Guam | Pagat

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

Our last class field trip was to Pagat, a beautiful area with historical knowledge weaved into the land. Uncle Joe, my mentor from the Guam Preservation Trust, took my entire class down to visit the land and waters. Professor Camacho also went, which made me happy because I was able to hike with him. Not often do students at UCLA get to hike with their professors, but Professor Camacho is one of the great ones.

The entire hike was about an hour long, and it went from jungle to coast. It was amazing being with such knowledgeable people. When we reached the cave, we took a few minutes to re-center ourselves before going in. It was a really cool experience being able to walk in. I took my camera in my bag and when we reached the deeper part of the water while going in, I had to hold it against the rocks. I was having such a good time that I didn’t realize I had my wallet in my pockets, and the water was waist deep, lol!

I made this image while looking out a few steps in.

The cave was extremely dark and the water was fresh. the echo inside was incredible. Many of us took out or flashlights and cameras to try to take a few pictures, but they were mostly grainy. Unfortunately, while we were in there a group of tourists came in yelling and laughing very disrespectfully. Their tour guide was Chamoru but did not seem to care, and in fact was motivating them to do so. After multiple times of us asking them to be more quiet, Uncle Joe spoke to their tour guide. He expressed that he did not care, and was rather disrespectful. This was hard to witness, as I can relate and have been in situations where our sacred sites at home are disrespected by tourists.

This is an image of Uncle Joe after we exited the cave. As we headed down to the coast, I asked him to pose, and he did so with grace! lol.

When we finally reached the coast, I was amazed to see a natural hole in the rock formations. Dan, a local student that was with us, told us that Chamoru youth jump off from here often. It can be dangerous, but if you know where to jump it will be fine he explained. I would be lying if I said I did not think about jumping, but I figured my professor would probably not let me, haha. I had a blast nonetheless.

Guam | Public Forum and Visiting Litekyan

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

Community organizations came together in Hagåtña at the legislature for a public hearing on financial support. Guam officials have cut funding to all community organizations, including the organizations that we are aiding as students. Our class nominated Kat and I to speak with and on behalf of the Håya Foundation, who are a community organization of traditional Chamoru healers. They are mostly elderly women who have taken it upon themselves to support their community, and they do it with no pay. As a non-profit organization, they need support from the government to remain open.

I spoke about the importance of healing and traditional medicine from my perspective. I shared about how much of my culture has been lost because of colonization and how dire it is for our youth to be surrounded by these healing practices. Intergenerational trauma and suicide rates of youth in both the Native American community and the Chamoru community are at an all time high, and I posed the fact that traditional medicine is counteracting this reality. I asked for the Speaker and chairman to support Håya and the other community organizations with their requests.

Because today is Wednesday, it was field trip day! We visited the nature center in Litekyan today, and took a tour around the area. Our guides reminded us that this is where the Marines want to build their firing range, and that if they succeeded it would shut down access to the entire area. Furthermore, it would be such a large environmental impact, and the land there is sacred. In the nature center, our guides explained the importance of respect while we visit the sites in the area. They also shared that there are multiple caves with ancient pictographs and artifacts. We prepared ourselves for the hike by learning about the history of the area.

The first cave we visited, we made sure to ask for permission to enter. Our guides pointed out multiple pictographs and shared their current theories as to what they represent or what story they tell. They shared that they are not 100 percent sure about the representations. I appreciated how involved our guides were with the community. Too often in the United States, natural tours are conducted by non-Indigenous Peoples and there is a large disconnect they have with the land and its history. It is just science. For this reason, I was happy to be learning from people who came from the land and care for it.

We reached a site that was home to many Lattes and possibly housed over 300 people. Our guides explained that all around this area, there are remains of Latte stone and other kinds of structures. It was awesome to be able to visit this land and share space with our guides and my class.

Tecpatl studied abroad in Guam in Summer 2019.

Guam | Fua Rock

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

One of Guam’s most sacred places is the Fua Rock, and for good reason. Unfortunately, a lot of the teachings about the rock have been forgotten due to colonization and religious indoctrination during the Spanish invasion. Regardless, uncle Joe took us down to his village in Umatac, where the Fua Rock is located, and took us to visit the rock. He explained to us that it is customary to keep a low volume so as to not disturb the spirits in the area, and the importance of asking for permission before entering the locale. Out of respect, we all kept a low talking voice while walking around Umatac. The town is one of the most rural in Guam, and it was beautiful. The waters were also some of the clearest.

During our hike, Uncle Joe explained a lot about the different kinds of rock, trees and plants in the area. He pointed out many things and explained their uses and importance.

