JAPANESE GROUP PROMOTES CHAMORRO CULTURE
I recently spent a very interesting four days as guest of a Japanese Chamorro dance group, Guma’ Famagu’on Tano’ Yan I Tasi, based in Tama, Japan, on the outskirts of Tokyo. The group was founded by Professor Kyoko Nakayama, of the Teikyo University Department of International Relations. She was inspired to form her dance group through a program initiated by Master of Chamorro Dance, Frank Rabon. Funded by the Guam Visitors Bureau’s Chamorro Dance Academy, the program encourages the formation of Chamorro dance groups within Japan, to build awareness of Chamorro culture. Guma’ Famagu’on Tano’ Yan I Tasi recently celebrated their fifth anniversary, and has an active dance group of more than 30 members supported by many former members. Activities shared on their Facebook page are evidence of their dedicated work and passion for Chamorro culture. They have visited Guam annually to participate in our Gef Pa’go Dinana’ Minagof Chamorro Dance Festival, with side trips to Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Additionally, they have hosted Chamorro visitors to Japan, including Chamorro dance groups.
One of their upcoming events is an exhibit of Chamorro culture through artifacts, crafts, and paintings shared by Dr. Kyoko’s many friends in the Mariana Islands. The exhibit will take place January I6 – 22 at the Teikyo University Museum. I was asked to speak to classes at the university and to help the group members create a large batik mural painting to be featured in the exhibit. My days were a whirlwind of cultural exchange with a unique twist. Many members are passionate to learn the Chamorro language. Much of my informal time with the group was spent teaching Chamorro words and sentence structure to very serious, dedicated students. While the students struggled to communicate in English, and my Japanese language skills were even more limited, we found common ground through the use of Chamorro words that they knew through the Chamorro songs they sang in their dances! Our gatherings reminded me of the many times I spent with our own Chamorro dance groups on tour and at home, with guitar music and familiar songs in the background, cooking and eating Chamorro food. Professor Kyoko’s university office was headquarters for her student dancers to assist her with group activity planning, and to store the usual paraphernalia associated with dance groups – costumes, tunas (dance sticks), posters, coconut shells, woven baskets, etc., including the usual rice pot needed for group gatherings. Activities extended to her home, where members gathered to assist in hosting activities and materials preparation. While they made sure I did experience some wonderful Japanese food and culture, in many ways I felt like I never left home!