Decolonizing the Roads: A Eulogy for Unpaved Guåhan



Roads are often simplistically portrayed as links beneficial to all. In a colonial context, they are often used as weapons of segregation and Indigenous dispossession. Kiara Quichocho shares with us the impact that these roads have had on her grandmother and she develops a remarkably lucid vision of decolonization as a more complex endeavor than ‘mere’ anti-colonialism.

Quichocho Funambulist 1
The imprint of the U.S. military occupation (bases and roads) of Guåhan. / Map by Léopold Lambert & Kiara Quichocho (2021).

In my first semester of college at the University of Guam, I took an “Introduction to Sociology” course and studied the major sociological shifts in Guåhan. The island is known as Guam, but in this text I will use the Indigenous CHamoru (the Indigenous people of the Marianas Islands; Guam being the southernmost island of the archipelago) word Guåhan which translates to “we have.” One afternoon, my professor instructed the class to go home and ask an elder in our family, preferably a World War II survivor, what they thought the biggest change to the island was since their childhood. That day, I asked my nånan biha (CHamoru for “grandma”) for her opinion. After a few seconds of indifferent deliberation, she casually replied: “the roads.” Days later, I returned to class prepared with my nåna’s simple yet illuminating response, though I did not consider it illuminating at the time. My professor ended up forgetting about the assignment, so I never got to fully uncover the sociological significance behind it. However, as I navigated my college career and embarked in more intensive studies about Guåhan’s political and colonial history, I consistently encountered that conversation which my first-year university mind had not yet had the capacity to analyze. Now, with as much insight as the education and experiences of a 21-year-old, Indigenous, political science major can offer, I often busy myself with the challenge of deconstructing my nåna’s memory of Guåhan’s roads, and every time, end up discovering a new lesson (to add to the library of lessons) that her life has taught me. This is a rather condensed stroll through the curves of my inherited and learned narratives which have incessantly re-routed my path toward conceptualizing Guåhan’s decolonization; a trek to conceive something that doesn’t exist yet; a conflict between the exhilarating freedom of a blank map to sketch our futures and the constraining futility of those unwritten boundaries built by the spoils of colonization; the ultimate mental collision generated by the demand to rationalize “decolonization” in the most literal sense.

Through the spatial and temporal lens of my nåna’s lifetime as an Indigenous CHamoru World War II survivor and lancheru (CHamoru for “farmer/rancher”), I meander her memories of Guåhan and observe the ones with a will to be remembered in the absence of those stories meant to be laid to rest. I explore the less mainstream notions of decoloniality which, rather than affixes the term “decolonized” to any mere practice of Indigenous identity, acknowledges pre-colonial existences as those that no longer can be revived, but should be revered. I address Guåhan’s pre-World War II unpaved roads as an ancestor deserving of remembrance — a part of Guåhan literally buried by the weight of imported rock and foreign people. This is not to demean the necessity for paved roads or the lives of settlers; it is a eulogy for the landscapes before contemporary Guåhan and a call to use them to inspire a decolonized Guåhan by respecting their death, confronting their replacement, and now, conceptualizing their successors. How can we produce a decolonized Guåhan for our future, while respecting the normalized visibility of colonial life which our elders have so deeply internalized? I have observed that mainstream methods of decolonization attempt to heal the wounds of colonization by vehemently opposing it, incognizant of the need to let the irreparable traumas our elders have endured exist since an opposition to colonial life is an opposition to the only life they have known as well. Before attempting to narrate the remembered and recorded versions of pre-colonial Guåhan’s life, it is necessary to outline the intricacies of the U.S. territorial relationship and the events which birthed the psychological and political stratifications that incentivise its continued existence. Firstly, Guåhan is the southernmost island of the Mariana Islands. Though the CHamoru people are the Indigenous population of the entire archipelago, Guåhan is politically separated from the rest (the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, CNMI) since becoming a “possession” of the United States in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War. Meanwhile, the Northern Mariana Islands were sold by Spain to Germany. Guåhan’s political development diverged from the CNMI as it endured military rule by the U.S. Navy, Japanese occupation during World War II, and U.S. administration once again following World War II. Though U.S. rule eventually resulted in a limited U.S. citizenship for the people of Guåhan, the road toward that relationship with their administrative power was ripe with uncertainty and limitations.