There was so much life in the area, and every turn there was a little animal. My eyes caught a little hermit crab and I locked on, following it and watching its movements. It was gentle and took its time walking from rock to rock. I took a few pictures and said my goodbyes, thanking it for allowing me to visit.

We saw the Fua Rock from across the shore, and Joe explained its significance. As I mentioned earlier, the Chamoru had to forget many teachings related to the rock for its survival. If the Spanish knew how importance this area was, they would have destroyed it as they did with other sacred structures and areas. Nevertheless, Uncle Joe shared what they do know: the area was used for new life ceremony. It was traditionally a place where women prayed and practiced their protocol. Today, young men hold ceremony there as well. We did not approach the rock out of respect, and instead took it in from afar. We even got a group picture!

Tecpatl studied abroad in Guam in Summer 2019.

Guam | Atan Tano

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

My group got our assigned organization and I could not be happier! I was paired up with the Guam Preservation Trust (GPT) and met with Joe, Andrew and Charmaine. We visited our site at the Lujan House and talked about our group project, which consists of surveying Guam’s local population and understanding both general attitudes towards cultural heritage preservation and specific attitudes towards a new project by GPT in which ancestral land, previously owned by the oil company Shell, would be used to create Guam’s first cultural heritage preserve.

Uncle Joe explained to us that because we are going to work with Atan Tano, we need to get to know it personally. We need to visit and introduce ourselves to the land, so that is what we did.

The drive was about 30 minutes from the Lujan House, and I was fortunate enough to ride with Uncle Joe. The rest of my group drove with Andrew and Charmaine in the GPT van. On the way, Uncle Joe and I talked about my background, similarities in our community protocols, and what I hope to get out of working with the Guam Preservation Trust. I expressed to him that I was grateful to be part of these efforts and that I was hoping to learn about everything from how to manage land as a community process to how to work with legal documents pertaining to land. I was intrigued by how GPT was able to acquire this territory back from a corporation, and Uncle Joe explained to me that it was a divestment.

Upon arriving, we talked about the importance of safety and asking the land and spirits for permission to enter. We had a small group talk, and made our way to the trail. Charmaine and Andrew explained that students of the University of Guam came a week ago to begin clearing this trail out, which was previously started by wild boars. Funny enough, we found some boar droppings, lol!

I began documenting our journey with the intention of using the images to tell a story for our final presentation. Charmaine and Andrew taught us many things along the way about different plants in the area, and we even came across a plant called sleeping grass that shrinks when you touch it. Unfortunately, the plant is invasive.

The greenery, humidity and sounds in Atan Tano were all very new to me. It was an experience that I will never forget, and I am grateful to the land for taking care of us while we visited.

Tecpatl studied abroad in Guam in Summer 2019.

Guam | The Lancho

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

One of my classmates named Jade recently announced that she was informed she had family in Guam. Apparently, her parents let her know that she had relatives living here right before she boarded her plane! She told my cohort that her uncle wanted us all to go over for a Barbecue on his Lancho (farm).

Today was the day of the BBQ, and wow that food was just as amazing as his home. We took a walk around his garden and came across trees with hundreds, if not thousands, of butterflies. We then walked through an awesome natural tunnel leading to the coast and the view was incredible. I turned around and saw a really cool beach tree-house they are constructing, and snapped a picture.

I remember feeling lucky to be here. I thought about my family and my community that helped me get here and is supporting me from afar while I watched the waves crash. They mean everything to me. After about half an hour of sitting and watching the waves, my cohort was called in by Jade’s uncle. He said it was time for dinner! We had an amazing feast with great company.

Tecpatl studied abroad in Guam in Summer 2019.

Guam | Hiking and Chamoru Village

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

We began the day talking about the ethics of conducting interviews in a community setting. Best practices, as told by my professor, include keeping sensitive information undisclosed and sharing how any and all information will be used with the participant. We then proceeded to cover health and illness in Oceania.

 Later, we visited the coast. I don’t quite remember the name of the area or the beach, but it was astonishing. The waves were like none I have ever seen before and they crashed beautifully against the rocks. I sent my drone up to get aerial footage, and was not disappointed!

We ended the school day with a visit to the mountains as the sun was setting. Because we jumped out of the car and watched the sun set so quickly, we never checked where we were. We were running on island time and island schedule, lol.

That night, we visited Chamoru village, as we were told by locals that it is always active on Wednesdays with numerous food and jewelry vendors. There is also a lot of dancing and laughter everywhere! We had a blast looking through the booths and we even got called up to dance. It was an experience.

