A ntoinette Charfauros McDaniel, a 58-year-old retired teacher in Ohio, is trying to study her native language. CHAmoru, the indigenous language of Guam, is dying, with only 20,000 of the 168,000 inhabitants of the island able to speak it.
But the pandemic has offered an unexpected opportunity to revive it.
Since March, when the coronavirus crisis halted in-person activities, McDaniel has suddenly been able to access CHAmoru's classes and workouts held in Guam via his computer.
" I always cry for my parents, and every time I hear the language and learn a new word or phrase that [explains] what my mother used to say to my father, it restores my soul, ”said McDaniel, whose family comes from the villages of Tamuning and Barrigada and who didn 't havenever studied before. language.
Michael Bevacqua, curator of the Guam museum and McDaniel's online professor, said before the pandemic people wanted to learn but lacked resources. He started teaching the language in cafes in 2010. But when classes moved online more people were able to sign up and at one point he had 250 people in his class.
"At one point I kind of broke my Zoom account because it had a maximum of 100 people, and there were well over 100 people who were trying to register, ”Bevacqua said. "My students donated so that I could upgrade the Zoom.
Although the CHAmoru make up the largest portion of Guam's population, the majority of native speakers are elderly, while theBevacqua says that only three of the 4,000 colleges in the US offer CHAmoru courses: University of Guam, Guam Community College, and University of Hawaiʻi in Mānoa.
Kutturan Chamoru Foundation, an organization on the West Coast of the United States, has been offering CHAmoru face-to-face classes since 2010.
" In person, we were lucky to have 10 or 15 students, ”said Heidi Chargualaf-Quenga, executive director of the foundation.
When they started offering virtual courses in 2021 due to the pandemic, interest skyrocketed.
"We had to remove our flyer from our digital platforms two weeks before class because we had an overwhelming response from over 100 students "said Chargualaf-Quenga.
The decline in the number of people speaking the chamoru dates back to the us naval administration. After que Guam became an American colony during the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Navy banned CHAmoru, also known as Chamorro, and burned CHAmoru-English dictionaries.
In 1940, 75% of Guam's population over the age of 10 spoke English, according to data from Guampedia , a popular online portal for history and culture from Guam and the Mariana Islands.
But Bevacqua said Guam has experienced a CHAmoru renaissance in recent years. "People are feeling more excited, interested and hungry for their roots," he said.
In August, Guam Governor Lou Leon Guerrero, signed five invoices who changed the names of the villagess from the south in their CHAmoru spelling. The mayors of the 19 villages of Guam also appeared before the Guam legislature to express their support.
The movements follow the plans of the Kumision I Fino 'CHAmoru, or CHAmoru The Nguage Commission, to restore village names that align with the CHAmoru spelling, which dictates how words are spelled and pronounced.
According to Laura M Torres Souder, vice-chair of the committee, the group is proposing a name change, but the legislature and the governor of Guam make the final decision.
Another Guam village, Inarajan, was also officially renamed Inalåhan in April.
Jesse LG Alig, mayor of Piti village and chairman of the Council of Mayors of Guam, said efforts underwayto change the names of the villages is a small but worthwhile effort.
"Ultimately, it is important to continue to promote our CHAmoru language in whatever we can " said Alig. “Village names are one way of doing it, because they're used almost every day, and one of the things we don't do is talk CHAmoru every day. "