Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Chamorro matrons in black veils during Good Friday procession in the 1920s

In modern Guam, people argue whether chicken is meat or not, when discussing the Church's Lenten regulations. Forty years ago, no one ever asked that question. Everyone understood that chicken was not eaten on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent.

Little do people know how much more strict our grandparents observed the Lenten penances in their day.

A sermon written in Chamorro in the year 1873 explains these Lenten regulations. Here are the main points, with some explanations in the Chamorro spoken at the time, 150 years ago or so.

1. During Lent, all seven Fridays of Lent were fast days AS WELL AS Holy Saturday (which is not the case today). Interestingly, Ash Wednesday was not a fast day for the faithful in the Marianas and , I suppose, also the Philippines, since the Marianas were included in the laws of the Philippines.

Most of the Catholic world had many more fast days but Rome reduced their number for places like the Philippines and the Marianas, considering the indios (natives) weaker in physical strength to be able to withstand a more rigorous fast.

2. On fast days, breakfast was limited to an ounce and a half of food devoid of animal substance.

Para u fan gef ayunat i kilisyåno, u kånno', gin oga'an, onsa i media na nengkanno' ni i tai iyo sustånsian gå'ga'. Pot ehemplo, chokolåte, chå, kafe, un tasitan atule, un pedasiton titiyas, pat kuatkiera ha' otro na nengkanno' yagin tai iyo sustånsian gå'ga'.

For the Christian to truly fast, he will eat, if in the morning, an ounce and a half of food lacking animal substance. For example, chocolate, tea, coffee, a small cup of atule (corn porridge), a small piece of tortilla, or whatever other food if it lacks animal substance.

3. On fast days, a person can eat for lunch whatever his stomach needs, except meat as these days were also days of abstinence. But he could eat fish, and cook it even in lard (animal fat).

4. On fast days, a person's dinner was limited to eight ounces of food, but no animal substance at all, except that he could cook his vegetables in lard (animal fat) as that was allowed in the Philippines, under which the Marianas fell.

Gin puenge, siña u kolasion asta ocho onsas na nengkanno', lao atotta gi kolasion kåtne pat guihan, lao siña u kosina håf na gollai yan i mantika, sa' ma konsiente gine giya Filipinas.

At night, he can have a light meal up to eight ounces, but it is forbidden to have meat or fish, but he can cook whatever vegetable in lard, because it is allowed here in the Philippines.

5. Abstinence was the refraining from eating meat, and those days did include Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent, plus Holy Wednesday, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. The Church regulations speak of only two kinds of animal food : meat and fish. Chicken and other poultry were thus clearly identified as meat and not fish.

6. Here is an interesting Lenten rule of the past that, even today, some older Chamorros remember and observe! And that is to never eat both meat and fish at the same meal on any day in Lent. This is because, at one time, that was actually the rule!

I ha'åne siha nai atotta ma na' danña' kåtne yan guihan, este siha : todo i ha'åne siha gi Kuaresma asta i Damenggo-ña siha lokkue', yan i ha'ånen ayunat.

The days when it is forbidden to mix meat and fish are these : all the days of Lent including their Sundays, and the fast days.


Even in these short, partial excerpts from the Chamorro sermon we see some old words not used nowadays, or not used in the same way today.

Atotta : it means "forbidden."

Kolasion : a light meal.

Yagin : another form of the word yanggen (meaning "if").

Gine : another form of the word guine (meaning "here").

Kosina : known to us today as "kitchen," which it also meant in the past, but back then it could also mean "to cook."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Chamorro Officials in the early 1800s

The Spanish government in the Marianas employed Chamorros as village officials very early in its history. In the beginning, they were members of the local military company. In Hagåtña, these troops were originally Spanish, Latin American and Filipino soldiers, many of whom then married Chamorro women. Their offspring would have spoken Chamorro.

Out in the rural villages, there were fewer outsiders, sometimes none at all, except for the village priest.

In 1791, just about 100 years after the end of Chamorro-Spanish wars, these were the officials in the villages outside of the capital city of Hagåtña. Saipan and Tinian have no officials since these island no longer had a permanent population.

I really dislike interspersing my remarks within this list, but it would be easier for readers to follow my explanatory comments if I did.

Marcelino Achuga, Assistant to the Gobernadorcillo
Francisco Achuga, Sheriff

The Gobernadorcillo ("little governor") was like a mayor. Only the larger villages usually had one.

We can assume that Achuga is a Chamorro name. The prefix A means "together" or "each other." Chuga means "to calm someone or something down." Chuga i mimo. Calm the fight down.

The sheriff (alguacil) was the local law enforcer, more or less like a policeman or warden.

Tomas Montezuma *, Assistant

An interesting name, Montezuma. It appears on the very early lists of "Spanish" soldiers on Guam. But the name is Mexican, after the Aztec historic figure of Moctezuma. Many people in Mexico still have Montezuma or Moctezuma as their surname.

