Independent Guåhan Honors the Life of Chamoru Rights Leader, Educator and Community Organizer
Stripes Guam | .
published: July 20, 2016
One of Guåhan’s most passionate advocates for decolonization and independence will be laid to rest today. Eddie “Ed” L.G. Benavante left us too soon on July 6 at the age of 59. He was a passionate community organizer; a teacher of Guam history and the Chamoru language; a writer and musician; and a highly respected leader in the Chamoru rights movement.
Maga’låhi Benavente dedicated his life to his family and to the decolonization and independence of the island he loved so deeply. He has been a guiding force and inspiration to the membership of the Independence for Guåhan Task Force (Independent Guåhan). We celebrate and honor the incredible life, work, and wisdom he shared with so many.
Maga’låhi Benavente served as the Maga’låhi of Nasion Chamoru from 1995 – 2003. He led numerous protests and demonstrations that helped reshape the political consciousness of the island. As the group’s leader he was instrumental in compelling the Government of Guam to at last implement the Chamorro Land Trust Act.
As a founding member of Nasion Chamoru, Maga’låhi Benavente fought for decolonization and Chamoru self-determination; freedom from the harmful impacts of militarization; the return of Chamoru lands; and sustaining the Chamoru language, traditional arts, and customs for future generations.
At the heart of Maga’låhi Benavente’s activism was a belief that Guåhan could and should be independent. He wanted Guåhan to have genuine autonomy and the Chamoru people to exercise true self-determination. Maga’låhi Benavente has received international recognition for this work, most prominently in the form of the prestigious Alston/Bannerman Fellowship in 2002.
Maga’låhi Benavente also served as the director for both the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission and the Commission on Decolonization. The GALC was first created in order to facilitate the return of excess U.S. federal lands to their original landowners, some of whom waited decades for their lands to be returned. Through Maga’låhi Benavente’s efforts, hundreds of acres were deeded back to their original owners, despite pressure from the U.S. Federal government not to return them.
Maga’låhi Benavente said that he first began to develop his political consciousness while attending the University of Guam, and in particular a Guam History class that had been taught by then-professor Robert Underwood.
As pride in being Chamoru and speaking Chamoru grew, Maga’låhi Benavente contributed to this resurgence. He worked alongside prominent Chamoru musicians and media personalities at KUAM studios, and he helped produce the late Jesus “Chamorro” Charfauros’ historic Prugraman Kombetsaion. Possessing a true musician’s soul, Maga’låhi Benavente was part of the band “Chamorro”, which released Tiempo — a powerful collection of Chamoru rock ballads and protest songs.
Maga’låhi Benavente’s love for the Chamoru language and its essential role in Chamoru identity led him to become a Ma’estron Chamoru at John F. Kennedy High School from 1992 – 2003. He was also an adjunct instructor at the University of Guam and Guam Community College, teaching courses in Chamorro language and Guam History.
Maga’låhi Benavente and a group of other Chamoru teachers worked with the late Dr. Bernadita Camacho-Dungca to write and popularize the “Inifresi.” Public school children at all grade levels are now required to learn this pledge, which serves as a reminder to protect the heritage and natural resources of the Chamoru people.
As a testament to the strength of our people in our centuries-long struggle against colonization, Maga’låhi Benavente penned I Manmañainå-ta, a bilingual Chamorro-English book which details the stories of a group of great Maga’låhi who fought against Spanish conversion in the 17th century.
One of Maga’låhi Benavente’s most enduring legacies will be his work to establish Sagan Kotturan Chamoru, a non-profit, community-based-and-organized Chamorro cultural center that overlooks Tumon Bay. Benavente and his family worked tirelessly for years alongside a variety of artists in order to clean the area, develop its infrastructure, and prepare it for the public to observe and learn Chamorro weaving, dancing, crafting and traditional medicine. During the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts, Sagan Kotturan Chamoru became a hub for cultural exchange and healing.
Maga’låhi Benavente and his beautiful family have contributed so much to our island and our people. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Master of Chamorro Culture for Body Adornment, Julie “Jill” Benavente, their daughters Amber and Tåsi, and their grandchildren.