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Vol. 12 No. 1 (2023): Music Making and Music Research in the Asia-Pacific Region in Times of COVID-19

Fieldwork through Filmmaking: Listening to Narrative Medicine in “Tåhdong Marianas”

  • Andrew Gumataotao


In-person interactions were drastically altered in the unincorporated territory island of Guåhan (Guam) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This article seeks to investigate how lålai (CHamoru chant) and music making are resurgent forms of sound-based cultural practices that can be understood as “narrative medicine.” The latter has the potential to be a model for musical sensemaking, whereby Indigenous storytelling maintains connections among kin and heals from colonial trauma. Critically reflecting on a community grant film project entitled, “Tåhdong Marianas: Storytelling Across the Marianas,” I explore how a young group of Indigenous CHamorus use the medium of film to adapt to the situation of COVID-19 while calling into question conventional parameters of fieldwork. I analyze how the privileging of work done by and for Indigenous people actively foregrounds the sonic potential of narrative medicine by focusing on the sensory experiences of island peoples to music in ways that undo the epistemic violence of Indigenous knowledge erasure and extraction.