NHC Perspectives: “Inafa’maolek”

November 7, 2019

This is the first time the National Humanities Conference will be held in Oceania. It is a momentous opportunity for the councils from Guåhan (Guam), the Northern Marianas, Hawai’i, and Amerika Samoa to collaborate, honor our connections, and share the rich cultural heritage of our islands with the rest of the nation. It is rare that Pacific communities have the opportunity to lead a national discussion in our region and we look forward to meaningful dialogue with those arriving from the continental United States.

Oceania encompasses enormous diversity and complexity in terms of languages, traditions, and resources and at the same time there exists many shared core values and practices. The conference title, Roots & Routes: Navigation, Migration, and Exchange in the 21st Century, represents some of those commonalities. Roots and routes take on many meanings, one being deep cultural knowledge and its movement across islands and continents. It also touches upon our shared seafaring traditions passed down through generations, the ancient migration of groups that ultimately peopled the islands, as well as modern migration that poses both possibilities and challenges to our communities today.

Important cultural values and practices, such as reciprocity, respect and kinship, are deeply rooted in Pacific communities. In Guåhan, the CHamoru word inafa’maolek encompasses these values and illustrates how indigenous knowledge remains a central part of Guåhan’s modern landscape. Guåhan historian Pale’ Eric Forbes explains that today many people define inafa’maolek as cooperation, mutual assistance, reciprocity, or interdependence. It reverberates through contemporary Guåhan as it informs both daily interactions and also serves as a larger framework for CHamoru society.

These Pacific Islander ways of knowing and being can also be seen throughout conference presentations and activities. For example, the Capps Lecture to be delivered by esteemed Kanaka Maoli scholars Jon and Heoli (Jamaica) Osorio will feature music and poetry that embody respected cultural practices transmitted through generations and speak of important historical events. The ‘awa/kava ceremony that concludes the conference opening event is laden with cultural symbolism and is practiced in many Pacific Islands societies to promote tradition, unity and respect among community members. While attending presentations, panel sessions, and off-site activities, we invite you to dig deeper and take a closer look at how Pacific histories, cultures and perspectives, and the work that goes on here can contribute to national and international conversations. 

We hope the conference will simultaneously provide an insightful experience for participants unfamiliar with Oceania and an opportunity for reflection for those who are intimately familiar with this part of the world. Together we will address issues of globalization, immigration, diversity, identity, cultural revitalization, and connections to natural resources and encourage participants to reflect both on the Pacific region and on their home states and territories.

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