In the yard of CHamoru master storyteller Peter R. Onedera is an old tree stump nearing the end of its nearly 40-year-old life. It represents a cycle, Onedera says.
The local author and poet remembers planting the Flame Tree seed in 1987 on the same day his eldest daughter was born.
Now, as the tree’s beaten, brown trunk withers with every passing day, Onedera finds inspiration in nature’s life cycle, which very much mirrors ours, he said.
Native language 'alive and well'
“Taimanu na Ini” or, “How is this?” in CHamoru, is the title of Onedera’s latest literary work: a 94-page lyrical poetry collection written completely in CHamoru.
Onedera says the book answers generational questions such as: “How is a CHamoru supposed to exist and survive in this ever-changing world of challenges?” and “Is this what we perceive things to be in our lifetime as CHamorus?”
The book, released last month by Taiguini Books, a division of the University of Guam Press, shares the wordsmith's reflections on life, culture, language, politics and more.
“It’s an attempt to continue to pave the way for CHamoru language to be used. I hope people take a chance to read it. They can draw their own conclusions, thoughts and feelings,” Onedera says.
“What I hope they do is write, too, in the CHamoru language. There has to be a perpetuation of CHamoru in the written form. I hope it inspires indigenous writers.”
Another educational avenue, Onedera adds, is that Guam youth can gain an appreciation and better understanding for CHamoru language through his book.
“It allows an opportunity for this to be a classroom setting,” he says, mostly for high school and college students. “The language is still alive and well.”
CHamoru perspective at heart
Though he’s ventured into writing CHamoru poetry prior, Onedera, a CHamoru Language Commission member, says he wanted to give his latest work “the entire strength of the CHamoru language."
The acclaimed author says when English is an option in local literature, readers tend to lean on what they understand, rather than spend their time defining foreign words.
He encourages readers to “get the perspective of the CHamoru at heart,” and adds that the poetry book is “a challenge for the CHamoru language learner.”
While the poetry collection addresses modern-day issues, mainly the preservation of CHamoru language and culture, Onedera also presents history through his eyes.
He comments on Guam nature, society, social ills, indigenous issues and self-determination, among other items, from an “elderly mindset,” he says, for a younger generation.
These items, which cover a wide range of island discussion, tap on topics that are often talked about, yet linger over lifetimes. Onedera says his thoughts, now in print, can be likened to the “tree of life.”
“Things have changed for the better. Things have remained the same. Things have deviated. That's the chorus of our lives,” the poet said.
As the lifelong writer adds another piece of literature to his long list of contributions to CHamoru language preservation, he hopes to continue writing for a cause.
CHamoru language and culture find a champion in the cultural enthusiast, who proudly presents poems rooted in his island home.
“There’s still many more (contributions) to come, as long as I’m alive,” he says.