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Setting the Table: An Exploration of Chamoru Fiestas as a Site of Indigenous Survivance in the Wake of White Settler Colonialism

  • Author(s): San Nicolas, Ha’ani Lucia Falo
  • et al.
The data associated with this publication are within the manuscript.
Abstract

Within the multi-tones of blue that dress the waters of the Pacific Ocean lies Guåhan, the southernmost and largest island in the Mariånas archipelago. Guåhan and the other fourteen islands that make up this crescent chain are the collective ancestral homelands of the Indigenous Chamorus. Within Western hegemony, stories about Guåhan and Chamorus are inextricably rooted in a deeply colonial past and present. What began as Spanish “discovery” in 1521 turned into three-hundred years of theft of native land and livelihood. What began as Japanese “occupation” in 1941 turned into three years of unjustified violence and death of thousands of Chamorus. What began (and remains) as the facade of American “liberation” during World War II resulted in the division of the Mariåna Islands into the territorial and commonwealth statuses of Guåhan and the Northern Mariåna Islands, respectively—euphemisms for what can be concisely defined as white settler colonialism of Indigenous lands. These colonial histories remain reminiscent in the daily lived experiences of Chamorus, which is most evident when looking at American militarization of Guåhan. For instance, the United States military possesses nearly a third of the island, which includes natural resources and ancestral villages that are inaccessible to the Indigenous community. Chamorus, per capita, are the largest group of recruits enlisted into the American military, but as residents of an overseas colony, they are unable to vote in the presidential election for their commander-in-chief. This is just to name a few, but these facts alone paint a picture of how the status quo of white settler colonialism has been especially understood as a strictly militaristic event. My research does not seek to condemn or disregard this understanding; rather, it works to create a more holistic image of white settler colonialism within the context of Chamoru culture in Guåhan outside the hypervisibility of militarism, which I analyze at the site of the fiesta. By using the fiesta, a revered celebration in Chamoru culture, as the optic, I explore how its constituent parts partake in the ongoing vanishment of Chamoru indigeneity and perpetuates white settler colonial remnants. Most importantly, I look at how contemporary Chamorus have reclaimed the fiesta as a space of survivance.

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