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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life in Wonderland: GUAHAN

Recently, in his state of the island address, our Governor expressed that he would like to work with the legislature to reclaim the indigenous name of Guam, Guahan.

This excites many people.  Some welcome the name change.  Some are against it.  After reading many of the comments on PDN I think many people are frustrated that our Governor, of all his choices for a last effort in office, has chosen this.  I think many are upset that he side stepped other important issues and went straight to something that would tug at emotions and be more symbolic than concrete.  This act will ensure him some pages in our history books and he admitted that it would be his legacy.

Guahan is a strong name for our island.  It means "We have" and it is the name our ancestors used to refer to the island that sheltered and provided for them. Yes, to give our island back her name, would mean so much, especially at this point in time.  But I don't believe it should be the governor or the legislature that does this.  I feel it must first come from the people.  Like most things in life, this reclaiming of her name, must start in the home.  It must start with each of us, individually.

When I first heard about this, I started thinking about names of countries.  As an example, Japan is Japan to the world.  The Japanese refer to their home as Nippon.  We refer to the natives of Japan as Japanese, but they are nihonjin, or nipponjin, in their language, nihongo.  What the world calls them does not affect who they are, because they know who they are.  Another example is my name.  I work in the tourism industry and many agents have a hard time pronouncing my name, Andrea.  I've been called Angerika, Angela, Andolia, and many other names, besides my own.  At first it bothered me, but then I realized that this is a minor thing.  My family and friends matter most and they know my name.

I'm not saying that I don't want our island to hear her native name ever again.  I just want her to hear it from her people first.  All the legality and print changes won't matter if it is not being spoken.  To the world she may be Guam, but as long as her sons and daughters know she is Guahan, that is what gives her name beauty and strength.  That is what matters most.

If our leaders want to encourage a cultural renaissance, I suggest they focus on the communities and schools.  Maybe they can offer weekly CHamorro classes at the mayor's offices for a donation that can go to cultural programs and groups.  Guam's school system could use a more advanced CHamorro language and Guahan history curriculum.  They can encourage the development of more television and radio programs that focus on our history and culture.  I think it would also be helpful to support a dialog between our culture and the other cultural groups that we share our island with, returning Guahan back to her hospitable and inclusive roots.  Helping people understand what they have and what our island gives us will cause the name change to happen naturally and more effectively.  This is the kind of change I'd welcome.

This is just my opinion.  I'd love to hear other's thoughts on the name change and what you feel can be done to encourage Guahan's reclaiming of history and culture.

Here are some links to related posts and articles:


  1. I have family on Guam, but they are not native to Guam. In that capacity, my opinion may not be as qualified, but here it is anyway. I am all for reclaiming Guahan. When you reclaim Guahan, you reclaim a native history and ownership that has been stolen from various Empires (most recently the United States). My family's native place Pohnpei used to be called Ponape which is more of a phonetic spelling, however it took away from the history. Pohnpei means "upon a stone altar" which tells the story of how the island was created. Ponape means nothing and tells a story of imperialism. If you take back Guahan, you can start to take back the ownership of the story and of the land in a time where the threat of an American military buildup looms large. -Justin

  2. Justin, your opinion is greatly appreciated. :) And thank you so much for sharing that information on Pohnpei. I'm glad the people of Pohnpei reclaimed their native name for their home. I'm curious to know if the natives ever lost it though. I think the problem with Guahan is that some people have forgotten or were never taught it. That's why I think we should reclaim it locally, in order to build foundation to reclaim it legally.

  3. I feel it is absolutely essential for Guam to be Guahan if it is to make any progress. A name IS very important. Currently, the name GUAM is indelibly inscribed in the psyche of the Average American (and high-level U.S. officials) as a gigantic refueling station on a big military base.

    By "rebranding" the island to its culturally and historically authentic name, you remove the brand instituted by the military back after the war and replace it with a word that carries none of that baggage. People in the U.S. can then view Guahan for what it truly is, not as a possession.

    To me, the word Guam is a "niggerization" of the word Guahan. It was slapped on the island to impose a galaxy of oppressive associations. For example, I once went to see a stand up comedian perform in Sacramento, California, who had just returned from performing in Guam. Part of his routine was to make fun of the word "Guam." He said "What kind of a word is that?? It sounds like something smelly you find on the bottom of your shoe."

    I agree with Senator Pangelinan. It wasn't a big deal to go from Agana to Hagatna. Why are we making an issue about taking a name with dignity?

  4. You're so very passionate about your cause and situation Drea and its a real pleasure to read.
    Would the government ever hold a free debate or a referendum for the people to decide on the name change?


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