By Katie Graves
While looking into the cultural history of Guam in an effort to better understand their values and beliefs before visiting the island, I became interested in a common phrase that is central to the Chamorro mentality: “inafa’ maolek.”
Inafa’ maolek is the “concept of restoring harmony or order.”1 This phrase struck my attention because as I read about this cultural mindset, it correlated to a manta I use during meditation and yoga practices: “Om Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu.” This is translated to the ideology: “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”2 The connection between the two mantras intrigued me and made me look more into how this belief is practiced and if it correlates more to the manta I practice myself in the United States.
Inafa’ Maolek is not only a cultural concept, it is also the name of the sole peace-making organization on the island, geared especially for teenagers and young adults. This non-profit organization deals with social justice issues of all kinds on personal, family-based and society-based scales. Inafa’ Maolef has established a meditation and wellness center in addition to holding annual conferences and teen workshops.3 The volunteers that regulate and resolve the issues are Superior Court Judges or trained professionals. This organization has been active for 27 years4 and is still a huge success to the community’s wellbeing. Inafa’ Maolek roots it’s efforts in the mission to: “ enhance peacemaking and reduce violence […] in schools, workplaces and communities through advocacy, mediation and education.”3 This pledge is the base of the organization, as well as the base of the cultural practice of inafa’ maolek.
The idea of unity, support and effort among every citizen is key to inafa’ maolek, and reciprocity is a crucial part to upholding this ideology. Since gifts are very important in order to achieve this principle, gift-giving in Guam is viewed a little differently from the way gifts are usually perceived in the United States. Through research, I found out that the status of gifts can either help of hinder someone’s practice of this ideology. If a gift is given with greater value than that of a gift received, the reciprocity has a positive cycle that will help form the harmonious order that was idolized.1 This sometimes puts great pressure on Chamorros, as they could continuously feel the need to give more and more important valuables away in order to rightfully show their respect for the inafa’ maolek mantra.
I talked to my Aunt Kelly, an Australian-American dual citizen, who visited Guam several years ago. She explained one instance in which this gift giving responsibility became a burden on a family and how their cultural practices were unique from hers, causing cultural misunderstands. A Chamorro clan helped my Aunt when she had a problem with her sailboat, which she was traveling on alone. To show her appreciation for helping her fix the problem, my Aunt Kelly gave the family a small gift that was very special to her. The Chamorros, in return, quickly brought back a gift for my Aunt as a thank you for hers as well as respect to the inafa’ maolek belief. My Aunt then gave the Chamorros something else in return that she was happy to give away, and they valued it very much. The family then became very uneasy and their eyes widened in a nervous way. My Aunt understood then that they felt as if they had to come back with another special gift in order to repay her, and fulfill the inafa’ maolek belief. Although my Aunt was not previously aware of this important cultural practice, she realized the burden she put on the Chamorro family and tried to explain that she was not looking for a gift in return. Yet, the family insisted that they give her another special gift. They came out of their home with a hand-made piece of clothing, but she tried to assure them that it was not necessary. My Aunt eventually accepted their gift to respect their wishes and realized that their culture takes reciprocity very seriously. Inafa’ maolek has a strong ideology to uphold, and if misunderstood, can leave more of a burden then sense of harmony among the Chamorros.
I hope that when visiting Guam, I will be able to see firsthand how this cultural belief is expressed in daily lives and understand it from a different perspective than my Aunt. By exploring their fragile habitat in an effort to better understand and aid the environment, I plan to fully envelope this practice by contributing my own “Sukhino” mantra with their “inafa’ maolek” way of life.
About the author: Katie Graves is a junior in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences working towards a BA degree in Environmental Studies. Katie has a strong interest in environmental science and policy and plans to pursue a career in conservation management.
Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.
Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.