"This island revolves around food."
~~~quote from a stateside visitor
But was this always true? Is this penchant for throwing a party at the drop of a hat deeply rooted in Chamorro culture?
Our ancestors, before the Spaniards came, certainly did feast and, when they did, they served all that was available. But how fresh and healthy it all was!
Under the Spaniards, some things stayed the same; other things changed. Many older foods remained (fish, dågo, suni, lemmai, etc) but newer foods were introduced. Many of these new foods required more intense labor in either farming or raising (corn, cattle, pigs, etc). Conservation of these hard-won foods was now a value. Some of them now had a price tag on them (so many pesos a head for cattle, for example).
Real poverty became an issue. Even the early Spanish accounts speak of poorer and richer Chamorros before the Spaniards settled the Marianas, but the gap, I think, became sharper because there came about a greater variety of commodities to be had, or to lack. Land values also differed; land where corn could be grown had a higher value than land where it could not be grown.
Whatever the socio-economic reasons for it, our mañaina before the war do not speak of Guam or Saipan as "Party Island."
Here's what one saina told me about times before the war :
"Åntes nai na tiempo håssan na guåha gupot. Solo an guåha umassagua. Manfandånggo. Lao ti pareho yan på'go na tiempo ni todon klåsen gupot guåha. Gi bautismo, tåya' gupot åntes. Tåya' "birthday." Tåya' åntes ma "bibirthday" gupot. Hokkok ha' ni humosme misa. Ennaogue' tiningo'-ho. An birthday-mo, hanao ha' humosme misa para i kumpleaños-mo. Gi åntes na tiempo sen popble."
"Before, rarely were there parties. Only when there's a wedding. People will have a fandango. But it wasn't the same as today where there are all kinds of parties. Before, at a baptism, there was no party. There were no birthday parties. When it was your birthday, they didn't have a party. All you did was go to Mass. That's what I know. When it's your birthday, go and hear Mass for your birthday. Before, times were very poor."
Even at the nine nights of rosaries for the dead, many man åmko' have told me that they never served meals at these rosaries, except on the last night. On all other nights, mamåon (betel nut and its accoutrements) was definitely passed around. Broas (sponge cake) might also be available, or some other very light fare.
A few years ago, the bishop of Saipan had to direct his people to stop serving food at the nightly rosaries, except at the end (finakpo'). He said it was getting out of hand; a lot of waste, a financial burden on the family, a feeling of competition among families. He even pointed out the harm much of the food does to our health.
As long as the stores sell food, I think frequent, big parties are here to stay. But it wasn't always that way.