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Loss of our identity

Shalveen Chand
Tuesday, April 05, 2016

THE beauty of the Pacific Islands is the way tradition and cultures have been preserved through language, stories and dances.

Then there is the ugliness in realising that nations are fast forgetting their mother tongue and soon enough with it, the traditional and cultural practices will become extinct.

While physically, the people of that nation will be there, their identities as the people of the land is lost.

Guam is sadly headed in this direction.

Guam's commercial radio station program director Rick Nauta said being an American colony had not helped Guam preserving its language and culture.

"As much as we would have liked to, we are unable to do that. Guam becoming an American colony has not helped this course either," Mr Nauta said.

"Everything we do in Guam is in English. Even in most homes, the Chamorro language is not being spoken and the traditional way of life is not observed.

"America has been ruling us since the 1930s and slowly over time, there has been an inclination towards the American way of life that the Pacific culture is now being forgotten.

"I know it is sad but it is a fact that most of us on Guam have come to accept. Even when two people from Guam meet, they speak in English."

As a result of America's victory in the Spanish-American War, Spain sold Guam to the US in 1898, according to

Before long, it was determined that the US Navy would administer Guam. On August 7, 1899, Captain Richard Leary, the first American naval governor, arrived on the island and established the first naval administration. At the time, three quarters of the adult population spoke and wrote in the native tongue of Chamorro. About 50 per cent also spoke and wrote Spanish, while English was familiar to a small minority who had worked on whaling ships or at the port town of Sumay in southern Guam.

In 1917, Naval Government Executive General Order No. 243 banned speaking Chamorro, and "designated English as the only official language of Guam and ordered that "Chamorro must not be spoken except for official interpreting".

Speaking Chamorro was also forbidden on baseball fields, a sport growing in popularity, to encourage English use. In the early 1920s, "No Chamorro" policies were implemented and enforced in schools and on playgrounds.

Public school students were reprimanded or penalised for speaking their native language. This policy continued after World War II. Outside of public schools (with the exception of primary grade schools where Chamorro was used as an adjunct language) Chamorro was the only practical language to use since most people spoke it better than English. Additionally, when people went to court, there were Chamorro interpreters so that people could use their language.

Not speaking English began to present more limitations for the community.

And soon with the promise of employment in the American Navy administration and government departments meant more reliance was on English.

In Fiji, we may be faced with a similar problem. While we are no longer a colony and there is enough emphasis given on the learning of the vernacular languages (iTaukei and Hindi) in schools, it is the children themselves who seem to be more inclined towards English.

In the 1980s and 1990s, schools in Fiji had the no-vernacular laws which meant conversations between students could only happen in English. This was done to promote better English in academia as the mother tongues were spoken in homes.

But now the scenario is quite different. Even in traditional families, English is the major language of communication and culture practices and traditions are slowly being neglected because they are not modern enough.

Guam is a fine example of what things could become if we keep pushing things such as culture and tradition to the back burner.

In Fiji, we have taken pride in saying that we observe culture and tradition and that has been the identity of this nation but if these are not taken seriously, losing one's identity seems very easy, just take a look at Guam.

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