw global attention. Soon, the commission will “unleash a torrent of activities, including art, essay and poster contests, a demonstration of CHamoru navigation skills, a formal ceremony with traditional canoes, a museum exchange (with an Anthropology museum in Madrid, Spain; and also with the Smithsonian museum, in Washington, D.C.), book launches, and a sling stone competition, in order to present the strength of the CHamoru people at the time” of the first Spanish arrival many moons ago.
“We cannot do this without active partnership with Spain,” Underwood said.
Joe Quinata, of the Guam Preservation Trust, said: “As early as coming March in Umatac, there is going to be a lot of activities previewing events to unfold in 2021.”
Sandra Okada, representing Speaker Tina Muna-Barnes, said seafaring organizations on Guam and friends and neighbors in Micronesia are invited to the event.
The commission plans to feature hundreds of canoes in Guam waters “from the northern part of the island all the way down to the middle to deal with the onset of the voyagers.”
Underwood said the impact of Magellan’s world circumnavigation had been viewed as equal with the United States landing on the moon.
“Last year, I was talking with the vice minister of Education, Culture and Sports (from Spain),” Underwood said. “He said circumnavigation is the first attempt to globalize the world, and is equivalent to landing on the moon.’”
Underwood said, true! “But the difference is there is no people on the moon. So, you have to find a way to honor the people you ran into (on Guam).”
The commission is formally named the Estoria-ta: Inetnon Estudion Umali’e’ yan Umafana’ I Taotao Hiyong yan i Taotao Tano’.
Members include Victor Paulino (appointee from the Young Men’s League of Guam), Sandra Okada (Speaker Tina Muna-Barnes), Adrian Cruz (Governor Leon Guerrero), Robert Underwood, (Kumision I Fino’ CHamoru), John Quinata (Mayor’s Council), John’s brother; Joe Quinata (Secretary, Guam Preservation Trust), Carlos Madrid (University of Guam), and David Atienza (University of Guam).