Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

First Cohort of Apprentices in Training © Haya Foundation, courtesy of Robert Camacho photographer

Håya Foundation; ‘Guma Yo’amte: Restoring Faith in Native Healing’

Since our establishment in Guam in 2004, the Håya Foundation desired to facilitate the creation of a social and cultural environment that would allow for the revitalization of traditional Chamorro culture. The cultural preservation and revitalization efforts, in the beginning, laid the necessary foundation for social re-acceptance of traditional healing practices.
Hundreds of years of foreign colonization forced I man Yo’Åmte (traditional healers) to practice the healing arts in secrecy because they were deemed a threat to colonial administration. I man Yo’Åmte understood, maintained, and preserve this harmony with traditional relationships with our community, our ancestors, and our natural environment, which sustained our people for over 4,000 years. This continuity was being preserved despite the colonizers’ efforts to remake us into a version of themselves.
At great risk to themselves, traditional healers maintained the age-old tradition of apprenticing their children and grandchildren at a very young age to preserve and perpetuate the sacred knowledge for future generations.
Traditional healing practices are of paramount importance because they serve the body, mind, and spirit of the person receiving care and requires the participation of the client to also take responsibility for his/her health and well-being.
With Chamorro indigenous healing, our healers acknowledge the fundamental relationship between how we treat our environment and our quality of life.
Traditional healers believe that their god is the ultimate healer who works through them as a channel or instrument to serve those in need and attribute all their gifts, abilities, and the successful healing to the gods and the “Mañainas” (ancestors) who guide and lend their energy in the process. There is active participation between the three: the ultimate healer/ancestors, traditional healers, and the client. The client requests help to achieve harmony and balance with their body, mind, and spirit; traditional healers respond with mercy (gai ma’åsi) and prays that the ultimate healer and ancestors lend their energy to the process. The traditional healers possesses the knowledge of how to use these energies effectively, and the client performs the necessary sacrifice, i.e. changing their lifestyle. In the spirit of ina’fa’maolik (caring for one another’s well being), the client seeks out the needs and of the healer and offers gifts of thanksgiving. The healer then offers gifts of thanksgiving to the god, I Mañaina and the environment, all contributing to the quality of life.

The Håya Foundation’s primary goal is to revitalize Guam’s indigenous healing traditions at great risk great risk given the loss with the passing of many healers. We were and may still be at great risk of losing our healing traditions of 4,000 years. During our first eight years, we reached out for help from traditional healers in the neighboring Mariana islands of Rota, Saipan, and Tinian and worked to build and earn the trust of such healers. After a decade of laying the necessary groundwork, we hosted our First Amot Conference in 2012 and brought traditional healers, educators, organizations, government agencies, and policy developers/makers to share information and to learn to improve the health and well-being of our people. Our Strategic Plan was formulated during our three-day conference. This plan has since been updated for our second Amot Conference in 2014 and the most recent Amot Conference in 2018.
Based on this plan and guided by traditional healers Rosalia “Mama Chai” Mateo, and Frances Meno, the Håya Foundation, established Guma Yo’Åmte (House of Healers), Guam’s First Traditional Healing Center on 22 May 2016 and hosted traditional healers from thirteen countries for the twelfth Festival of the Pacific Arts on Guam. This gathering of healers across the Pacific resounded the need to establish the Pacific Indigenous Healers Consortium. We have since expanded and opened two additional healing centers in March 2019 to serve the southern villages with Guma Yo’amte in Agat and the central part of Guam with Guma Yo’Amte in Yo’na. In addition, we opened Guma Para Hinemlo’ (Resource Center for Health and Well Being) in June 2019.
To promote awareness and educate our people, the Haya Foundation has presented at local, regional, and international levels. These include hosted brown bag events at worksites, community, and workshops. With participation at village festivals and fairs, produced two documentaries, published three amot book series,’ and developed curricula to be taught at university, and conducted presentations at schools.
We also seek out ways to honor, uphold, and recognize the work of traditional healers. Mama Chai was awarded the 2019 Public Citizen Award by NASW(National Association of Social Workers) and recognized by the Guam Legislature for sixty-three years of service. We nominated her and another healer, Donald Mendiola, twice for honorary degrees with our local institution of higher learning but have failed to fulfill this objective and now seek help elsewhere.
In the past two years, we have piloted an apprenticeship program and also developed and hosted “Pineksa Haya,” a Cultural Youth Immersion program to learn traditional practices for sustainable living.
As we strive to bridge the knowledge gap we partnered and collaborated with indigenous healers internationally. A healer with First Nations supported our efforts in training to deal with addiction and our suicide epidemic from a traditional standpoint; we worked with indigenous healers throughout the islands of Micronesia and countries of Taiwan, Fiji, Australia, and the Philippines, and hosted guest healers on Guam at our Centers from Nauru, Rota, and Saipan. We are currently hosting a guest healer from Pohnpei 2019. We are grateful to the University of California Los Angeles Asia Pacific Studies research students for their help with our research projects.
Our community continues the process of re-establishing its belief and in reliance on its traditional healing practices. We are coming to understand and appreciate our collective responsibility to preserve and promote our traditional healing practices so that they may be practiced, enjoyed, and benefit future generations.