Reflections on a Dedication

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Reflections on a Dedication By Nicholas J. Goetzfridt Editor’s Note: Dr. Goetzfridt delivered the following address at the presentation of his book, “Guåhan, A Bibliographic History” on November 29, 2011 at the University of Guam. I’ve been asked about the two individuals that I dedicated this book to because there are only the initials J.Q.T. and L.R.R. on the dedication page along with their birth year and the year in which they were placed or forced into the leper camp. J.Q.T. and L.R.R. – we don’t know their names – were so called lepers in the Ypao leper colony in the very early 1900s who were exiled, along with all other lepers from that camp, to the Philippines in 1912. I remember thinking that whoever I dedicated this book to, it should be someone buried in history – buried not in terms of what significance this individual might have had in the context of Guam’s history – but rather buried under a combination of factors, accidents, historical citations and formulations, and of course the preeminence given to large historical markers – flesh and blood historical markers like those who came after the so called “discovery” of Guam – human markers who did something to further along a Spanish or an American hegemonic agenda. I probably decided to look for someone who, even if they could be placed on a level playing field as it were – like stars in a sky that everyone who looks up can see – would be the least expected candidates. J.Q.T. and L.R.R. had remained in my mind, I think, from almost the beginning of this little process of mine. As I have said, they were among the lepers in the Ypao camp that Governor Robert E. Coontz sent to permanent exile in the Philippines in 1912, most of whom were never heard from again and who, one must assume, are buried there, probably in unmarked graves – at this very moment they are there and will likely never been found. J.Q.T. was a crippled woman born on Guam in 1876. When the mechanisms of this exile began falling into place, L.R.R. – a blind man and a leper, born on Guam in 1858 - escaped into the jungle with, according to Coontz, L.R.R. carrying J.Q.T. on his back who would have guided the blind L.R.R. where to go. There are a few vague variations of how or who lead who through the jungle but the bottom line is that J.Q.T. and L.R.R. temporarily escaped their fate and through their determination and pain, found freedom. In a rather lengthy paper entitled “Leprosy” published in the 1912 U.S. Naval Medical Bulletin, several photographs detailing the condition of individual “lepers” from the Ypao leper colony along with the “history” and “examination” of each “case” are included. L.R.R., “case 10” is seated on the last wooden step upon which one would then enter into what appears to be a small wooden shack. But 1

his hands are held up – apparently by an investigator or a health official – in such a way that we can see L.R.R.’s stubby fingers. The face and even the chest of the man standing behind L.R.R. inside the shack and holding L.R.R.’s arms solidly up with some effort it seems almost against L.R.R.’s will, is not shown. His right foot with its absence of toes is lifted up and he is facing someone unseen who seems to have told him to do so before the photograph was taken. It appears that he has only two toe stubs on his left foot and no toes on the right. It is not a particularly easy photograph to look at but the article itself and the photographed cases that form an integral part of it, is an article of elaborately staged objectivity – the kind of objectivity that was common during this time period when surgical procedures might have been explicitly shown but their shock value reduced for the sake of science. In this photograph L.R.R. is looking toward the out-of-the-picture-man giving him directions with what I personally see as a look of knowing and of disgust – a knowing of common dignity within which human beings function who do not establish themselves in positions of authority from which they then leap beyond the bonds of commonality and sacrifice even the smallest courtesy or respect for the sake of some deluded greater good in the world. L.R.R. is giving that out-ofsight man this look of disgust that emanates from the simple and innate means by which humanity is fostered between people. Case 15, J.Q.T. is sitting on the same exact step up little shack but a different one (the wood grains are different), her eyes closed and another out-of-sight man holding and pressing down on her right shoulder. She has her hands resting on each of her thighs. Her clothes have a gunny sack looking quality to them and a towel seems to be wrapped around both of her shoulders and draping downward a little and it is difficult for me not to see her slightly downward directed face and mouth as possessed of a weight that embodies the same disgust against commonality and dignity that comes of one compelled through physical control to participate in something that has no bearing upon the welfare of the person upon which we are to draw an objective surmise of some kind. We are to see her ravaged legs but still possessed, unlike L.R.R., of their toes. According to the examination of Case 15, she began to have sharp shooting pains in her legs in 1906 and began to lose sensation in both legs but would nevertheless sometimes still have shooting pains throughout them. And if you pressed on her legs firmly enough, she would get severe pains. L.R.R. and J.Q.T were eventually hunted down, found a month later somewhere in a Guam jungle, and exiled to the Philippines on the next available ship. Meanwhile, the Ypao lepers who did not escape or were not taken by relatives who frequently tried to circumvent the security implemented by the naval administration in an attempt to reach and to touch their loved ones, were marched or were walked from the Ypao colony in Tumon through the streets of


