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Reclaiming an Identity

February 16, 2010
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It was announced earlier this week that Felix Comacho, Governor of Guam, issued an executive order that would change the name of Guam to Guahan.  Here is a brief history of the name of Guam/ Guahan according to the executive order:

Prior to the 1898 Treaty of Paris, Guahan (meaning “a place that has”) was predominately used as the designation for the island.  At the request of the Naval Governor, the name was changed to Guam somewhere in the early 1900s.

Comacho states the name change will preserve and promote the Chamorro culture as well as enhance the practice of Chamorro language . (Chamorros are the native peoples of Guam.)

My opinion on this issue is only as qualified as my shallow connection with the island: I have family there and it is a Micronesian island.  With that being said, I think changing the name to Guahan is the right thing to do. When you reclaim Guahan, you reclaim a native history and ownership that has been stolen by various evils and Empires (most recently the United States).

My family’s native place is Pohnpei.  The name means “upon a stone altar” (Pohn: upon, Pei: stone altar) which tells the story of how the island was created by seafarers who continued to build an island on top of a holy altar made of stone.  After American population however the name was changed to Ponape which is more of a phonetic spelling aimed to flow of the American tongue easier.  Whereas Pohnpei has meaning and tells the history of creation, Ponape means nothing and tells a story of imperialism. Thankfully, the official name was changed back to the original Pohnpei.

If the island were to take back the name Guahan, it could start to take back the ownership of the story and of the land.  I think Camacho’s thoughts on the preservation and promotion of Chamorro culture are spot on.  And while the buildup of the American Empire military build looms, reclaiming Guahan, and thus reclaiming a history and identity, is a step towards reclaiming an island.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 16, 2010 6:00 pm

    Pohnpei is a beautiful name with a beautiful meaning. 😀 I think it’s funny that the people actually had to change the names of our islands to make it easier to say. Guahan and Pohnpei seem easy to pronounce, especially compared to some European countries, like Czechoslovakia. lol.

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