Tecpatl studied abroad in Guam in Summer 2019.

Guam | Prutehi Litekyan

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

In class, we learned about a movement on Guam to protect a sacred site known as Litekyan. The local Chamoru community is trying to raise awareness and seize the destruction of the land by the United States Marines. The Marines plan to use a segment of Litekyan, which is currently open to all, to serve as a firing range. Although they will not use all of Litekyan, their environmental impact will damage the area and if they build their range, the entire land mass will not be available to the public, including the indigenous Chamoru people that have taken care of the region for thousands of years.

We were fortunate enough to engage in the demonstration and meet members of the community that were passionate about protecting their sacred sites. Being these reminded me of home and our Protect The Sacred rallies on the mainland.

I came across Amber, a Chamoru woman who was holding up a familiar sign. I introduced myself and my communities, explained what I am doing in Guam and asked her if I could take her portrait. Telling this story is important to me because it hits very close to home. Constantly, we are struggling against desecration of our sacred sites as Indigenous Peoples all over the world. Furthermore, we are constantly having to be at the forefront of environmental protection because it impacts our communities first.

It was beautiful to see families and youth demonstrating together. The signs the community was holding up were very thought provoking, and I was surprised to see that many cars passing by honked in support. The movement is growing.

Guam | Class Field Trip to Hagatna and the Town

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

Every Wednesday, we have a class field trip as part of our course. This wednesday, we went to Hagatna and toured parts of the city with Elder Malia. One of the most notable parts of the trip was traveling to the canoe house where the most traditional canoes are still kept to this day. The Chamoru people are a canoe maritime people, and it was incredible to see their traditional structures as well as their contemporary changes. Malia was very knowledgeable about the history and language of her people, and shared in detail.

We spent some time learning about the importance of the canoe and how fast it was, as noted by Spaniards during the 1500s. It is truly remarkable technology, as the canoe is shaped differently than most canoes in the world. Instead of keeping a symmetrical shape, it is curved and this allows the air to flow differently, letting the small canoe soar.

Our next stop was the Guam museum, but on the way we stopped by the town’s Catholic church. Right in front of the church, there was a vendor selling Coconuts, and because it was a really hot and humid day, all of us wanted a coconut. He sold it with a straw and told us to come back when we finished the juice. He would then open it for us and serve it with soy sauce. it was delicious!

After being refreshed by the coconut, we headed to Guam museum! It was closed, but Elder Malia’s status as a leader in the community granted us access because she was giving us a tour. It was beautiful and had a really nice view of the town. As we all gathered on the outlook, Malia explained the history of this town center and how the Spanish gathered and displaced Chamoru people when they were colonizing the island. The Spanish relocated Chamoru people around the churches and the Spanish officials lived in the hills to police the community with a good view of the land.

Fortunately, we ended on a happy note as we then traveled to a Latte site where there were multiple giant Latte structures. Malia explained that these structures were used as foundations for the traditional Chamoru houses. They are found all over Guam and are reminders of its original inhabitants. The Latte are very important to the Chamoru.

Tecpatl studied abroad in Guam in Summer 2019.

Guam | Visiting the Island You Can Walk To

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

We want to take advantage of our free time before classes start, so today we hopped in our rental cars and headed to a beautiful beach we found on google! It was relatively close, and it sure was beautiful. On the way there we told jokes and shared stories, getting closer with every passing minute.

There was a small island in the middle of the water, and I had the urge to try to swim to it. About 5 minutes out, I realized the shore was just not going to deepen. We ended up walking about 3/4 of the way to the island but some in the group were not comfortable swimmers so we decided to turn back and leave it for another day. We later googled it and found that on low tide, it is perfectly safe to walk to.

We then noticed a swing set in the water built out of wood and approached it. We figured it was there for the public to use and my classmates began doing photoshoots on it, haha. The tide was only knee high, so we were not able to use the swing set to jump, but nevertheless it was a good time.

Tecpatl studied abroad in Guam in Summer 2019.

Guam | First Visit With Guam’s Waters

By Tecpatl Kuauhtzin

After our orientation and initial introductions, my group decided to take a sunset stroll to the beach by the University of Guam’s campus. It was a short 15 minute walk and allowed us all to get to know each other a little more. We talked about our majors and what each of us were hoping to get out of the program. After a bit of walking, we reached the shore and were amazed by the view. The water was also incredibly beautiful and warm, something I was not used to feeling. It was an awesome first day.

Tecpatl studied in Guam in Summer 2019.