20 years since law passed, venue has yet to be identified

MORE than 20 years since the enactment of a public law requiring the construction of a central reburial facility for ancestral Chamorro remains, the Guam Historic Preservation Office is still waiting for the plan get off the ground.

With no site ever identified and no follow-through from the government, the plan has since been buried in oblivion, said Guam Historic Preservation Officer Lynda Aguon.

“Every time there’s a new administration, they will ask us about the status of this plan. We will give them a report and then that’s it. Nothing happens; it’s a dead issue,” Aguon said.

Public Law 21-104, enacted May 29, 1992, tasked the Department of Parks and Recreation to establish a Chamorro Shrine – to be called Nåftan Mañaina-ta – for the entombment of ancestral remains recovered from burial sites throughout the island and accumulated by the Guam Public Library.

Tony Mariano, then-director of Parks and Rec, submitted a draft appropriation request for the facility design as required by law, but the department’s subsequent efforts to implement the plan remained futile throughout the succeeding years.

“We’re tired of giving them a report,” Aguon said. “The senators know about the [Chamorro Shrine]. Somebody needs to take up this issue and move with it. We should stop just talking about our culture and bury our ancestors’ [remains]."

Burial sites

Beginning in the 1920s, hundreds of human remains belonging to Chamorro ancestors have been dug up from various project sites on Guam.

In 2000, Aguon brought home 88 boxes of bones retrieved from the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. The skeletal remains were collected on Guam in the early 1920s by former museum collector Hans Hornbostel.

Aguon said the boxes, containing more than 300 remains, had been turned over from the Department of Chamorro Affairs and remained in the artifacts storage at the DNA building in Hagåtña.

Following the repatriation of the Hornbostel collection, then-Gov. Carl T.C. Gutierrez issued an executive order creating a task force to make recommendations on the disposition of ancestral remains. But no action followed after the task force submitted a report.

More discoveries

Development projects on Guam have since uncovered more burial sites, including the 200 remains found in the sewer line project on Marine Corp Drive; 53 in Ylig Road; 88 in Fiesta Resort; 300 in Hotel Okura premises; and 64 remains recently found in the bridge restoration site in Hagåtña.

Aguon said most private developers in Tumon have reburied the ancestral remains dug up in their project sites, where proper markers and monuments have been erected. But some government agencies are still keeping boxes of remains returned to them by the archeological firms.

“We keep counting and over the years, we will keep discovering,” Aguon said, adding that keeping the bones will continue to be a challenge until a central reburial ground is built.

She deplored that the two-decade plan is low on the government's list of priorities.

“They can get a (hotel occupancy tax) bond for parks and the plaza, but they can’t get a bond for Nåftan,” Aguon said. “Now they want to get a loan for the Legislature to build their new building, but we can’t get a loan to build the Nåftan.”

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