Along the muddy banks of the Talofofo and Ugam Rivers, an ancient CHamoru civilization thrived peacefully centuries ago, practicing a language and culture activists are working tirelessly to preserve today.

The simple day-to-day life of these CHamorus past are the subject of local artist Dawn Lees Reyes’ latest masterpieces, which were unveiled during the annual Dinanña Pa’a Taotao Tano gathering on June 29 at the Valley of the Latte Visitor Center.

“I Estorian Talo’fo’fo yan Inalahan” is the three-part installation created by Reyes, who tells the story of the ancient peoples who inhabited Talofofo and Inarajan, settling along the two villages’ border at the Talofofo River.

“I wanted to do something abstract, something far away from the standard, traditional presentation of historical paintings,” Reyes said, adding that she took artistic license to bring the ancient CHamoru to life.

Honoring tradition

Each art piece is designed to enhance the cultural experience evident throughout the ancient area, and paints a picture of the CHamoru history rooted deep within the river.

“Our Knowledge” (I Tiningo’-ta) honors the tradition of astral navigation and the voyagers who braved the open sea and traveled across the unknown to discover the Mariana Islands.

“Our Beliefs” (I Hinengge-ta) invites the viewer to meditate on the foundation of CHamoru culture as it relates to a relationship with the land and sea.

“Our Village” (I Sengsong-ta) is presented in a set of 16 small paintings that are grouped to create one artwork. Each painting represents facets of CHamoru life and work prior to European contact in the early 1500s. The colorful tiles contribute to a thriving and harmonious CHamoru village, featuring medicinal traditions, storytelling, dancing, family, marriage, weaving and respect.

“It’s beautiful artwork. … Really coming from the heart,” said Inarajan Mayor Doris Lujan, who urged island youth to continue to preserve CHamoru culture through their talent.

Talofofo Mayor Vicente Taitague said Reyes did an “awesome job,” stating that she captured the cultural history of village life as Talofofo manåmko’ (seniors) remember it.

Enhancing experience for visitors

Reyes is a former Inarajan Middle School art teacher with an undergraduate degree in visual arts from San Francisco State University.

In addition to having illustrated and published three CHamoru children’s books, she has commissioned art pieces on display at the Guam Museum, Gloria B. Nelson Public Service Building and Guam Regional Medical City.

The Inarajan-based artist was awarded a $6,000 grant for the three-part installation in October 2017, and was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Agency, Department of Chamorro Affairs, and the Office of the Governor of Guam.

Reyes is also a co-owner and partner of the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park, which cultivates the culture of the ancient CHamoru. She believes her newly installed artwork will contribute to the spirit of the valley.

“This place means a lot to me, and the experience of our visitors means a lot. … I think (the art) is going to enhance their experience and enrich it,” she said.

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