Of all three foreign languages, I put the most effort into learning Chamorro, which is still taught in schools. I practiced with a group of loincloth-clothed men.
“Half-a-day,” I said upon entering the Lina’la’ Chamorro Cultural Village in Tumon.
“Hafa adai!” responded Guelu, one of the educators, adding a lilt at the end of the greeting.
“Half-a-day!” I repeated, more upbeat.
“Yes, that’s it,” he said, evidently pleased with my linguistic progress.
The cultural center features a spread of buildings and gardens, including a jungle trail, a small museum with ancient tools, and a model village with bamboo huts topped by sun-crisped palm roofs. The attraction, which opened last year, aims to preserve the Chamorro culture through demonstrations of cooking, dancing, weaving and coconut-hacking.
“This instrument is made of shell and is thousands of years old,” said Guelu as he removed the sweet white coconut meat with a tool resembling an ice scraper. “They found it at this site.”
Guelu, whose name translates to “Spirit of the Past,” wore his ancestors’ legends on his legs, chest, back and arms. Using his body as a PowerPoint presentation, he explained the traditional form of canoe navigation vis-a-vis the tattoo on his right calf. He showed me inked images of a fish, a star, a wave and a bird, but no GPS unit.
A large group of Japanese arrived, signaling the start of the tree-climbing and stomp-dancing show. I took a seat on a back bench beside Guelu. He was preparing a betel nut snack, and I asked for a taste. He guided me through the process: Crack the nut with your teeth, add some limestone paste, roll it in a leaf, chew, spit, chew, spit, chew, spit, swallow if you dare.
“You are the first lady to chew betel nut,” said one of the men after the show.
For this honor, I was enshrined in the pantheon of memorable guests, taking my place beside a 96-year-old Japanese tourist, the oldest man to climb the rickety stairs to the chief’s lair.
Before parting ways, Guelu handed me a gift of a palm-woven frigate bird and left me with these poignant words: “This is about forgiving.”
I heard that refrain repeatedly, often uttered by islanders who suffered significant loss of life, land and liberties during World War II.