Land alienation

Posted on Mar 24 1999

Argue with a traditional indigenous person about the merits of Article 12, as I have, and all you are likely to face is an intractable position beyond the scope of pure reason. Land, they maintain, is not equity; it does not represent a form of “property asset.” It is a sacred tribal legacy, one in which land is never actually owned outright, but “borrowed” from “our ancestors” and, perhaps more importantly, “borrowed” from “our children”–from future generations of the yet unborn.

Such a position is quite understandable, given the historical-cultural roots of the Chamorro people. The Northern Marianas, like most places at some point, was once a First Wave agrarian economy. Subsistence living was once heavily dependent upon agriculture, upon the land. Naturally, it only makes sense that our conception of real estate should be such as it was.

In the ancient past, there was no such thing as free trading, there was no liquid currency available, and there was no free market capitalism as we know it today. Land was an inter-generational asset, passed on for the sake of the clan’s subsistence and survival. Naturally, it had to take on sacred religious overtones, as it probably did for the Indians in North America–and as it did for virtually every pre-industrial, pre-Second Wave society and economy. (Here one is reminded of Pearl Buck’s poignant novel on China, “The Good Earth,” where land was extremely important.)

With the advent of the new industrial, post-agrarian economy, however, the thinking on land took on an altogether different significance. No longer revered as a sacred, divine legacy, it came to represent one of the factors of industrial production: as in land, labor, and capital. No longer concerned with crop production, we are now concerned with rental values, land leases, and return on invested capital.

Hence, we no longer–or should no longer, at least–look at land as an object “borrowed from our children.” Indeed, when you consider the logical implications of that conception today, the idea seems patently ridiculous.

If land were really “borrowed from our children,” for example, that would mean that all sterile indigenous folks should be automatically prohibited from owning land. Which means, in addition to reserving land to locals, we should also exclusively reserve it to indigenous folks capable of procreation–a disturbing idea, to be sure. (Under the old agricultural system, however, such an idea would have actually made a great deal of sense, for obvious reasons: clan survival and an illiquid real estate market.)

For these reasons–change and development, modern progress and prosperity–we, the local people, must now fundamentally alter our obsolete thinking on land and throw off the cultural shackles of the past in order to begin anew, along sound, rational and constructive lines of progress and development.

We already have land alienation. The government is also working on labor and capital alienation. If we don’t change soon, it won’t be very long before the CNMI completely fizzles out as an exciting investment destination. That is, if we haven’t already….

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.