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Portrait photo of Carmen Camacho Rojas, seated with recording equipment around her. She is a participant in the 2023 Community Collections Grant project, Celebrating CHamoru Nobenas. Photo by project leader Lola Quan Bautista.
Carmen Camacho Rojas, participant in the 2023 Community Collections Grant project, Celebrating CHamoru Nobenas. Photo by project leader Lola Quan Bautista.

Catching up with Community Collections Grant Recipients: Celebrating CHamoru Nobenas with Lola Quan Bautista

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The following is an excerpt of an interview with Lola Quan Bautista, Associate Professor of Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, about her and her team’s 2023 American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grant project, Celebrating CHamoru NobenasThe interview is part of the Library’s Of the People blog series featuring the awardees of the Center’s Community Collections Grants program

Project participant Carmen Rojas photographed while recording a nobena with a microphone and her computer screen showing the spiritual.
Carmen Camacho Rojas recording “Atan Bithen del Carmen,” as part of the Celebrating CHamoru Nobenas Community Collection Grant project. Photo by project leader Lola Quan Bautista.

Congratulations to you and your team on the Community Collections Grant, Lola! Let’s first start with learning more about the main focal point of the Celebrating CHamoru Nobenas project.

I imagine a lot of folks have some knowledge of a novena. Essentially, the novena, or nobena, is a devotional prayer ritual based in Roman Catholicism, but uniquely adapted and embraced by the Indigenous CHamoru/Chamorro people of the Mariana Islands and Guam/Guåhan, and among diasporic CHamoru/Chamorro communities throughout the United States.

Initially, I had planned on focusing on the more elaborate events associated with the various feasts or celebrations of the Catholic Church. However, upon my arrival to Guam in summer 2023, I quickly discovered the lingering impacts of COVID, which included cancelled processions, and many folks were still hesitant to gather. Hence, I decided to take a more personal view on the nobena and consider how families make a promesa (promise) to carry out the nobena tradition every year.

How did the project come about, and what is your overall approach?

It started with my mom, Josefina Unpingco Quan. From September 2018 to September 2019, we sort of made a promesa that we would read and record the Nuebu Testamento (New Testament)—all 486 pages—in CHamoru/Chamorro. I think it was the hardest, but the best year of my life! Using my walk-in closet as a recording studio, she not only reinforced how to read and speak the language, but also taught me a great deal about women of her generation, especially aspects of tradition and culture.

That one-year instruction provided the grounding for what happened right afterwards when my mom ushered me into studying the nobena. Compared with bible readings, which I am familiar with from growing up in the church, nobena stories are much less familiar and much harder to understand, especially because some passages are poetic, full of metaphor, or archaic. Yet, because of my mom, I have learned to love the nobena and its practices.

So, I suppose my approach to this project is to sort of replicate this learning experience by thinking of ways to share the nobena traditions with other CHamoru/Chamorro people, and to figure out how to make it more accessible and, of course, more relevant to younger folks […]

To read more about Lola’s project and its participants, click on over to the Of the People blog here!

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