Wednesday July 18, 2018

Keeping the Chamorro spirit alive (Part 1 of 3)

IN 2016, Guam Visitors’ Bureau has declared a record achievement of 1.53 million visitors as Guam’s best year in tourism, recording a boost of arrival from Korea, China and Philippines while Japan remains in the lead.

Guam’s revenue relies largely in its booming tourism industry, and not just the US military presence. The Guam Tourism 2020 is a strategic development plan to help improve Guam’s image as a world-class destination, with its eight core objectives and a goal to reach 2 million arrivals by then.

Our media group from Visayas and Mindanao visited Guam on a tour hosted by the GVB and Cebu Pacific Air. Not expecting much for a laidback island, we were surprised to learn how much more it can offer.

Philippines and Guam are intertwined with an identical history – from the language, culture, colonization, oppression, battle scars, religion, food, right down to the physical attributes.

They looked so Filipino that we blended in easily and could not distinguish the locals from the overseas Filipino workers.

However, those with Filipino descent who were born and raised here are distinctly Guamanians, as long time residents are called. They speak to you in an American accent, but some reply back as easily in an amusing Tagalog nasal slang.

The ultimate charm and treasure of the island is the rich Chamorro culture, known as the oldest civilization in Micronesia.

As the original settlers of Guam, the Chamorros were expert seamen notably skilled in fishing, hunting, pottery, weaving and crafts making.

Everything the islanders have learned was passed on through generations -- arts, navigational and fishing techniques, songs, dances, prayers and rituals. It is no wonder they are striving to preserve the Chamorro traditions with pride.

In an eco-friendly adventure cruise down the Valley of the Latte, you are transported back to Guam's rich culture of a living village representing over 4000 years of existence.

We were immersed in the exploration of stone pillars (latte) scattered in the botanical gardens, animal farm sanctuary with carabao ride, basket weaving and ancient fire making techniques, which ended with a Chamorro lunch prepared by the inhabitants.

The megalithic rock columns called latte were remnants built by early Chamorros (1100-1700 AD) as foundation for structures, and which can be seen in river valleys and coastlines.

The Ulitao is a group of passionate Guam islanders reviving Chamorro seafaring skills by building traditional canoes with local wood and ancient nautical techniques shown to visitors.

Based along the Talofofo and Ugum rivers, this non-profit seafaring group plans to traditionally sail to Hawaii in a few years.

In the words of its founder Ron Acfalle much like Disney film Moana's ancestral spirits, he says, "We live off the ocean, we came from the ocean."

(To be continued)