Monday, July 13, 2015

Saipan's Catholic Cemetery

I just got back from a monster of a work trip with a short 5 day stopover in Saipan.  I was on the road for about 3 weeks total, and as I type this I am very, very tired.

It's been about two years since I've been home.  On my first day back, Edz and I went to visit the Catholic cemetery in Chalan Kanoa.  It was our first stop after having breakfast at Shirley's.

The way different cultures choose to bury their dead fascinates me.  In Saipan, the Catholics use the grounds of an old Shinto shrine as their cemetery.  It's right next to the Catholic cathedral.  I'm sure somebody knows the history of how that happened, but I have no idea.  The Japanese controlled the islands from the end of WWI to the middle of WWII, so it must have been around that time.

The concrete torii, or gate, in the top photo stands at the front of the cemetery.  When you pass through the gate you leave the profane and enter the sacred (at least according to Wikipedia).  Along the path are several toro, or lanterns.

The gate and lanterns predate World War II.  Several of the lanterns were severely damaged, but the ones that are intact are in incredible shape considering their age.

There is a structure at the center of the shrine/cemetery, but the construction looks newer than World War II.  It's possible that the concrete base is from the original shrine, but it's been updated since.  Surrounding the shrine are graves with all sorts of Christian icons.

While the newer graves are quite elaborate, the older graves are very simple.  Over the years, funerals have become an opportunity for Chamorros to show off their wealth, something that can be controversial and a great source of island gossip.  I assume that's what caused the change in grave stones.

The oldest graves are written in Spanish.  This particular grave has survived the Spanish, German, Japanese, and American administrations.

And like many places on Saipan, right in the middle of some graves is an old WWII bomb shelter.  But unlike many of the shelters along the beach or on people's farms, this shelter has been sealed.

But you can still see bullet holes on the outside (you can see a concrete slab closing off the door on the bottom left of the photo).  The Americans invaded Saipan 71 years ago, but these scars have survived the years.  Amazing, and right in the middle of a shrine/cemetery.  What a unique place!

And the reason I visited the cemetery was to see my Dad's grave.  The layout of the cemetery is chaotic, and it took some time to find where he was buried.  It's been nearly 10 years since he passed, and about 15 since he slipped into a coma.  He'd be 65 were he alive today.


lifeseyephoto is me said...

Is the last photo of dad's grave?

Bucky Taotaotasi said...

Yes. You didn't get to go to Saipan when you were in Guam last year, did you? When's the last time you were there, 1992?