Craig Santos Perez

Y Salmo Sija

A preface

Almost every Sunday, my grandmother dragged me to Catholic mass at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in the village of Hagatna, the capital of the Pacific Island of Guahan (Guam, in English). The Basilica marks the site where the first Catholic church on Guahan was constructed in 1669 under the guidance of Padre San Vitores. Guahan, a Spanish colony from the 17th century to 1898, has been a US territory since the Spanish-American War.

Although mass was held in English, each night my grandmother recited the rosary in Chamorro, the native language of Guahan. She said her mother taught her the prayers in Chamorro, and that her mother would read her the psalms from the Chamorro Bible. Bored during mass, I read the psalms in the English language Bibles. The voice of the psalms — helpless, threatened, confused, hopeful, and trusting — continues to haunt me.

My family immigrated to California in 1995, when I was 15 years old. We stopped going to church. I stopped hearing my grandmother's voice saying her prayers in Chamorro. When I spoke to her on the phone, I asked if she still had her mother’s Chamorro Bible, but she said that it was lost when she was still a young girl. It wasn't until about a year ago, when I began searching for the Chamorro Bible online, that I learned its tumultuous history.

In 1900, a Protestant Minister named Francis Price arrived on Guam. He believed that translating the Bible into Chamorro would help him connect to his congregation. He began by transcribing a Chamorro teacher’s translation of a Spanish Bible into Chamorro. This method proved too slow, so Price then had several Spanish speaking Chamorros translate independently; Price then compiled these translations to suit his ideas of the Chamorro language (which reflected a Spanish-influenced orthography. In 1907, they had translated the four Gospels, Acts, and Psalms into the Chamorro language. Price secured the permission of the American Bible Society to have the books printed in New York at a cost of $250 for 1,000 copies. The bibles were printed and distributed on Guahan in 1908.

By 1922, the US implemented a California based public school system. American teachers and local English-speaking teachers were used in the classrooms, and all instruction was in English; Chamorro was prohibited in schools and on playgrounds. By government order, about 900 Chamorro dictionaries and other books were collected and burned. Some people contribute the loss of the Chamorro Bible to this linguistic colonialism. Some people also point to the destruction of World War 2, during which the Japanese occupied Guahan, forcing the people off their homes and lands into concentration camps. Despite speculation, the disappearance of the original Chamorro Bible remains a mystery.

In 2001, a middle school teacher named Clarence L. Thomas IV began to search for the original Chamorro Bible to use in a class project. He found a reference online to a Chamorro Bible in the general collection of the Mudd Library at Yale. On September 11, 2001, at 3:23 p.m., the library shipped the Chamorro Bible to Guam, and it was transported from Connecticut to Kentucky, California, Hong Kong, and finally arrived on Guam at 12:15 p.m., September 20, Chamorro Standard Time, which is 15 hours ahead of EST.

Now, the Chamorro Bible is available online at chamorrobible.org.

When I first read Y Salmo Sija (the Psalms) in Chamorro, I stumbled through the text because while I lived on Guam, Chamorro was not taught in the schools. But as I continued to navigate the text, I began to hear the etchings of my grandmother's voice. Staring at a computer screen an ocean away from my homeland, I whispered the words that at one point my grandmother heard her mother whispering.

While reading Y Salmo Sija, I heard another voice. It was not my grandmother’s voice, nor was it the psalmic voice I remember from childhood. It was a voice translating the Chamorro into English, rendering the violent pulse and colonial of currents of the language itself forced into psalm. This voice emerges in these translations, fragmented psalms held together by silence, omissions, and ellipses.

As a result, my translations are neither objective nor transparent. Often, a phrase will translated into its ‘colonial reality’ (“Dichoso y taotao”, literally “Blessed the people”, becomes “we are cursed”). Other times, a phrase will be omitted to show disbelief (“ya todo y finatinasña mumemegae”, which roughly means, “and all he does shall prosper”, becomes “[…]”). Finally, a phrase will often be translated to question its very meaning (“Sa si Jeova jatungo y chalan manunas: lao y chalan manaelaye ufanmalingo” means roughly “God knows the righteous path; the path of sinners shall perish”, but is translated to “will the Landlord of our path ever perish?”). Although this free / open / subjective / experimental translation methodology does not cleanly translate meaning from one language into another, my hope is that these translations clearly translate the voice I hear in the Chamorro psalms, a voice that has been burned and lost and forgotten and recovered.

