Friday, February 1, 2013

The History of the Chamorro Sling

I was about eight years old when my father made me my first sling and taught me how to use it. All of my uncles used to sling and my Dad and I still take the slings out now and again. Even though I didn’t always use one, I have always carried a sling wrapped around my hat with a perfect stone wrapped in the pouch especially when I was in the woods.
On my first trip to Guam I met Jose, the owner of The Che’Lu Store in the Chamorro village. While looking at all of the interesting items on display in his shop I saw a fiber sling tucked in the corner of one of the display cases and asked to see it. Jose seemed a little surprised that I knew what it was and I spent the next few hours talking to Jose about Chamorro history and culture and he taught me about the cultural significance of the sling. I didn’t know at the time but the Guam Seal is in the shape of a slingstone. I had my sling with me as always and before I left Guam I gave Jose my sling and took with me a renewed appreciation for the sling and its significance to the Chamorro people. I have been supplying Jose with slings ever since.
I’ve always made my slings out of leather. I didn’t know at the time that the sling had been used by so many cultures around the world and that they were made of all kinds of natural animal and plant materials. For example, of all the artifacts found in King Tut’s tomb, the golden pieces were the most fantastic but also laid with the boy king was a sling made of a flaxen material. So, since then I have been making slings from nearly any kind of material I can find.
In my research I have come across the only known example of the kind of sling made by the ancient people of Guam. Until this last trip I have only seen this sling in pictures. This sling resides in the Guam Museum but today there is no natural history museum on Guam, at least not yet. I don’t know now whether they have broken ground yet but a new museum is going to be built.

On my most recent trip to Guam, fortune did shine on me. In our search to find a public exhibit of Chamorro culture we came across a small display of artifacts at the Governor’s complex (the Latte Stone of Freedom) in Agana. There, inside one of the display cases was the only remaining Chamorro sling from the ancient era. The caretaker was most helpful and told us that the sling had been found during an excavation. Now normally, with the tropical climate of Guam, organic articles, those made of coconut, pandanus, palm etc would have disintegrated but this sling was found intact.
As I had mentioned, before this last trip, I had only seen this sling in pictures and based off of those images reproduced the same style of sling I call the Chamorro Sling.

I assumed that the sling was average in size much like any other sling. The original sling was much larger than I thought with a sling stone that was about the size of a large potato and instead of a finger loop, a loop large enough to go around the wrist was of special interest to me. Of course the size of this sling gave me an opportunity to study its construction in detail and the photos I took gave me great insight into how the sling was made. 
According to the curator the sling was found below a layer of charred remains of a dwelling and it is believed that this layer of charcoal aided in preserving the sling as well as several other woven articles found in the immediate area. I don’t know anything about that but was glad that the one item I really wanted to see was not in the island’s archive awaiting the construction of the new museum.
During my last trip I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time exploring and crafting and with being inspired by the real article I fashioned a sling using materials gathered there on Guam, but that's another story.

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