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Doctoral student leads book project to raise awareness of indigenous Guam people

Doctoral student Cyrus Segawa Konstantinakos’ book “I Atfabeton Chamorro: The ABCs of Chamorro” about the native Chamorro culture in Guam receives support from the U.S. Department of Education and the Guam Legislature. PHOTO COURTESY CYRUS SEGAWA KONSTANTINAKOS

Boston University School of Education doctoral student Cyrus Konstantinakos published a book this summer about Guam’s native Chamorro language and culture. The book, titled “I Atfabeton Chamorro: The ABCs of Chamorro,” is intended to spread awareness about the endangered Chamorro language and culture, Konstantinakos said.

The book is a compilation of photo-essays that allows the reader to learn about both the Chamorro language and culture at the same time, the author said. Each letter of the Chamorro alphabet is represented in the book, along with an essay about an aspect of the Chamorro culture that begins with that letter. The book also contains photographs and other works of art that help add perspective for the reader.

In the very early stages of the project, Konstantinakos sought support from the Council for Global Citizenship, a BU club in the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground that had a focus on social entrepreneurship, said former CGC member Aditya Rudra.

“We thought that the project was very educational, and we think that part of preserving culture and fighting back against the militarization and imperialism of somebody’s culture is preserving native identities,” said Rudra, a Questrom School of Business graduate. “The power of education is really compelling, and we thought that preserving the Chamorro language was a really good example of using business to create a book and capture knowledge.”

SED and the U.S. Department of Education also later supported the project.

Konstantinakos said he worked alongside students and artists in Guam between 2010 and 2012 to produce the book, which was published and marketed by University of Guam Press. Coordinating the effort between more than 100 contributors, he said, was the most challenging part of the process.

“Organizing 100 people spread over several islands to work together [was difficult],” Konstantinakos said. “There were like 50 students over four different classes at the University of Guam … This thing mushroomed in a way that was so hard to manage, but we did it … Now I just hope that it will make an impact.”

The early struggles were worth it in the end, Konstantinakos said, because they resulted in a project that sheds light on the dwindling Chamorro culture and language.

“I hope that it will disseminate a lot of information about the culture of Guam,” Konstantinakos said. “I think it’s useful for the general public to become more aware of the existence of this beautiful culture of Americans — they are American citizens.”

A major contributor to the endangerment of the Chamorro culture, Konstantinakos said, stems from colonialism. Islands in the Marianas Archipelago have been occupied and colonized by Spain, Germany, Japan and the U.S. for centuries. Only in the late 20th century were Chamorro people allowed to use their language in public spaces. Being able to help revitalize the language today is a large part of what made this project so special, Konstantinakos said.

Several BU students said they admire the cultural significance of Konstantinakos’ work, and that they hope BU funds or supports more projects like it.

Viktoriya Skidanova, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she thinks understanding other languages and cultures is important.

“We shouldn’t just pertain to the university itself, [we] should help out the outside world,” Skidanova said. “No language should disappear. Even if it’s small, it has cultural meanings to its people.”

Jared Guertin, a CAS sophomore, said he thinks preserving cultures like that of Guam is essential.

“Cultural preservation is a very important thing,” Guertin said. “Teaching literacy to children and future generations is the best place to start bringing a language back.”

Sean Nemtzow, a College of Engineering freshman, said he thinks Konstantinakos’ work is an important educational enterprise.

“The research helps us understand the importance of even our own language,” Nemtzow said. “It reflects the heart of education.”

CORRECTION: A previous title of this article implied that Konstantinakos penned the book by himself. It has been adjusted to reflect that locals penned the book with him, and he lead the project.

The article has been adjusted to clarify that a major contributor to the endangerment of the Chamorro culture is its history of being colonized. It was colonized by multiple countries, not solely the United States, as the article previously emphasized.

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