- Towards a Theology of the Chamoru: Struggle and Liberation in Oceania
In the introduction to his book, Jonathan Blas Diaz tells us that his primary task, and that of all like-minded people in Oceania, is “to identify a theology from below” (xv). By this he means a theology that will serve “those who are oppressed and the outcasts of Oceanic society” (xv). From the outset, then, Diaz identifies his dual purpose: to redress the wrongs of the history of his people, the Chamoru people of Guam (and by extension of the Northern Marianas), and to do this within a theological context.
This book is a passionate outcry from a Pacific Islander who is also a Catholic believer, one who has taken his faith seriously enough to earn a graduate degree in theology; this volume is the published thesis that he wrote for this degree. The work is presented not as a history of the Chamoru people or even as a political statement—although it contains elements of both—but rather as a theology that aspires to make sense of a people’s history while serving as a call to arms to challenge whatever might threaten to smother the cultural identity of the people of Guam and the Northern Marianas. There are a good many things that constitute such a threat, according to the author. Two issues, however, surface repeatedly in the book as Diaz seeks to rescue the identity of his people: what he describes as cultural loss and the absence of political self-determination.
On the cultural loss issue, Diaz cavils at the way his fellow Islanders have been presented (or, in many cases, present themselves) as First World people when they are not. Diaz seems to argue that colonization (and not so much missionization) has blinded Island people to their distinctive cultural identity. He attempts to retrieve this cultural identity, in part, through the use of folklore, representing as it [End Page 548] does the values of the local people. He looks for additional clues to the identity in some historical sources, even those authored by non-local people. The speech of the local chief-tain, Hurao, for instance, is quoted at length, even though the speech was actually the product of a French Jesuit, Father Charles Le Gobien, who, while drawing on some of the early Spanish material, embellishes his account of the early hostilities between Spaniards and Islanders with a stirring appeal to Chamoru nationalism.
In his assessment of the damages of colonization, Diaz is generous toward the early missionaries, especially the Jesuits and Capuchins, excusing them from many of the charges that have been echoed for years regarding missionary complicity in the early “wars” and the cultural damage that followed the conversion of the Islands to Catholicism. The author shows special regard for Diego Luis de San Vitores, the superior of the early Jesuit missionary band, for his pacifism even after the outbreak of early hostilities on Guam, for the cultural sensitivity he displayed in his attempts at conversion, and for his reliance on local people to propagate mission teaching.
The author’s criticism of Christianity, especially on Guam, is directed mostly at the present-day Church and its program. Diaz is critical of what he sees as the heavy-handed use of authority by Church leadership, the Church’s espousal of a conservative agenda, and the introduction of the Neo-Catechumenate, a new religious movement bringing dozens of foreign seminarians to the island. In Diaz’s eyes, this movement is a foreign imposition that rolls back any gains in inculturation that the local Church has made, because of the alien spirituality that the movement embraces and the replacement of local clergy by foreign priests, which also introduces divisiveness in the Church community.
The author, along with others on Guam, seems to hold out hope for a cultural renaissance on the island. He...