Of Pan-Pacific tradition


The upcoming Festival of the Pacific (FestPac) in Guam brought lasting memories of my official assignment as the NMI delegate to the South Pacific Commission (now community) held annually in Noumea, New Caledonia. It was there that was born the FestPac. It has since evolved into a Pacific-wide celebration.

I listened to music, chants, and watched dances tethered to tradition from the vast expanse of the Pacific, north and south of the equator. It brings up a missing aspect in Pacific Island literature known as “orature.” It’s basically stories told orally in chants or tales that was never penned by colonial writers from Europe and elsewhere.

Yes, orature is part of our indigenous literature. Unless you know it via our indigenous prism or lens, you’d be lost from, e.g., understanding the real essence of the hula dance and culture that aren’t part of the written literature of Pacific Island countries.

Humbling to see the emergence of Pacific Island writers who have begun setting the record straight on misinterpretation and misrepresentation of culture. It should wipe out colonial pedagogy we’ve taken as gospel truth for years.

I’ve attended official openings of the commission that included traditional chiefs. It’s sobering the drink of fresh coconut and dinner prepared for all delegates from different islands. The chief wanted delegates to rest and relax before converging the next day. I relish the words of wisdom of senior statesmen who came as delegates who defer to passages in the bible as they speak.

Yes, I’ve heard the music of our brothers and sisters from the far-flung islands of the Pacific. How beautiful the lyrics written of their struggle, the rainbow, love, colorful sunset, water rolling down branches of trees, crashing waves, walking by crystal streams up in the mountains, beautiful songs of birds in the forest, long journeys in canoes, touching the warmth of the sun and the time-honored passing of indigenous torch of leadership from our ancestors. Humbling!

So what’s unique about songs from the islands? It’s the unmatched melodic harmony. Recalled the choir and faithful of over 1,000 people in a church in Tonga singing in unison in four voices. It was music in what a kanaka braddah said, “Eh, never been to heaven braddah? This is one more step for da kine heaven.” I can’t describe the beauty of the harmonic melody coming from over a thousand churchgoers.

I will never forget hands I’ve pressed, island felicitations, and the lasting friendship established and nurtured with fellow islanders! So wherever you may roam, orature and music are part and whole of an islander’s DNA. Whichever group you listen to you’d note the melodic tune in their voices. Indeed, it reflects their sense of harmony as a people in humble settings back home.

Communal Sharing: Through the years I’ve searched to understand the gravitating aspect of culture throughout the Pacific. It is found in the “seamless communal sharing” naturally embedded in every island country and territory. It pulls us together sharing food, drinks, stories, laughter, music, etc.

The camaraderie spreads and descends naturally among us. If you were not an islander, then you’d have difficulty understanding why we get along so well no matter where we meet. We gravitate almost instantly be it at a gathering in Texas, New Jersey or in the islands. This too is part of our DNA.

I’ve heard the voice of our people (mix of islanders) singing familiar tunes. I’ve even heard some of our Chamorros sing Christmas songs in June. It’s a bit emotional as they long for home and the familiar faces they remember. Well, the next time you hear people singing Christmas melodies in June at least you now know they must be islanders from the Marianas.

Yes, communal sharing in the NMI was strong up to the late ’60s, you know, neighbors sharing farm harvest or fresh fish catch. It slowly faded as villagers moved to new homestead subdivisions. Now, it’s, “Tan Maria, this is four dollars per pound.” Ai, the shift in that humbling neighborly relationship we’ve nurtured through the years.

The demands of modernity are disorienting. It’s you against the high cost of living while your income stays the same for over twenty years. But didn’t senators recently give themselves $2,500 per month for expenses? Could the visionary Senate President Francisco Borja explain this to normal taxpayers? Are you any different with an employee mowing lawn along road shoulders?

As the quality of life sinks deeper into the abyss of involuntary poverty our cultural instinct in communal sharing slides in. At the center of this hardship is the family unit. We pitch in to help the ones that really need assistance. It’s the lasting aspect of our cultural tradition that has held us together in these very bad times.

It’s tradition to build the first family home. If this involved long-term real estate loan you’d eventually come to meet eviction notices for failing to meet your monthly installment. In brief, is there such a thing as “lifetime” employment here to ensure meeting family obligations until it is fully paid? This is a concern we’ve quietly braved, muted! How many are in this situation today or down the road?

It’s a challenge to anyone who thinks he or she could lead the NMI to new plateaus in economic prosperity. As it is there’s nothing but a blurred future for these isles. Whatever happened to the “solutions driven” team? Have they been driven out of town? Isn’t it your fiduciary duty to improve the wellbeing of the people in the villages? Dios mihu! Must be the bunch I saw at a grocery store with tails tightly tucked between their legs.

John S. Del Rosario Jr. | Contributing Author
John DelRosario Jr. is a former publisher of the Saipan Tribune and a former secretary of the Department of Public Lands.

Related Posts

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.