Salmo 24

1 Y tano iyon Jeova yan y binilaña: y tano yan y manasaga gui sanjalomña.
2 Sa güiya fumatinas gui jilo y tase: ya gui jilo y janom nae japolo fitme.
3 Jaye ucajulo gui egso Jeova? ya jaye ugaegue gui sagan y sinantosña.
4 Ayo y gasgas canaeña yan y gasgas corasonña: ni ti pumopolo gui taebale y antiña ni
          ufanjula ni y dinague.
5 Güiya uresibe y bendision Jeova: yan y tininas guine as Yuus satbasionña.
6 Este na generasion y umaliligao güe: y umaliligao y matamo, O Yuus Jacob. Sila.
7 Jatsa julo y ilonmiyo, O jamyo trangco sija ya umajatsa julo y taejinecog na potta sija, ya y
          Ray langet ujalom.
8 Jaye este na Ray langet? Si Jeova, metgot yan matatnga: si Jeova matatnga gui guera.
9 Jatsa julo y ilonmiyo, O jamyo trangca sija ya umajatsa julo y taejinecog na potta sija ya y
          Ray langet ujalom.
10 Jaye este na Bay langet? Si Jeova gui inetnon sendalo, güiya ayo y Ray langet. Sila.

Psalm 24

the earth and its fullness is owned by the Landlord—and those that are insular
he has built it upon the seas—established upon the floods
who will overthrow the Landlord? who will remain to stand in this holy place?
they who have clean hands and clean hearts […]
will recover the Lord’s blessing and salvation—
our generations seek Him—his face—Sila
lower your heads, your gates, your doors forever or else the King of Glory will come in
who is the King of Freedom? the Landlord strong and might, the Lord mighty in battle
lower your heads, your gates, your doors forever—the King of Freedom is coming!
who is the King of Freedom? he is the Landlord of ghosts—he is the Keeper of Freedom—

Salmo 25

1 Yyajago, O Jeova, nae jujatsa y antijo.
2 O Yuusso, iyajago nae juangocoyo: chamo yo munamamamajlao; chamo pumopolo y
          enimigujo na ugana gui jilojo.
3 Magajet, na todo y mumananggajao ti ufanmamajlao: sija ufanmamajlao ni y chumogüe
          dinague sin jafa.
4 Y chalanmo, O Jeova, fanueyo; fanagüe yo, ni y chalanmo.
5 Osgaejonyo gui minagajetmo ya unfanagüeyo; sa jago y Yuus ni y satbasionjo: iyajago nae
          jufannangga todotdia.
6 Jaso, O Jeova, y mauleg na minaasemo; yan y mauleg na güinaeyamo, sa sija guinin apmam
          na tiempo.
7 Chamo jumajaso y isao y pinatgonjo, ni y quinebrantaco ni y tinago: segun y güinaeyamo
          jasoyo, pot y minauleg y naanmo, O Jeova.
8 Mauleg yan tunas si Jeova: pot enao na jafanagüe y maniisao ni y chalan.
9 Y manmanso ufanfinanagüe gui juisio: yan y manmanso ufanguinia gui chalan.
10 Todo y chalan Jeova güinaeya yan minagajet ni y ayo y umadadaje y tratuña yan y
11 Pot y naanmo, O Jeova, asie y isaojo sa gosdangculo.
12 Jaye ayo na taotao y maañao as Jeova? güiya ufinanagüe ni y chalan mano y inayegña.
13 Y antiña usaga gui mauleg: ya y semiyaña uereda y tano.
14 Y secreton Jeova gaegue guiya sija y mumaañaogüe güe; ya güiya ufanagüe sija ni y
15 Y atadogjo siempre juatan si Jeova; sa güiya ujala y adengjo juyong gui laso.
16 Atanyo, ya gaease ni guajo: sa guajo taeconsueloyo yan piniteyo.
17 Y chinatsagan y corasonjo lumalamegae: najuyongyo gui pinitijo.
18 Atan y trinesteco yan y pinitijo; ya unasie todo y isaojo.
19 Atan y enimigujo, sa sija manmegae, ya sija chumatliiyo ni y fejman na chinatlie.
20 Adaje y antijo ya nalibreyo: ya chajo mamamajlao, sa iyajago nae juangocoyo.
21 Y minauleg yan y tininas juadádajeyo: sa jago junanangga.
22 Nalibre, O Yuus, y iya Israel gui todo y chinatsagaña.

