LAST Saturday I took my Guam History students on a historic scavenger hunt in Hagåtña. Right now, we are at the beginning of the semester and learning some basic ideas about both what Guam is as a place and what the nature of history is as a concept. For this semester I wanted to try out a new approach to introducing students to Guam, and thought that giving them a “self-motivated” tour around the historic sites of Hagåtña in order to find the meaning of a vague set of clues was ideal.
I have taken my students to Hagåtña several times before over the years because of the way it provides a very clear example of how history is all about layers. Most people think of history as being something determined by a clear line. What is on one side is the past and what is on the other is the present. It is for that reason that if you ask most people why history is important, they will say something to the effect that, as a record of the past, it holds the keys to understanding the present. In this mindset history is like a museum exhibit laid out before you; it has colorful, well-chosen images and text panels that communicate the most basic and pertinent information.
This is a wishful fiction of history. When you look at the central area of Hagåtña for instance, where we see historic sites such as the Plaza de España, Skinner Plaza, Angel Santos Latte Stone Park you can see that history is not a nice, neatly bound package for you to open at your leisure. History is a sprawling mess. When things become “past” they do not all join this great monolithic thing called “the past.” As history passes, layers upon layers of events, landscape changes, people, or legacies, all become piled on top of each other. Eventually some are immersed almost completely, while others stick out and stubbornly insist that they are not past.
If we look at Hagåtña, it has many markers of World War II. There are memorials for valor and sacrifice and there is also the destruction of buildings and a way of life during the war. When you look at all of these intentional and unintentional monuments meant to commemorate the war, always there to remind us how much it has affected life on Guam, can you really say that such things are past? The same goes for the markers of the Spanish presence on Guam. Every relic meant to indicate that the Spanish era is long gone from Guam is also a reminder of how it still, in various ways, remains with us. When history refuses to go away like this, people usually resort to only believing or remembering the positive aspects of it. That is why after all there is a statue in Hagåtña for Maga’låhi Kepuha, a Chamorro leader who welcomed the Spanish, but none for leaders such as Hurao, Agualin or Hula, who fought passionately against the Spanish and Catholic invasions into Chamorro lives.
In Hagåtña, there is so much history that often times you can be standing near a historic relic or some forgotten memorial and not even realize it. So many of us have driven through it, maybe even strolled historic areas, but while the place teems with history, most people don’t even notice.
Returning to the scavenger hunt, my students did reasonably well considering the clues I gave them were intentionally vague and were things you might only piece together if you really searched carefully. I divided them into several groups, each receiving the same 10 clues. Most groups struggled and got 3 or 4 out of 10 right. One group was fortunate enough to get 5 out of 10. I thought I might share some with you to see if you can guess what they refer to. If you have some time this week, head down to the historic areas of Hagåtña, which extend from the U.S. Naval Cemetery, to the Chamorro Village, to Angel Santos Park, and then up the hill to Fort Santa Agueda. See if you can guess what these clues refer to. I may provide some answers and explanations next week.
- We don’t belong here.
- We are very, very far away from home.
- Such a cold man on such a hot island.
- Your Heritage used to be here.
- Paid for by a Storm.
- The most religious island.
- Picnic with your Father.