Saturday, January 5, 2013

Where is the next generation of Chamorro craftsmen and women?

I have finally returned from Guam and after getting myself unpacked and somewhat adjusted back to my own time zone I have to ask one thing. Where is the next generation of Chamorro craftsmen and women coming from? I don't mean those who are making jewelry and other tourist fodder, I mean those who are carrying on the traditional crafts and passing knowledge onto a new generation?

Don't get me wrong. There are some talented people who are turning out beautiful items that can be seen and purchased at the Chamorro Village in Agana. Wednesday evenings during the weekly fiesta, there are many beautiful things to choose. You can also enjoy local musicians, dancing, native dancers, plus really great food. Along with local vendors selling locally made crafts there are other vendors selling crafts from neighboring islands as well. Wednesday night at the Chamorro Village is a must see when in Guam. Go early, around 4:30-5pm to find good parking.

With everything available at the Chamorro Village, what I have not found, with one exception are traditional Chamorro arts and crafts. No weavers, no pottery, no demonstrations by artist and crafters, no one making nets or demonstrating net casting, no stories being told. What you can find are things like imported plastic Tiki gods with GUAM imprinted on the bottom. Tiki's!? Really? Tiki's are not even Chamorro. Again, don't get me wrong. I bought some nice locally made jewelry. I am merely marveling at the lack of cultural crafts and craftsmen/women and the abundance of key fobs, puka shells and T-shirts promoting the "671 Chamorro Style" commercialism.

Currently Guam is without a Natural History Museum. There are however a number of private collections, some in  hotels or other tourist attractions and a few items on display at the Governor's complex. I also had an opportunity to visit Gef Pago, a small cultural center on the south side of the island that had some of what I was looking for. There were demonstrations in pandanus and coconut leaf weaving, coconut candy making, rendering salt from sea water and rope making. The craftsmen and women were beautiful, friendly and very generous. They were also elderly. This is where my question comes from. Where is the next generation of cultural crafters and masters coming from? What happens when these Chamorros pass on.

One traditional, 'old school' master craftsman in the Chamorro Village was Tun Jack Lujan. The only surviving pre WWII blacksmith. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Tun Jack last year and passed up buying a hand made Chamorro Machete. Ever since then I have been on the lookout for his work with no luck so it was off to the Chamorro Village to order up a machete of my own.

I was disappointed to find out that Tun Jack was not at the Chamorro Village and is no longer able to make the machete from start to finish anymore. I remember the conversation I had with Mr. Lujan last year. He told us that there had been 16 or so apprentices who have tried to learn his craft and to date, no one had been able to reproduce his work. Tun Jack told us that it is because they do not love the craft. The machete and other tools are still available but one of the crafters we spoke to admitted he was unable to reproduce the same quality. I kicked myself really hard for not jumping at the opportunity last year.

As mentioned earlier, with no history museum... actually a new museum is going to be built and the stock of artifacts not owned by private collectors is currently in storage except for a few at the Governor's complex right next to the Latte Stone of Freedom. The one article I was most interested in with my being a slinger and sling maker was a sling I have only seen in pictures. I was elated to see the very sling in person. I was so glad it was not in storage with everything else.  

There were a few funny things I found about the sling and weaving in general. First the young person attending the small compliment of exhibits did not know much about any of them and even less about the sling. I had assumed that the sling on display was a reproduction and asked if it was known who crafted the sling and whether they might be available on the island. The young attendant did not know but did tell us that a master weaver was selling slings in the Chamorro Village. I giggled as I left the display area telling my wife, "Guess what? I am now a Master Weaver." Mine are the only slings currently being sold at the Che'Lu Store in the Chamorro Village which by the way is open seven days a week so stop in where you'll find some of the most unique crafts available in all of Guam. Tell them you heard about it here.

So again and in closing, where are the master weavers and carvers and potters and blacksmiths? Who is stepping up to carry on? I asked everyone I could and still cannot attach a name to a craft outside of Gef Pago and no one under the age of 60. Where are the young Chamorro crafters?

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