Uncle Lino


He is an institution by himself where the young Carolinians ask for his blessings as they Amen before him. He has the patience of Job, and the stamina of Hercules, his home wedged between the Russians and Bob Jones’ construction projects right behind the old Gardenia Hotel.

He grows taro on his farm by the hillside on the leeward side of Mt. Tapochau but the fruit trees these days are dry as the rain has been stingy on its downpours. Friends and kin favor his beachfront by the lagoon where picnickers can use his tables, drink their cooler full beers into the night, for as long as the gate is unlock. So far, guests bag their trash ready for the trash bin and keep the place tidy and uncluttered. Someone rationalized cigarette butt disposal as well.

Lino is out to promote what he can impart of the practices of Carolinian culture, its ocean navigational skills and the communal ways of the island group between Chuuk and Yap where most Carolinians in Saipan sailed from. Folks from his island named Tanapag and Oleai of Saipan, and the stories of old, of Chalan Kanoa when the Sugar Dock was a marshy area extending toward Lake Susupe as the inland lake was “umbilically” tied to the ocean waters of the lagoon, are still told.

“The Rope of Tradition” is his recollections of an intentional appropriation of his heritage, having been born in Saipan, and returned to his island of Satawal and the “P” islands; he was set to write the rituals of the islands and his people with the late Fr. Gary Bradley, a speaker of impeccable Chuukese, until the diabetic Jesuit priest collapsed consecrating the elements of the Eucharist at Kristo Rai. Lino is also sitting on a dictionary of Satawal terms that might save a Refalawasch linggo from oblivion.

Lino has been mentioned several times in our writing, not so much because he is close to me (“brother and sister” are terms for kin way beyond the fourth degree of consanguinity, maternal and paternal, where they are only vaguely considered as “cousins” in the English typology of relationships), but because he exemplifies an amiable personality to further the preservation of a culture fast disappearing from the ways of the young.

Called respectfully as “Uncle Lino,” he has since become my neighbor while the rest of Saipan come to bask under his ironwoods and plumeria, the flame tree and coconuts, dip their toes on the tepid waters of the lagoon, and let a fantastic sunset blaze the Philippine Sea horizons before their sights. Sitting on a valuable seafront property, he could very well be prettily retired were he to claim a reverse mortgage on his property, but he is content to live on his Soudelor battered “rickety shack” and let his brother Ric the Mechanic do carpentry on his properties.

I met Lino at the turn of the century when he volunteered to the Board of the CNMI Council on Humanities, the executive director Scott Russell having been instrumental in getting his “Rope of Tradition” book published.

A revered Carolinian, Lino’s Japanese-American friend Ken was once stopped by a police officer when he swung into the inner lane heading north past the Quartermaster Road that did not have a warning of the four-lane road becoming only two. Showing his out-of-island driver’s license to the officer, he was asked which hotel he resided at, and he mentioned that he was a guest of Lino Olopai. The officer immediately returned his license and said: “Lino is a good man, so you must be one, too.” He was duly but merely advised to remember that the street lane in that intersection becomes one heading north.

I was homeless for three weeks before my new dwelling was ready to receive me and Uncle Lino let me use the living room of the tin-aluminum shack (the plywood floor is a bit more modest than Glen Hunter’s shop) on San Isidro village before my new place was available.

I am not focusing on Lino to sing praises for what he does, or who he is. He is a celebrity on his own right, loved by many and despised by a few for being a vocal Refaluwasch, and for ensuring that between the Chamorro and Carolinian divide, the latter does not get the butt end of the deal. The mix review comes with the territory.

We are not claiming a special quality for the “lao ye ye” (“old man,” he is 5 years older than I) as he is as ordinary as they come, but sometimes, the wind of history chooses folks to play certain roles, and Uncle Lino’s chosen functions are played with considerable style.

In this case, specifics are the craft of the devil, and the angels sing the symphonic wholeness of bliss. The immediate generation, latched on to the times’ love affair with money, ignores Uncle Lino’s lifestyle that grates against universal acquisitiveness, though a few kinks on official dependencies is present here and there, but we won’t hold Lino captive to those.

Of humanities and culture, Uncle Lino holds a huge candle. Referring to a Carolinian moon phase but now used as “hello,” “thank you,” and “goodbye”: Oloomwaay!

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at pinoypanda2031@aol.com.

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