Psalm 25

to you, O Lord, I lift my soul
I trust you my God, don’t let me be ashamed don’t let my enemies rule over me
don’t let anyone who waits on you be ashamed—let those that betray you with cause be
show me your path O Lord—teach me
lead me in your truth—teach me—God of my salvation—I wait
remember O Lord, your mercy and love […]
forgive our sins […] remember us O Lord
[…] teach us your path
the dead will guide us—the dead will teach the way
all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth—his covenant and testimonies
in your name O Lord, forgive me—

             what man fears the Lord? we teach what we choose
our souls in turmoil—empty seeds will inherit the earth—
the secret of the Landlord is that he doesn’t fear us, showing us his covenant—
my eyes always look to God—he will pull my feet from the net—
look, have mercy—I am broken
the troubles of my heart grow—bring me out of this distress
look at my pain and despair and forgive my sins
look at my enemies—they hate me with cruel hatred—
keep my soul and liberate me—I won’t be ashamed—I trust you—
I wait […]

Salmo 26

1 Jusgayo, O Jeova, sa guajo jumajanao yo gui tininasso: juangocoyo locue gui as Jeova: pot enao
          na ti jusulong.
2 Ecsamina yo, O Jeova, ya chagueyo: chague y jinasojo gui jinalomjo yan y corasonjo.
3 Sa y güinaeyamo gaegue gui menan atadogjo; ya gui minagajetmo nae jumajanaoyo.
4 Ti jagasja matachongyo yan y ti manmagajet na taotao; ni jujalom yan y lumilipa.
5 Juchatlie y inetnon y chumogüe taelaye: ya ti jufatachong yan y manaelaye.
6 Jufagase y canaejo ni y tinaeisao: taegüije juoriya gui attatmo, O Jeova.
7 Para junajungog y inagang y grasias yan para jusangan todo y ninamanmanmo.
8 Jeova, yajo y sagan y guimamo: yan y lugat nae sumasaga minalagmo.
9 Chamo na fandadaña yan y maniisao y antijo, ni y jaanijo yan y taotao cájaga.
10 Sa ayosija na canaeñija mangaegue y nacacha: ya y agapa y canaeñija bula ni y catnada.
11 Lao guajo jumajanao yo yan y tininasso: nalibreyo, ya gaease ni guajo.
12 Y adengjo gaegue gui lugat ni yano: ya gui inetnon taotao nae jubendise si Jeova.

Psalm 26

judge me O Landlord […] I trust your integrity
examine me O Landlord and prove me—prove my memory and my heart
I’m blind as I walk in your ‘truth’
you’ve not spoken our names—I won’t continue with this dismembered body—
I hate your congress of evil—I won’t vote for the wicked
I wash my hands with your innocence—I compass your altar O Landlord
that I may write with a grateful voice and speak of your miracles—
Landlord, I hate your reservations, our displacement
my soul gathered by the military
in whose hands are guns and money […]
[…] liberate me and be merciful
for there is no place to stand […]

Craig Santos (C.S.) Perez is a native of the Pacific Island of Guahan (Guam)who immigrated to California in 1995. He is the author of 3 chapbooks: blue outline (Achiote Press, 2006), constellations gathered along the ecliptic (Shadowbox Press, forthcoming 2007), and all with ocean views (Overhere Press, forthcoming in 2007). His poetry, fiction, reviews, and translations have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Sentence, Traffic, Tinfish, Jacket, Rain Taxi, Calque, Tea Party, and Watchword, among others.

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