In 2010 the University of Guam wrote a grant to bring a Threads of Life exhibition as well as a Traditional Teacher to Guam. The exhibit was to show the material culture of the remote traditional communities of Indonesia that Threads of Life works with and the sense of pride that these communities have for these cultural expressions as seen in the quality of their work.
In February of this year, Threads of Life fieldstaff I Ketut Wenten headed to Guam to set up the exhibition and stayed on as the traditional teacher for 6 weeks teaching a series of classes from basket making to batik and offering lectures on Savu, Bali and Indonesia in general.
It may seem odd for Threads of Life to be going to Guam. But for the past 9 years Dr. Kirk Johnson, a sociology professor from the University of Guam, has been bringing his class to Bali to look at cultural identity in the face of globalization, and have been using Threads of Life as a case study. The students have raised money for their own tickets with bake sales and car washes while some support has been given as grants for their accommodations and food in Bali.
The students are mostly Chamorro, the original inhabitants of Guam, or from Micronesia as well as the Philippines, Vietnam, and America. Guam experienced 350 years under Spanish colonial rule and another 100 years as a colony of the United States. The Chamorro represent a third of the population now on Guam. The US military presence represents well over 40% and may be expanding given that there are plans to move US troops from Okinawa to Guam.
For the Chamorro and other Micronesian nationals the question “”How can I identify with the culture of my grandfathers and grandmothers and still participate in this modern society?”” has become pivotal to their cultural survival. This is the same question that the traditional communities Threads of Life works with ask, and so the dialogue with Dr. Kirk’s classes has been interesting for us to engage in over the years.
Kirk choose Bali for the same reasons that it works for Threads of Life to have Balinese field staff visiting these traditional communities: it would appear that Balinese culture has gone from strength to strength as it has modernized. Conversations with young Balinese provides many interesting insights for both the Pacific islanders and the Balinese.
During his time in Guam Wenten made friends with many Chamorro and has met elders and healers. He found common ground in the language and in the peoples’ cultural ways. “The word for banyan tree is Nu Nu in Chamarro and that is the same name in Timor. Manuk is chicken which is the same in Sumatra and what Balinese call a rooster. The way that the Chamorro acknowledge the spirits of the land is the same as Bali and other traditional communities we travel to,” says Wenten.