The Marianas–The Guamanian Fiesta

Leave it to Catholic missionaries to teach indigenous people how to party. According to Guampedia’s entry on Fiestas, apparently on Guam “in the long ago past” families would gather to celebrate special events “such as harvesting of a good crop, clan contests, special village events to craft a canoe, a hut building, gupot Ã¥tof (a roof party) or just congregating to chant and dance, tell stories and legends, to give genealogy lessons, or just getting together to socialize and have fun,” yet “there were no fi’estas.”

The Spanish Catholic missionaries were the first to introduce the system of honoring individual saints on their particular “patron feast date,” a practice Chamorro partiers accepted rather readily. Having village-wide social celebrations encouraged Chamorros
from all over to get together with both family and friends in a spiritual, jovial environment.

Today villages on Guam still celebrate saints and their specific powers, such as, says Guampedia, San Roke, the patron saint of Barrigada, who sympolizes the healer;
San Isidro, the patron saint of Fena who symbolizes the farmer; and Saint Jude, the patron saint of Sinajana, who symbolizes the ability to perform the impossible.

Religious Chamorros mark their patron saint day with a nine day long nobena (special rosary) that reaches its peak with a big village procession and church mass. Devotees come to the procession as a way to fulfill their promesa, a pledge to honor the saint in exchange for a favor that has been bestowed.

After the mass and procession there is a na’taotao tumano’, a big public dinner, to assure that all who came, especially those who traveled a long way, can eat and enjoy the community’s generosity. Every family brings food, drinks or contributes in some way. Says Guampedia of the na’taotao tumano’, “As in other celebrations, the family would prepare for the fiesta in advance–livestock and crops are reserved, pÃ¥nglao (crab) and mahongang (lobster) are caught and fattened, meats are stripped and dried for tasÃ¥hos (dried beef strips), pigs are slaughtered and the ingredients for fritÃ¥da (a pork blood and intestine stew) are cleaned and preserved.” Yum?

Preparing a meal for a fiesta, whether for a religious event or just a big secular party, is more than merely a time to cook. Families work together to bring all the elements of the fiesta meal into place, in the process developing deep familial bonds and passing on recipes and traditions to the next generation. There’s food, food and more food! expands on the meaty list above: “At a fiesta or other island party, families prepare heavily laden tables of local delicacies, such as red rice, shrimp patties, a Filipino style noodle dish called pancit, barbecued ribs and chicken, and taro leaves cooked in coconut milk. Another mouth-watering treat is kelaguen, usually prepared from chopped broiled chicken, lemon juice, grated coconut, and hot peppers. Fiery finadene sauce, made with soy sauce, lemon juice or vinegar, hot peppers, and onions, is sprinkled over the food for a truly memorable dish. After a hearty meal, Chamorros often enjoy chewing pugua (betel nut), mixed with powdered lime and wrapped in pepper leaf.” Now we’re
getting hungry.

But don’t dig in just yet. Tradition dictates a very particular placement of food on the fiesta table according to the relative importance of each of the dishes. As Guampedia describes in its overview of the fiesta table, cutlery and napkins sit at the head of the table, then the starches, especially the most important dish–the red rice. Meat dishes are next–chicken, beef and pork, in that order, with a spicy dipping sauce called fina’denne’ placed at the end. Seafood also appears in this section. Next you get a section of appetizers including varieties of a Micronesian dish called kelaguen, then a section of vegetables and salad, and, finally, soup. What..? We’re forgetting dessert? There are often so many desserts they earn their own separate table.

After setting the table and before the feast begins the host will likely call for a moment of silence and recite a short prayer to “bless the table.” Afterward the buffet line can form, but since leaping to the front is considered rude there may be a moment of hesitation before someone gets nudged to be first. After that it’s every man and woman for his or herself, though you should be kind and give your place in line to the elderly or to families with children.

Sounds like a lot of food? It is. But don’t worry about finishing it all. Traditional also dictates everyone be sent home with a bounty of balutan, which are leftovers meant to be eaten the next day.

And what would a fiesta be without music? At culturally-oriented fiestas musicians may bring out traditional instruments, like the belembaotuyan, introduced above, or the nose flute. (Okay, here’s a picture of an actual guy from Guam playing the nose flute, but it’s not as fun as the first link.) There may also be Kantan Chamorro, which might start with one singer choosing a familiar four-line chant and using it to tease another member of the group, who would then pick up the musical challenge and tease back. This interplay could last for hours. Even at secular, more modern fiestas, music is essential. Everyone may bring out instruments or there may be a hired band. During our fiesta in class we’ll
pretend to eat much good food, try out some Kantan Chamorro and listen to Daniel De Leon Guerrero’s “Marianas.

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