Letting the world know about the CHamoru people through dances | Lifestyle

(Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series of stories about Guam’s delegates to the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture or FestPac taking place in Honolulu from June 6 to 16, 2024. Cultural dancers, carvers, chanters, weavers, visual artists, traditional healers and literary artists are among them.)

For the past several months, traditional CHamoru songs and dances have been reverberating through the Yona Community Center as a 45-member group prepares for one of the most important performances of a lifetime.

The group, led by master of CHamoru dance Eileen Meno, will be representing Guam at the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture in Honolulu.

Meno commands the room full of dancers and musicians of all ages as they listen to every word and instruction from her.

The performers have been at it since December, but took a short sabbatical because of the reapplication process. But they came back in full force in April and have been practicing three days a week at the center.

Meno recalls her first FestPac in 1996 when she was just out of high school and now looks forward to having young members to also experience what she did.

It’s been mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety as the festival draws near, but most of all, she’s glad to help team members who will be experiencing FestPac for the very first time. 

“That was a huge eye opener to my journey today. So, I’m hoping that it would impact them just as much as it impacted me in my first festival,” Meno said. 

There are 25 members of the group that have not experienced FestPac, but everyone has been a performer since each of them come from a guma’ or dance house on the island.

“They are true crusaders in doing what it is that we need to do to perpetuate the CHamoru language and culture,” she said.

FestPac is the Olympics of culture, formulated so that indigenous cultures can be perpetuated.

“For Guam to come from where we have in terms of our colonial history, our colonial periods, it’s very important that we take part in this so that we are able to share with our Pacific brothers and sisters that the CHamoru people are alive and we exist,” she said. 

It also helps young people to know that we have a culture and being part of FestPac helps them be cognizant of the CHamoru existence and that this culture can be perpetuated for many generations to come, she added.

Since 1996, Meno has been part of every FestPac and it always helps her feel renewed.

“It helps to regenerate, reenergize my spirit,” she said.

When someone experiences FestPac every four years, it helps to fuel that fire again because they realize that they’re not the only one that’s doing it day in and day out, she added.

“You have to do it all the time so that people who are uneducated about who we are can become educated and are just as much inspired as I am to do it. To continue the perpetuation in one way or another,” she said. 

What people can expect from the Guam delegation in Hawaii is a well-rounded presentation that touches on various traditions of the CHamoru people.

“Our traditions are going to come to life in the dances that we’re going to be sharing,” Meno said.

She said the songs and chants are about moving forward and remembering who the CHamoru people were through the elders and honoring them.

“The people that continue to pass those traditions down today, we continue to honor them and be grateful for their knowledge and their spirit of giving and allowing us the opportunity to just be CHamoru and share that spirit with everybody and the entire world to witness,” she said.

She thanked the 44 members of the group and their families and supporters who, without them, none of this would be possible. She also thanks the Yona mayor for allowing the group to use the space to prepare and represent the island.

“I’m just one of many and our mission is to go out there and share with the world. So big shout out to the members of the Guam delegation of the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts. Looking forward to it and let’s make Guam shine,” she said. 

‘The best part’

For Ray Lujan, this will be his fourth FestPac representing Guam. One of his favorite things about the festival is the behind-the-scenes interactions among islanders from across the Pacific.

“When islands get to meet each other, we hang out, we share music, we share all of those things. That’s the best part,” he said. 

His first FestPac was in 2008 in American Samoa and has been to everyone since. 

“It’s always an exciting feeling just to be able to bring Guam to the rest of the world. That’s our biggest thing is getting Guam out there, getting people to know that the CHamorus as a race exist,” Lujan said.

He’s also excited to bring some of his dancers this year who weren’t initially able to apply to go to FestPac in 2020 because of their age, but now are able to join the group.

“It’s a really good feeling to know that we’ve raised culturally aware adults. And they’re gonna go out into the world and they’re gonna share just the same way we did,” he said. 

Lujan is no stranger to sharing the CHamoru culture to the world, having traveled to many places and showcasing CHamoru dance. He said people tend to gravitate to CHamoru dance and want to know more because it’s something they’ve never seen before.

FestPac is important because it allows CHamorus to share their culture to people who may not know about them.

“Getting our world to know that people on Guam exist. We’re not a military base. We’re not just a tourist attraction, but there’s people here and we exist,” he said.

Since it’s been eight years since FestPac has been held, Lujan is excited to see all the island nations again, watch the performances, taste the food, and see everything the artisans made.

‘Stories of my people’

Abreanna Cruz, 23, said this will be her first FestPac outside of Guam. Her first one was in 2016 when Guam hosted the event. The FestPac that was supposed to be held in 2020 was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m really excited to tell the stories of my people and keep our culture alive. It really helps me define my character as a young CHamoru woman,” she said.

Cruz is also excited to take back all the stories from the other island nations.

The 2016 FestPac was fun, she said, because Guam was the host island. Now that she’ll be a guest on another island, she is honored to be part of the team.

The group has been working hard practicing three times a week and Cruz now feels prepared to represent Guam.

“It’s really such an honor and a blessing to be part of such talented people,” she said.

While everyone comes from different walks of life, they all have something in common: promote the culture.

“I think it’s really important for us to be part of FestPac so we can keep the stories of our ancestors going forever. So it’s never ending,” she said. “Our culture’s never gonna die and we’re here to tell the stories of our ancestors for those who have yet to come.”

Anyone who has the heart, passion and desire to represent Guam, she said, should apply to represent Guam at FestPac in the future. 

“I hope to make our island proud,” Cruz added.