Craig Santos Perez: The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora, Navigating Culture, and Being From (Part 6)

[Previous installments of Craig Santos Perez’s “The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora, Navigating Culture, and Being From,” are here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 | Part 5]

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George Anson, British commander of a naval squadron, was sent in 1740 to attack Spanish colonies during the War of the Austrian Succession. On his military circumnavigation, he ended up in the Mariana archipelago, where he encountered Chamorros in outrigger canoes, or proas. From the record of the circumnavigation, published as A Voyage Round the World in 1748:

These Indians are no ways defective in understanding, for their flying proas in particular, which during ages past have been the only vessels employed by them, are so singular and extraordinary an invention that it would do honour to any nation, however dextrous and acute, since, if we consider the aptitude of this proa to the navigation of these islands, which lying all of them nearly under the same meridian, and with the limits of the trade wind, require the vessels made use of in passing from one to the other to be particularly fitted for sailing with the wind upon the beam; or if we examine the uncommon simplicity and ingenuity of its fabric and contrivance, or the extraordinary velocity with which it moves, we shall in each of these articles, find it worthy of our admiration, and deserving a place amongst the mechanical productions of the most civilised nations where arts and sciences have most eminently flourished…

They say in 1710, Captain Swan of the British Navy “transported” a Chamorro flying proa to England and showcased it in the St. James Canal. They say two more flying proas were taken to England between 1742 and 1830. They say the Spanish colonialists burned the canoes and forbade sailing. Within a few generations, the knowledge of how to build and sail the canoes was lost.

Lost maps. Immobile. Yet a drawing of the flying proa circulated through Anson’s book.

The famous outrigger canoes make a brief appearance in my first book, [hacha] (page 33). They “[did] not rely on force / but on the agility to draw water.” To fly on the ocean currents. To fly i tasi.

TASI is also an acronym for the organization “Traditions About Seafaring Islands,” founded in Guam in 1992. TASI’s mission, according to the group’s website, is “to preserve and perpetuate the knowledge, science, and art of traditional pacific island navigation. This includes the geographic knowledge of the locations and inter-relationships of islands, the physics of wind and wave processes, the astronomical alignments and seasonality that provide orientation, as well as the subtle human interpretations of all of these phenomena.”

Tasi : ocean. Intercircumnavigation.

In 2007, members of TASI built a sakman, a large outrigger canoe, with the aid of the Anson drawing and the guidance of master navigator and canoebuilder Manny Sikau, from Polowat in the Federated States of Micronesia.

They named the sakman “Saina.”

On 9/20/08 the sakman was blessed and entered the waters. Here is a video of the blessing ceremony:

“Saina” means “parent, elder, spirit, or ancestor.”

On 5/20/09, an eight person crew launched the Saina from the Hagåtña boat basin and sailed to the island of Luta [Rota] in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, thirty-one miles north of Guam. It was the first time in centuries a proa could be seen in the waters around Guam.

The crew reached Rota on 5/22/09. After a few days, they returned to sea and four days later they returned home. We have

returned home.

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The canoes return in my second book, [saina].

The design of the outrigger canoe is analogous to how I imagine form in the poem “from aerial roots” in [saina]. This poem moves between prose paragraphs and shorter lyric bursts, usually with some space between. The paragraph is the narrative hull of the poem. The lyric stanzas act as the balancing outrigger. Your breath is our sail

as we traverse the oceanic space of the page and its currents (punctuated by the wave-like tilde).

In terms of content, I often think of words as carrying different kinds of cargo, from expository cargo (history, culture, politics) to more personal cargo (memories, family stories, experiences, perceptions). Just as a Chamorro canoe can turn and “fly” through water, I try to craft poems that possess similar mobility. And sometimes a page will contain one outrigger pattern; on other pages, multiple canoes of text navigate the page.

Yes, I did say earlier that words were islands, the visible and textual breath of submerged mountains. So how can I now claim that words are the very fabric of a flying canoe? It’s simple: in Oceania, the islands are moving.

If you are intrigued, if you’d like to see an example of this indigenizing aesthetic, you can purchase my books here. No refunds!

To conclude, poetry helps me understand my own experience of being from. Poetry maps the visible and invisible lines of my cultural identity, helping me navigate my life in the diaspora as both “indigenous” and “immigrant”—as “Pacific Islander,” “Asian-American,” “Latino,” and “Native American.” As “Chamorro.” As “Chamoru.”

Poetry revivifies, in the same way my people continue to revive our ancestral past as map and guide, to reclaim our present as a blessed voyage, and to rebuild our future as homecoming.


Craig Santos Perez, a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guahan (Guam), is the co-founder of Achiote Press and Ala Press, and the author of two poetry books: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2010), recently noted as a finalist for the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. Beginning Fall 2011, he will be an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. Find him online at http://craigsantosperez.wordpress.com.

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One Thought on “Craig Santos Perez: The Poetics of Mapping Diaspora, Navigating Culture, and Being From (Part 6)

  1. Pingback: THE SFSU POETRY CENTER: craig santos perez + aaron shurin - Litseen

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