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  • Cultures of Commemoration: The Politics of War, Memory, and History in the Mariana Islands by Keith L. Camacho
  • Joanna Poblete
Cultures of Commemoration: The Politics of War, Memory, and History in the Mariana Islands. By Keith L. Camacho. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011. 280 pp. $52.00 (cloth).

Keith L. Camacho has written a historically based monograph that uses a wide variety of oral histories and government documents to examine the experiences of Chamorros before, during, and after World War II. Throughout his work, Camacho looks comparatively at U.S. rule in Guam, Japanese rule in the Northern Mariana Islands, and the long-term impacts of each system on the experiences, attitudes, memories, and activities of this diverse indigenous population. According to Camacho, “Chamorro public memories of the war have developed in distinct and often divergent ways because of a complex past premised on American and Japanese colonial history of the Archipelago” (p. 2). Camacho furthers the projects of other Pacific scholars by presenting World War II as a central event in Pacific Islander histories. Camacho also portrays indigenous perspectives as important aspects to understand World War II.

In chapter 1, Camacho discusses how both U.S. and Japanese colonizers fostered an ideal of Chamorro loyalty as a form of social control before World War II (p. 20). After acquiring Guam through the War of 1898, the United States government encouraged the Americanization of Chamorros on this island through pro-U.S. celebrations (like Flag Day), naval medical policies, and executive orders. The Japanese government gained control of the Northern Marianas from Germany in 1914 and encouraged Japanization through the education of Chamorro youth and nationalistic public ceremonies. However, neither the Japanese nor the United States government intended to incorporate these indigenous peoples as full-fledged members of their national polity.

Despite the similar focus on loyalty by U.S. and Japanese colonizers, [End Page 1007] Camacho constantly highlights the diversity of Chamorro experiences in Guam versus the Northern Mariana Islands. In chapter 1, Chamorros in the Northern Marianas experienced a relatively tolerant coexistence with their Japanese colonizers while Chamorros in Guam worked within stricter cultural and social constraints created by the United States government. Chapter 2 explains how during World War II, Chamorros in the northern islands supported the Japanese military while those in Guam longed for the return of the United States. After the war, Chamorros in Guam were extremely grateful for the return of the U.S. military. Their suffering during Japanese rule from 1941 to 1944 solidified the loyalty and dedication of Chamorros in Guam to the United States. In contrast, Chamorros in the northern islands feared U.S. rule due to strong anti-American wartime propaganda spread by the Japanese government. While Camacho does not always provide analogous amounts of evidence and detailed examples for each region during each period of analysis, his overall comparative approach to this subject is an important and effective way to highlight both the diversity of Chamorro experiences in the Mariana Islands, as well as the function of U.S. and Japanese colonialism in the Pacific, the two major strengths and contributions of this work to the fields of Pacific Islander studies and colonialism.

Camacho also analyzes the function of postwar commemorations as exercises of past and present politics in chapters 4 and 5. He claims that “close attention to the politics of institutional and personal memories of war enables one to better understand the competing histories on which public memories are built” (p. 13). Commemorations in Guam evolved over time, starting initially in the 1940s as coping mechanisms for dealing with postwar traumas. In the 1950s, the celebration of Liberation Day (21 July 1944) shifted from a focus on “reconciliation and rebirth” to a focus on “rehabilitation and modernization” through economic development (p. 93). In the 1960s and 1970s, this event started to emphasize multiculturalism to appeal to the growing number of Japanese tourists to the island, as well as the increasing population of migrant laborers. In the early 1990s, the group United Chamorro Chelus for Independence Association (later renamed Nasion Chamoru, or Chamorro Nation) protested the colonial dimensions of Liberation Day activities and eventually...


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