by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Guam Daily Post
While watching a speech by Republic US Presidential candidate this week I found myself yelling at my computer screen in Chamorro, “an meggai sinangan-mu, meggai dinagi-mu lokkue’!” This Chamorro saying is tied to a belief that those who tend to tell the truth, tend to say less. While those who talk a lot, lie a lot and are trying to sell you something. The truth usually takes less words to express than a lie.
While I have been following the US Presidential election closely for months, it dawned on me in that moment that 2016 is also an election year in Guam, at least for mayors, senators and non-voting delegates.
In the spirit of my yelling a Chamorro saying at Donald Trump, I sat down to think about what other Chamorro sayings that I’ve collected in my research might have some relevance to selecting leaders on Guam. In this column I’ve put together seven sayings in Chamorro that you might want to consider when casting a vote this year. As a disclaimer, these are my interpretations of the sayings and openly acknowledge that there other ways of analyzing them.
1. Tåya’ apasi-ña i Yine’ase
Translation: “There is no reward for being merciful.” Every political candidate will say they are running for office “para i taotao” or for the people. But how much can people trust this assertion? This saying is a reminder that those who truly seek to help people, should not want to be rewarded for their efforts. Should we judge potential leaders not only based on what they can accomplish, but also their intentions and the direct or indirect benefits their receive through their actions? What doe this say then about leaders who use their power to give money, jobs or contracts to their supporter or their family members?
2. Tåya’ pinekkat sin fegi
Translation: “There are no steps without footprints” This saying can mean many things, but it reminds us that there is no path that does not leave a trail, and that no one is without sin, or perfect. It is understandable that we expect much from our leaders, but what should our standards be, short of perfection? What kind of mistakes are acceptable? What kind aren’t? Should we forgive them? Or is one serious mistake, one too many?
3. I taotao ni’ tumungo’ sumalamångka, ha suhahåyi i barångka
Translation: “A man who knows how to roll, will avoid the bumps” The previous two sayings dealt with idealized conceptions of what a leader should be, but what if we were to be more practical. As this saying suggests, should a good leader be someone who isn’t just virtuous on the inside, but someone who is effective in the political context? Should a leader be someone, who in their actions and with less emphasis on their motivations, is able to work the system to accomplish things? Does this imply that there is no timeless quality to a leader, but it is instead dependent upon the variables of a historical moment?
4. I che’cho’ palao’an, tåya’ nai munhåyan
Translation: “A woman’s work is never finished” Given the Western ways that we have become accustomed to think in, it is easy to think of leaders as being masculine or primarily men. In Guam however, women traditionally held leadership roles, although this has changed significantly with the arrival of the Spanish and Catholicism. That historical power has manifested in the political realm in Guam, despite the way it has been weakened by various forms of patriarchy. Compared to most societies in the world, Guam has notably high female representation in elected positions. Should this reality, or the additional struggle that women face when seeking a leadership role in society affect how people vote?
5. Cha’-mu fañaluluda ni’ ti tihong-mu
Translation: “Don’t salute with a hat that isn’t yours.” In the world of politics, praise and blame are everywhere, and the game seems to be, winners are able to hoard all the praise and the losers end up shoulder all the blame. In order to build their reputations leaders have a tendency to exaggerate their actions and sometimes outright steal credit for things that they aren’t really responsible for. In this saying, we see that it is not only wrong for someone to take credit for something they don’t deserve, but perhaps you should avoid giving credit to those that don’t deserve it. This can be difficult in practice however as people tend not to have good memories and also forget to ask good critical questions.
6. Yanggen guaha prublemå-mu tachu ya un fana’. Mungga manangga esta ki
Translation: “If you have a problem, stand and face it. Do not wait until it has overwhelmed you.” Decisiveness or the ability to act quickly and swiftly when it is deemed necessary, can be a defining quality of a leader. Action can always be put off until later, change can always be delayed, but at what cost? A good leader may be the one who can see that something must be done now, and work to help others see that need.
7. Yanggen taotao sin orna, esta sin tåya’ bali-ña
Translation: “If a man is without honor, he is not worthy of anything.” Is a sense of honor, or principle the core quality of a leader? Does this mean that he or she will act in ways that might even defy or challenge those around them? On the surface this quote seems very simple, but in practice it is difficult to perceive. Confucius argued that a good leader is like the northern star, a unchanging virtuous light that through its constancy compels others to follow it. The problem with this is that most people who look at the night sky don’t know which is the north star, and in the way might not recognize someone who is leading based on principle rather than pandering or hiding their agenda.