- Maisa: The Chamoru Girl Who Saves Guåhan dir. by Michael Q Ceballos
"Tåta, malago' yu' umegga' Maisa!" is one of the most ubiquitous phrases one hears in my household. Translated into English, what my two-year-old daughter is enthusiastically saying is "Daddy, I want to watch Maisa!" Maisa: The Chamoru Girl Who Saves Guåhan was created from a brilliant collaboration between the Chamorro Studies Division of the Guam Department of Education and [End Page 384] Twiddle Productions in Honolulu and is the first animated film to use Fino' Chamoru, the indigenous language of the Chamorro people of the Mariana Islands, as its primary language. Released in December 2015, the film retells the important Chamorro story of "I Famalao'an Ni Gumoggue Iya Guåhan" (The Women Who Saved Guåhan).
In this cherished story of my people, while bathing in the waters of the village of Hagåtña, the women find a flower that is normally found only in another part of the island. This leads to the discovery of a giant fish completely devouring the island. With worried minds and brave hearts, i lalåhi (the men) gather their spears and sail into the ocean blue to kill this dångkolo' na guihan (giant fish). Unfortunately, their valiant attempt fails. With the complete destruction of the island at stake, i famalao'an gather their collective tiningo' (knowledge) and decide to trap the fish by weaving their long, dark hair into the sturdiest net one could find in Oceania. After a long struggle, the women succeed in trapping the fish, ultimately saving the island from further destruction. With breathtaking visuals and beautiful dialogue, Maisa succeeds in retelling this beloved story of i minatatnganñiha i famalao'an (female bravery). One brilliant change they made to the story was in their creation of the main character, a young Chamorro girl named Maisa who serves as the focal point through which the audience experiences the story's flow.
The film Maisa is groundbreaking and a milestone of Chamorro history for a multitude of reasons. One of the most important reasons is the way it effectively breaks down the prevalent linguistic ideologies attached to the language. To speak frankly, the Cha morro language is currently in a state of crisis. According to the 2010 US Government census, only 16 percent of Guåhan's 165,000 population speaks the language, while 44 percent of households on the island reported being monolingual in English. Even more frightening is a statistic cited in a 2010 Chamorro language assessment survey conducted by the Chamorro nonprofit Pa'a Taotao Tåno': only 4 percent of Chamorro speakers in Guåhan are under the age of thirty. These statistics show that intergenerational transmission is the main challenge to language retention in Guåhan, meaning those that know the language are not passing it down to their children.
Combined with this lack of transmission is the belief that the language cannot handle every aspect of our lives. Many people in Guåhan have accepted that Chamorro has social boundaries. It can be used in the church, on the ranch, in jokes/slang, among the elders, in the southern part of the island, and in the northern islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, but outside of that, there is a belief that the Chamorro language does not belong; English has been naturalized as the primary language choice in Guåhan. This territorialization of the language to particular social realms has greatly halted the language's perpetuation.
Maisa offers a glimmer of hope for our language's perpetuation during this difficult period. Maisa refuses to accept this premise of language erasure and boldly states that a future of language [End Page 385] revitalization is not beyond our reach. Its mere existence shows us that tåya' chi-ña i fino' Chamoru (there are no limits...