Hagåtña in front of these relatives who, we are told by accounts of the time, were crying. An awaiting steamer ship at an unspecified location was waiting for them. In his 1930 memoirs From the Mississippi to the Sea, Governor Coontz recalled this day of exile, writing that it was “done ostensibly on account of economy, but it was a heartrending procedure which made one think either of a circus or a big funeral” as these exiles walked through Hagåtña where “their relatives and many other natives congregated to see them go.” Coontz notes in an aside that the “medical men” at the time of his administration of Guam had come to the conclusion that one of the primary ways that leprosy was contracted was through bedbugs. In the very same paragraph, Coontz wonders whether or not an eighty-eight-year-old man managed to survive the voyage (apparently he had survived the walk), notes that a blind man (L.R.R.) had escaped with a crippled woman (J.Q.T.) on his back. They went “many miles into the vastness of the island, where we eventually recaptured them in a starving condition.” And many Christmas presents were “wrapped and tied by the wives of the white men on the island” for 1,800 children. Some day, I would like someone to clearly explain to me why J.Q.T. and L.R.R. are almost invisible players in Guam’s history. Of course they are a part of Guam’s history – but they are primarily so in technical terms – like a quickly falling space particle that glows for an instant but then is gone from the space we understand in our limited capacities and gone from our abstract sense of the stars. And many of the times when these so-called “falling stars” flash through the sky, we are either asleep or we are looking at the ground. In a metaphorical sense, this ground that we are looking at is composed of a past that seems to yearn for a simple explanation, or at least a direct telling – almost like a comprehensible systems of signs and words that we can all agree upon so as to begin on and converse from a common ground as it were. Perhaps so that we do not lose each other within some imagined historical night. So that we can have strands woven into patterns and these patterns woven into larger and tighter patterns that take on shapes that we can see and identify with. Certainly we all know of the event markers of Guam’s history – the fortuitous arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, the Spanish galleons stopping at Guam before and after the arrival of San Vitores in 1668, the Chamorro-Spanish War that lasted three decades, the long Spanish administration of the Mariana Islands, the bloodless seizure of Guam by Captain Henry Glass in 1898 during the SpanishAmerican War that no one on Guam apparently knew anything about. The naval administration of Guam, its efforts toward Americanization of the Chamorro people that included the teaching of democratic principles in the public schools without their implementation in reality, the Japanese invasion of the island in 1941 and Japan’s brutal control of the island that included numerous Chamorro sacrifices for the sake of one hidden American Marine, the American invasion of Guam on July 21, 1944 and everything that we have known 3

governmental-wise since then, including the passage of and the governance of the island under the Organic Act. But unfortunately none of this will help to answer my question. When one does not have or rather, when one did not have the freedom of historical liberty because of colonial influences that for at least a few decades and even beyond essentially rendered Guåhan as an island that had to be “discovered” in order to engage with the world – first on an achingly gradual plane from Magellan to San Vitores and all the way to the Japanese invasion and the American liberation – and then, finally, on a faster plane following the end of World War II, it becomes very difficult to think and more importantly, to act apart from this system of signs. But once one does, one may very well suddenly find J.Q.T and L.R.R. waiting for us around the next corner or around the next feeling of freedom when one so acts. This is why the work of imaginative scholars of integrity like Dr. Anne Perez Hattori, Dr. Vince Diaz, Dr. Robert Underwood and several others are so important now because I think we learn from them that it is not necessary to have a standard place, a standard ground from which to launch ourselves. Rather it is only when we see a past for Guam that is not beholding to the colonial tenets laid before us that these falling stars not only appear to us more often but fill us also with such a sense of wonder that their memories alone fill us with a commitment to find more. After having read so much of the historical literature –which goes directly against a rather persistent, common belief that this literature is sparse – and after having thought and written about this literature for a few years, I am convinced that the gates to Guam’s history are only now beginning to open themselves wider than they have ever been before. It seems as though we are looking upward more often, into the sky as it were, where these historical stars have been for a long time and where series of startling lights – the kind that instantaneously touch our souls for a startling moment – are there for the asking. While it is of course that we stand on historical events, it is this liberation of thought that is the key to seeing and to even reaching these stars. The historical literature of Guåhan is vast and of considerable potency so it doesn’t really matter if an uninformed belief in a limited literature or even an overall American ignorance about Guam persists. What matters is how the veils of history created by a belief in a pattern or a system of signs determined by outside historical markers are peeled back to reveal the L.R.R.’s and the J.Q.T’s of Guam’s past. It is true of course that the majority of this historical record was produced by European chroniclers. But in order to apply this historical record to reach new depths of historical thought and of basic freedom of thought, it is important that the idea of the L.R.R.’s and the J.Q.T.’s having a central part in this history be made legitimate, thought of as being legitimate, and acted upon as


being legitimate. Only then can Guam’s history be seen in its people and in the colorful context of its very soul. --Guåhan: A Bibliographic History, by Dr. Nicholas Goetzfridt, was published by University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu in 2011. Blending bibliographic integrity with absorbing essays on a wide range of historical interpretation, Goetzfridt offers a new approach to the history of Guam. Here is a treasure trove of ideas, historiographies, and opportunities that allows readers to reassess previously held notions and conclusions about Guam’s past and the heritage of the indigenous Chamorro people. Particular attention is given to Chamorro perspectives and the impact of more than four hundred years of colonial presences on Micronesia’s largest island. Extensive cross-references and generous but targeted samples of historical narratives compliment the bibliographic essays. Detailed name and subject indexes to the book’s 326 entries cover accounts and interpretations of the island from Ferdinand Magellan’s “discovery” of Guahan (“Guam” in the Chamorro language) in 1521 to recent events, including the Japanese occupation and the American liberation of Guam in 1944. The indexes enable easy and extensive access to a bounty of information. The place index contains both large and localized geographic realms that are placed vividly in the context of these histories. An insightful forward by Chamorro scholar Anne Perez Hattori is included.