The way to keep Guam's culture alive
The late governor Ricky Bordallo said many times that the way you keep the CHamoru culture alive is to keep CHamoru people on the island. One of the main things that drive people away from an area, besides lack of employment opportunities, is the rising housing prices. And right now, housing prices here are through the concrete roof.
According to an analysis presented by Cornerstone Valuation at an April symposium of the Guam Association of Realtors, the median price of a home on Guam has reached a high of $375,000 so far this year. Last year the median home price was $333,500, and 10 years ago, it was $206,000.
This new asking price of $375,000 puts Guam’s housing affordability index at 5.3. That’s “severely unaffordable,” according to the 2021 Demographia International Housing Affordability study used in the Cornerstone analysis.
I bring up housing affordability because, with regard to preserving our culture, all these protests about preserving the ancient remains buried around the island (especially, it seems, on military bases) are focused on the past.
As a former reporter, I cannot tell you how many stories I have done over the years about bones in boxes — first at the old Guam Museum, the tiny one at the Plaza de Espana. Then I did stories about boxes and boxes and boxes of bones dug up from various sites around the island and stacked on shelves in a building at Tiyan.
Those boxes still haven’t been cataloged and studied because there are not enough historians, archaeologists and other scientific experts among our local population to do this work.
But what about Guam’s future? The question for millennials and GenZers is: Who will own the homes and land on Guam in 10, 20 years? Will it be CHamorus or other locals, or will it be outsiders?
If we don’t watch out, most CHamorus will leave Guam for better opportunities and the ability to own their own home elsewhere. Who will be here to preserve the CHamoru culture then?
Protesting has its value. But at some point, protesting must give way to the creation of a generation of stewards: people who take charge of the science, the economics, and yes, the politics, of our island. But the politics has to be practical and grounded in reality. In science.
Archaeological studies done on ancient CHamoru during the latte period revealed that they were very practical. In addition to a reverence for their deceased relatives, for example, an article in Guampedia and another in the International Archaeological Research Institute explain that ancient CHamorus would tie a cord of some type around the thigh or lower leg of someone (usually an enemy) who died before burying them. When the body had decomposed, they would pull on the cord and bring up the femur or tibia bone and use it to make a spear or a sharp tool. That’s pretty much the epitome of being practical.
They also buried their loved ones near their homes in order to prevent enemies from digging up their bones, according to the Guampedia article.
Protests serve to bring about awareness. Now what we need are stewards. Young CHamorus who will keep alive cultural practices such as reverence for the dead and respect for our manamko’, and combine them with the science and the economics of modern times in order to make living here affordable, practical and ecologically and environmentally viable for themselves and their descendants.
The late governor Ricky Bordallo was a champion of the CHamoru culture, but he also drove the investment in modern infrastructure for Guam. He had grandiose plans, but he was also practical.
We need to be practical, too. Preserving our CHamoru culture depends on it.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.