Eying fiesta table’s nutritional, cultural anatomy

Eying fiesta table’s nutritional, cultural anatomy

by Yvette C. Paulino
University of Guam

Editor’s note: Much has been recorded about the gastronomic goodness of the traditional Chamorro fiesta table. Here’s a summary of a 2003 study in the U.S. National Library of Medicine on the nutritional value of its traditional contents that offers some cultural insights as well. Bon appetit!

Food sharing is a central focus of social gatherings in the Chamorro culture both past and present. Before the introduction of the Spanish fiesta, early Chamorro people participated in many celebratory social events that involved feasting, such as sporting events and lively storytelling where boiled rice, fish, fruits and beverages were served.

When Catholicism was established in Guam, these events became a celebration in honor of a patron saint associated with a village church or cathedral. About 34 village feasts are celebrated on Guam annually. The festivity begins with a “nobena,” or rosary, that is said for nine days. On the ninth day, there is a Mass at the village church or cathedral followed by a procession around the village.

The entire island’s residents are then invited to a celebration full of food, music, and socialization. This offering of food is called “na’ taotao tumano.” Village residents also contribute by saying the nobena and hosting a feast at their homes, to which the island’s residents are invited.

In modern Chamorro society, fiestas and other types of congratulatory events are celebrated almost every weekend somewhere on Guam, when family members gather to prepare an abundance of food.

The purpose of the study that produced the adjacent chart was to describe the preparation and analyze the nutritional content of foods served at a fiesta. A family from a central village on the village of Sinajana, Guam, volunteered to participate in this study.

The fiesta preparation and celebration took place 6 a.m. until 12 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2003. Extended and immediate family members assisted during the preparation. Males arranged the canopies, tables, chairs, and a bar station. Females cooked, cleaned dishes and decorated. Some dishes were prepared at the residence, while others were prepared elsewhere by extended family and friends.

An estimated 150 guests were present between 6 p.m. and midnight. More than 95% of the food prepared was potentially consumed or discarded by midnight.

Two themes were reflected in this study, the availability and the variety of foods served at a fiesta. Both were culturally influenced, to a certain extent, by “inafa’maolek,” or interdependence, and reciprocity.

Inafa’maolek was observed when family members gathered to assist during the preparation of the fiesta. Joint efforts through inafa’maolek resulted in an abundance and wide array of foods.

Reciprocity is a mode of exchange of goods and services among social individuals, which has been a common practice in many Pacific Island societies. Early Chamorro society was one in which social ties and overall welfare depended on sustained exchanged labor, food, and other resources among extended families. Today, it remains very much a part of modern-day Chamorro ceremonies and rituals – including the fiesta.

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