Saipanpreneur Profile: Cinta & Gus Kaipat
The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!
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Our first featured"Saipanpreneurs” are sister and brother team Cinta and Gus Kaipat of Olomwaay Productions. Originally from the island of Pagan, it was family tragedy, natural disaster and political change that first brought and now keep them here on Saipan. Many people know Cinta’s record as a congresswoman and the battles that she continues to fight on behalf of indigenous rights. I learned another side to her and Gus’ story in this interview.
What does Olomwaay mean?
GUS: Olomwaay (olom-why) is a Refaluwasch (Carolinian) word that means "Peace, God bless, and thank you." A long time ago, our great aunt Florencia Kaipat Seman, who was involved in creating the very first Carolinian dictionary, was asked if Carolinians had their own word for "thank you." (Carolinians typically used "ghilisow" (hili-so), which is actually Chuukese). When she mentioned the word Olomwaay, she was laughed at, and it was rejected because it sounded like another less socially acceptable word. She was a bit hurt by that. When she told me that story, I vowed to promote the word as much as possible in her honor. So it was my only choice when the time came to name our band and company.
CINTA: The Olomwaay Band, mostly family members, formed in 1994 to perform at a fundraising event for a local politician. It was so much fun, and the response so good that the band decide to continue.
What’s your Purpose?
GUS: It’s our calling to share indigenous Refaluwasch and Chamorro music with the world. We’re also committed to preserving those cultures by telling our own stories.
What’s your Passion?
CINTA: Gus and I have always shared a passion for music. When I was in school in the states, I would often send him cds and cassettes that I thought he might enjoy.
Tell us about your Products. How did the band’s CD come about?
GUS: In 1995, the first "Battle of the Bands" competition took place on Rota. Senator Tom Villagomez sponsored the group making it possible for us to attend. We won the competition, and decided to use our winnings as seed money to release the CD. "She Gave Us Love" was an instant hit. We sold 2,000 copies in 3 days! People were requesting it so often that the station manager at a local station had to limit how often it was played to be fair to the other artists.
CINTA: The funny thing is, Gus wrote that song in 15 minutes. It was based on our own story of life after our father was killed, but it touched a chord for many people. One man said it made him long to call his mother in the states whom he hadn’t talked to in a while. One woman was inspired to have family reunions so she could teach her siblings to sing it for their mother. A man in prison said that hearing it while working on license plates made him pause and reflect on his life. And one person even said, "when I die, I want that song played at my funeral!"
How did the Lieweila: A Micronesian Story DVD come about?
CINTA: A few years ago, a woman named Beret Strong realized there was a lack of material on Refaluwasch culture, and she wanted to make a film to change that. She learned about me through our mutual friend, Lynne Bruzzese. I was in law school at the time, but I had the idea of interviewing our community elders to preserve our culture. Our visions meshed perfectly, and she and John Tweedy, as co-producers, were instrumental in helping us create the film. John, in particular, helped us fund the film while we were going through some fundraising challenges.
We’re very proud of Lieweila. It was the first of its kind in the CNMI. It won "Best Documentary" from the Boulder Media Community and other awards. We wanted to tell not just a pretty story but the necessary truthful story of what was experienced under the various colonial regimes so that anyone who picks this up will get a sense of history and a better understanding of who the Chamorro and Carolinian people are from an insider’s perspective rather than the typically romanticized outsider’s perception.
I’ve gotten correspondence from our own people who have left the CNMI, who said they were very surprised at how much they learned about their own culture!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout all this?
CINTA: I think the lesson is about dealing with CHANGE. The music and the video are extensions of our own lives. So whether it’s what’s happening on Pagan, managing a band, or filming a video, we learned we cannot stop change, but we can look to the core values that make us who we are and preserve them so we don’t lose our identity. People, islands, societies, relationships, and cultures are living breathing things that change over time. Music and film are ways of taking snapshots as they change so we can preserve what’s important. If you know your core, you can survive any change.
What do you want people to get from your products?
CINTA: Empowerment. We want to raise the standard of our music, and feel empowered to create an original sound that respects copyright law and puts the CNMI on the map, much like Reggae did for Jamaica. We also want to promote indigenous filmmaking.
What’s next for Olomwaay?
CINTA: This new website is part of a dream come true. We have fans from Hawaii, Guam, Tinian, Rota, and the U.S. mainland. It gives us a permanent presence online, the chance for them to find us, join our mailing list and put that song in their private collections as a new local Mother’s Day standard.
GUS: We recorded 14 songs following "She Gave Us Love" that we plan to release. We’re also working on a Christmas album of Chamorro, Carolinian and English songs that no one’s ever heard before. We have other videos and CDs people can place their orders for on the site.
Any advice for other Saipanpreneurs?
GUS: Start focusing on what you’re really interested in and go for it no matter what. In life, you never regret the things you do; you really only regret the things you don’t do.
Visit Olomwaay’s website at www.olomwaayband.com
Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!—Walt.