Monday, December 03, 2007

Indigenous Rights

David Khorram left me a comment on my last post asking me what I meant by indigenous rights. I think that is a question worth asking, but I'm going to have to think about that one for a while before I put my thoughts to print.

In the meantime, a local poet sent me a collection of their poems a few months ago for some feedback. They are a series of poems depicting life on Saipan from the point of view of the different people that call this place home.

This one struck me as especially powerful:
You can remember your father telling you how important this is:
[His voice, murmuring mutter, like slip-slop standing in the surf.]
Waves tugging the net strings from your fingers, reach up, throw, staggering with weight of wet and twisted rope.

This is what you need, he says, and this is who we are, fishermen, and this is who we will be.
How little he knows and how little you know,
because he does not stand at the shore--he sits at the pala-pala, crushed cans and coconut wine
making a sloppy buzzy circle, mingling with cracked, annato-stained styrofoam plates, with the ropes.
[More cans on the warped table, lined up ready.]

"It's culture," he mumbles into his chins, grinning, bleary, sweaty, smoky, at tanned and tumbling children tangled in the nets, catching nothing.
[It's Saturday.]

And soon you will pull a T-shirt, stiff with sweat and salt, over your head, go to school.
Stay quiet and stare at black and white pages.
[Close your eyes.]
The bell (the hammer against the pole), and [sigh] free again to be

a fisherman
like your father.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate poetry. Poetry was created by evil English teachers looking to torture students. As such, I'm probably not the best person to critique a poem.

Anyone care to comment?


I had two stories published in the Saipan Tribune today. I reported on the Christmas Tree lighting event at Paseo de Marianas and on the Cleanup of Garapan with the USS Germantown and Garapan Elementary School.


Jeff said...

Poems are like everything else, some are good, some bad. There is something to be said for poetic language, but not everything is great just because it's a poem.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
US poet (1874 - 1963)

That says a lot, has a point, sounds great and sticks with you. Besides, English teachers aren't the evil ones, math teachers are.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Poetry is like Kryptonite.

I used to like math, but then again, I was a dork.

I only got 1 question wrong on the Math portion of the SAT.

Marianas Eye said...

I should clarify my question about indigenous rights. In essence, I'm asking, should any human being have more rights than any other human being? Should some be "more equal" than others just because they were born in a place, or their ancestors were born in a place? How does a concept like "indigenous rights" stand with "human rights"?

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I'll contemplate this for about two weeks, but I think that the true essence of "indigenous rights" are the same as "human rights."

When I first came to Saipan I went to a party and spent the entire night sitting around and drinking beer.

After proving that I could go sip for sip with these guys, somebody remarked that as soon as I started chewing betel nut, I'd be on my way to being a "real" Chamorro.

In my mind, chewing betel nut has nothing to do with culture. Insuring that it stays legal and accepted has nothing to do with protecting our culture.

Spitting in public is not an indigenous right, as some probably would argue.

So what is culture? Is it defined by what you eat? If I eat SPAM, am I more or less "Chamorro?" How about turtle?

Is it defined by your education? If I go off and get a degree, do I become less Chamorro?

I'll bounce more ideas of you during our morning runs.

Dominic said...

I always thought of indegenous rights as a political (power) issue. I tend to think of it as a group of individuals who are somewhat "conservative" in their beliefs in terms of resisting change by colonizing or hegemonic forces. These rights, I believe, entail a person's choice to a way of life that is consistent with cultural traditions especially in terms of spirituality and subsistence.

Indegenous rights have become codified into law especially in countries that have a history of colonization like Australia and the US.

Tribal casinos are not about indegenous rights but of political self-determination by various American Indian nations.

Have you seen that movie "Syriana"? Where Matt Damon and the Saudi prince are driving down the desert road and yield to a herd of goats sheparded by the bedouin (right before the CIA drops a missile on them)?? The shepard's right of way through the road is an indegenous right NOT drilling for oil. Although he could, but then he would be accountable to global forces where business and politics only care for their profit and not about where you can herd your goats.

O. Calimbas said...

I tend to think of indigenous rights the same way as dominic sees it in his (?) first paragraph. Indigenous peoples are addressed with respect to their plight as disenfranchised and dispossessed by former colonizers or their neo-colonizers, if there is such a thing.

Actually, I think the UN adopted a declaration on indigenous rights just a couple months ago, but it had been in the works for quite a while, probably stirred up by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in '92.

That may be your segue, Angelo, to the environment. Indigenous rights intrinsically involve the land as much as culture does with nonmodern society.

And it was at the Earth Summit that good 'ole Bush, Sr. announced that the lifestyle of modern society was "not up for negotiation."

Now, I suppose the question may be whether the notion of indigenous rights (as dominic and i see it) fit with the CNMI. My instincts say no, but then again, I'm an outsider with limited knowledge of this area.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

We definitely throw the word "indigenous" around a lot in these parts and I often disagree with its use.

Most people here accept it when it is used, but I do believe that sometimes it is used improperly.

I agree with Dominic that a lot of it comes down to God and Food. It also includes aspects of simply "how does one take care of their family?"

I also agree that there are differences between the definition of "indigenous" in different locations. Indigenous here is not the same as indigenous in Florida.

Maybe you can answer this, but is there a legal definition of indigenous in the CNMI?

I know that there are restrictions on who can own land (thanks, Dad) and there are preferences in hiring, but outside of those two very large exceptions, do we spell out the specific meaning of the word indigenous?

saipanboonieman said...

im gonna throw this out there since ive been wondering it myself: with indigenous, who should be included in the definition? chamorro? carolinian? both? if carolinians consider themselves indigenous, why do they continue to identify themselves differently from chamorros?

anyway angelo, this topic is probably too deep to cover on your blog.

like you, ive been contemplating the meaning of "indigenous" myself for sometime now. maybe you should have a meet-up on this? seems like itd be an interesting debate. i for one would like to hear some other ideas to help me with my own.

Dominic said...

indegenous: an adjective. since time immemorial aka "since ever since".

TexasPhil said...

What does betel nut do to you? Is it like strong tobacco or weed or what?

I might like to try it, but won't it stain my pretty teeth red??

If it won't, i'll give you my address. I want you to mail me some of it.

We'll chew it and play foosball at the bowling alley at lunch. or my twice weekly poker game.

Texas Phil

TexasPhil said...

If you take the road less traveled by, does that mean you don't get to take the highway?

Texas Phil

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

You can't send betel nut to the US. I don't know where to get it stateside. It might be illegal, I don't know.

It is kind of like chewing tobacco. They say it gives a mild high, but I don't know. It must be really mild.

It won't stain your teeth permanently if you brush them.

katerade =) said...

glad to see you have an interest in indigenous art. the company i'm working for is actually trying to save dying cultures through music art and film. it's really sad, like 90% of languages are gonna die in one generation. check out or for more of what's going on.