The Pacific Written Tradition
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The Pacific Written Tradition

In 2010, I read aloud from my new bookto an English class at one of Guam’spublic high schools. After the reading, I

notice a student crying. “Whats wrong?”I ask. She says, “I’ve never seen our culturein a book before. I just thought we weren’t

worthy of literature.” I wonder how manyyoung islanders have dived into the depthsof a book, only to find bleached coral and

emptiness. They teach us that missionarieswere the first readers in the Pacific becausethey could decipher the strange signs

of the Bible. They teach us that missionarieswere the first authors in the Pacific becausethey possessed the authority of written words.

Today, studies show that islander students readand write below grade level. “It’s natural,”they claim. “Your ancestors were an illiterate,

oral people.” Do not believe their claims.Our ancestors deciphered signs in nature,interpreted star formations and sun positions,

cloud and wind patterns, wave currents andfish migrations. Always remember what navigatorPapa Mau once said: “if you can read the ocean

you will never be lost.” Now let me tell youabout the Pacific written tradition, about howour ancestors tattooed their skin with defiant

scripts of intricately inked genealogy, storiesof plumage and pain. Or how our ancestors carvedepics into hard wood with a sharpened point, [End Page 110]

their hands, and the pressure and responsibilityof memory. Or how our ancestors stenciledhieroglyphic poems on cave walls with clay, fire,

and smoke. So the next time someone tells youislanders were illiterate, teach themabout our visual literacies, about how we

still read and write the intertextual sacrednessof all things. And always remember: if youcan write the ocean we will never be silenced. [End Page 111]

Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamorro from the Pacific Island of Guam. He is the author of three books, most recently from unincorporated territory [guma'], which received an American Book Award 2015. He is an associate professor in the English department at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa.

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