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Tano Y Chamorro (The Land and the People)

October 26, 2011

Local culture take great pride in their connection with the land; they are of the land, and the land is of the people.

So much so that it’s emblazoned on every license plate, along with the letters “USA”.

There is a dichotomy on Guam when it comes to tano, one which I’ve refrained on posting until it made sense to me.  I think it does now, so here goes:

I was walking the beach the other day and passed islanders frolicking in the water.  Up on the beach was a pile of their possessions – and – a fairly healthy pile of Heineken beer bottles and misc food wrappers.  I passed them by, wondering idly about the fate of the bottles at dusk.  When I returned several hours later, the islanders and their possessions were gone – but the bottles remained.

A garbage can was 100 feet away.

This is pretty common on just about every beach on Guam, and along many roadsides.

When one is done with one’s trash, it appears to be perfectly acceptable to drop it where one stands.  In this instance, a stolen bath towel and McDonalds for a beach lunch – then just walk away.

It’s not just fast food trash, either – We went to the Sella Bay trailhead, and somebody dumped off a bedroom set and a chair.

It is a saddening thing to see this – the land as a trash bin.

It’s pervasive, too.  I saw a man pull into a parking lot, open the doors of his car and just shovel trash out.  A kid, walking out of high school, finishes his soda and drops the cup without breaking stride.

Whe the Pheebs and I would hike, we joked about the debris.  We called the line of demarcation between pristine and trashed the “12 pack line”.  Trash magically disappeard about a half mile down from a beach access point, as ten minutes is about as far as anyone seems to want to walk with a 12 pack of Bud.

I’ve asked about this bizarre behavior, as you’d expect people with limited resources and limited land to respect it a bit more.  The best explanation I’ve recevied to date is that it is an indication of being lower-class (as in being a servant or housekeeper) to pick up after one’s self.  “They’re not that kind of people”, was the convoluted explanation, as if to keep one’s tano clean is to be a member of the servant class.

Granted, the Chamorro mana’chang, or servant class, were not allowed near the water for fear of contamination (losing fish and water’s fertility), but I’m pretty sure the throngs of people in the water aren’t all matua, or warrior class, every Sunday.

Seeing what is a most beautiful island disrespected by its own makes one’s heart heavy.

If the people are truly of the land, they do themselves great disrespect by allowing such desecration.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2011 7:14 am

    You know I could not agree more! Change will only come when someone steps up to show that old norms aren’t always applicable in modern times. If people realized that they are actually disrespecting their own heritage by trashing their precious land and natural resources. But change seems to occur very, very, very slowly in closed cultures.

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 26, 2011 5:04 pm

      Cultural change is like training a sapling to grow a certain way via gentle steady effort.

      Well said.

  2. October 26, 2011 3:29 pm

    Can you imagine the same situation anywhere in the Keys, Chuck?
    Tourism would cease to exist, and quickly.
    Unfortunately, it takes decades -maybe centuries- to change these types of behaviors and ways of thinking. Especially in a place like Guam.
    Hopefully…they get it together, and soon. Looks like an otherwise beautiful place that may not be, for long.
    Take care…

    Greg P. In WV, just 9 days from the Keys…

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 26, 2011 5:28 pm


      I can tell you firsthand (a result of stumping around the northern woods of MI) the behavior is not limited to Guam, and can be changed in fairly short order.

      It is a sickness of our society, in my opinion, to show a marked preference towards a “take-make-waste” cycle of consumption, exacerbated by a need for individual packaging and disposable EVERYTHING. I remember when vacuum cleaners lasted 50 years; now they’re hard pressed to last five. Cars? 15 years before the plastic degrades to brittle dust, while my Dad’s 82 year old Ford can still rumble to the top of Pike’s Peak under its own power. I have to replace a 15 year old vehicle shortly for this reason – plastic parts no longer made. We’re looking to replace it with a 49 year old car, as we may still get replacement parts, and plastics are held to a bare minimum.

      There is no “away” in thrown away, especially when one is working with materials synthesized from fossil fuels and esoteric alloy. I have a photograph of a beer pull tab on the beach; I’ve found several here, yet pull tabs have not been around for decades.

      The Keys exhibit the same madness, difference being we can afford to employ people full-time to pick up after our slovenly asses. If you don’t believe me, please take a walk or a bike ride down Duval at dawn. It’s a sticky, sloppy mess from the prior evening’s revelry, cleaned up via hosings, leaf blowers, and a very busy Elgin Pelican.

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