Last night, I went to the UOG Fine Arts Theatre to watch “Pågat,” a play put on by the Chamorro Studies program at the University. The play ran for six nights over the course of two weeks. Each night, the shows were sold out within about 40 minutes of the ticket box opening. Many people who hoped to see the play were not able to. Knowing how popular the play was, my family and I planned on getting there early and making sure we had good seats. I wanted to see it because there are very few plays that center around local issues and the CHamoru perspective. Whenever I feel like our voices and experiences will be represented, I’m happy about it and I try to be there.
The play flash forwards to the year 2018. An ancient village, Pågat, is taken through eminent domain despite public outcry. Four young CHamorus have dreams that beckon them to visit the area at night, but they struggle to recall the dream’s message. As the four wander through the jungle, the complexities of their relationship lead the dialogue. They have difficult discussions about how they’ve grown apart and how they have struggled with their identities as young Chamorus. As they wander, Fu’una, our island’s mother and our creator, watches over them with many other aniti from different periods of CHamoru history. The aniti include figures from pre-contact periods, as well as spirits from Spanish, Japanese, and American occupation. The scenes alternate between unfolding conversations between the four young CHamorus and the aniti’s discussions (which were a mix of dialogue and musical numbers that brought the audience back to significant moments throughout CHamoru history). The aniti watch the young Chamorus, wondering if they can depend on them to help protect their dwelling. Fu’una, our mother, urges the aniti to have faith in the youth and support them. In the end, after many difficult conversations, the four youth decide to stay and protect the area from use for US war games.
My favorite parts of the play were those that focused on the roles of CHamoru women and the tough decisions they have had to make in order to sustain. Må’la’la, one of my favorite aniti from the play, sings and tells the story of CHamoru women struggling with Catholicism during Spanish colonization. She reminds the audience that, like one of the young women from present-day who has had to join the military to survive, she has also had to make huge sacrifices that some might not understand. She sings while re-enacting the story of countless CHamoru women who decided to commit suicide and infanticide rather than convert. Her story reminded CHamoru women that choosing Catholicism was not easy, nor was it something they wanted to do. She explains that she decided to save her child’s life while vowing to still teach the child to respect and honor her aniti (something many CHamoru women today have ceased to do).
The next scene that caught my attention featured aniti from the Japanese occupation. A beautiful Chamoru translation of a popular song was played while dancing silhouettes told the story of CHamoru women who endured attacks by Japanese soldiers. They did a wonderful job of presenting issues that we are uncomfortable talking about in ways that the general public could connect with.
I looked around the room to see both men and women in the audience crying or wiping away tears at various points in the play. For me, watching it was comforting. I had just written in this blog about how many Chamorus are living their lives feelings things they do not (or cannot) talk about freely. The play brought those feelings and thoughts to life, making it hard for many who watched not to react emotionally.
After the play, the cast and crew participated in a question and answer period. They explained the choices they made while creating the play, what the process was like, and what they hoped to achieve. It was very inspiring to listen to them share the journey they embarked on while creating the production. It was also an important reminder of just how crucial it is to foster the arts in our community. People leaving the play walked out while engaged in meaningful conversations and voicing things they had long kept inside.
I am so glad that I made time to watch their performance and I am very much looking forward to seeing more productions that unapologetically address the complex issues our people grapple with on a daily basis.