Baltazar Afaisen, Assistant

A Chamorro name now associated only with Inalåhan but, as you can see, was found elsewhere on Guam in the past. Aputguan (Apotguan) is where Dungca's Beach or Alupang is in Tamuning. The prefix A (together/each other) and the word faisen (to ask) put together mean "to ask each other."

Francisco Tinafña, Assistant
Mariano Materne, Sheriff

A good number of Chamorro names end with the suffix -ÑA, meaning either "his/her" or "more than." If only we knew what the first part of the name Tinåfña meant. Ostensibly the root word is tåf, which might be connected with the word tåftåf (early) or it could mean something we have no clue about.

Materne still exists today and old documents spell it Matetnge, so I believe that is sufficient evidence that the name comes from totnge, which means "to build or start a fire."

Antonio Chibog, Assistant

Chibog was a last name that survived in Asan all the way till the early 1900s. I knew a lady whose grandmother was named Chibog. But the name, now, has disappeared.

Nicolas Agangi, Assistant

Agångi means "to invite."

Tepungan is the area in between Asan and Piti. What is now the village of Piti used to be further north in what is called Tepungan.

Quintin Namnam, Gobernadorcillo
Julian Quitaofi, Sheriff

Namnam appears in other lost Chamorro surnames like Salucnamnam and Saguanamnam. Someone told me it appears in a list of Chamorro words written by an explorer and it means "expert."

The Qui in Quitaofi might be the same as the Qui in Quichocho or Quitugua, meaning ke or "try to." But taofi remains the mystery!

Pedro Nae, Gobernadorcillo
Gaspar Gofsagua, Assistant
Francisco Cheguiña, Sheriff

Nae could be the word nå'e (to give) but since the writing lacks diacritical marks, like the glota, it's hard to be sure if that is true or if the word is something else.

Sågua' means "port" as in Commercial Port. Gof means "very." Gofsagua is a very good port, or someone who is a good protector of others.

The root of Cheguiña is possibly chigi/chige, but we don't know what that means. There is a word chiget ("to clasp") but if that were the root, the name would be Chigetña, not Cheguiña.

Dionicio Afaii, Gobernadorcillo
Antonio Quinene, Sheriff

If we assume that the A in Afaii is the prefix meaning "together/each other," then there is a word form fai, which is a variation of fa' ("to make, to do"). The suffix -I means to do or make something for someone else. It's all very mysterious!

Francisco Hokokña, Gobernadorcillo
Pedro Mantanoña, Sheriff

Hokkok means "to the absolute limit" and can also mean "exhausted, depleted."

Tåno' ('land" or "to walk on land") seems to be the root in Mantanoña, and the MAN prefix could be the same as the MAN in Mansapit, which is a shortening of masåsåpet, in the same way that mansangan is a shortening of masåsångan

Felipe Quifaña, Gobernadorcillo
Senen Atoigue, Sheriff

Yes, there used to be a village at Pago Bay.

Again, I wish I knew what quifa meant, being the root, it seems of Quifaña. Perhaps it is KE + FA'. "To try to make/do."

Atoigue is a name that survives till today. The -GUE suffix means "to do or make for, to or on behalf of someone." So the root word would be ato', which means "to give or offer." Atoigue thus would mean "to give someone" or "for someone," in the same way that fåtto (to arrive) becomes fatoigue (to go to someone).

Francisco Borja Taimañao, Gobernadorcillo
Mariano Quikanai, Assistant
Jose Charpagon, Sheriff             

The Borja in the first man's name is not his mother's maiden name but rather his second baptismal name. There are many Franciscos among the saints and this one was Saint Francis Borgia, in Spanish Francisco de Borja, often shortened to just Francisco Borja.

Taimañao, a name that exists today, means "fearless."

Quikanai seems to be KE + KANNAI, but that meaning is curious. To attempt to hand? Perhaps the kanai is not kånnai ("hand") but something else we don't know anymore.

Charpagon seems to come from CHAT (badly) and PAGON but I can't find a meaning for pågon, or even pågong


This list shows very clearly that the blood of our ancestors did not evaporate or disappear.

Every single one of these men, with one exception, had what appears to be indigenous, Chamorro names. This means that Chamorro mothers and, in most cases, Chamorro fathers brought forth Chamorro children.

It is true that some of these men may have been illegitimate, the sons of foreign men. That did happen not infrequently. But illegitimate births were not overwhelming, and were not even the majority of cases.

Over time, people with "pure" Chamorro blood mated with people of foreign or mixed blood, and the so-called "pure" strain became mixed. But it didn't disappear entirely. Anyone descended from these people are descendants of a people who once lived in our islands long before the Europeans and others came ashore.

This is why Chamorros consider "Chamorro" to mean both those who lived here before 1668 (Sanvitores' arrival) and those descended from them, regardless how much foreign blood was added to them.

Monday, February 8, 2016


Are you excited?

OK then. How do you say that in Chamorro?

I was asked the other day that very question, and I must admit I was stumped.

People doing a TV ad wanted to end the commercial saying that they were offering something exciting and they wanted to say that in Chamorro.

Now, before we proceed, I think it is important for us to be very clear what we mean by "excited" or "exciting."

By "excited" or "exciting" we mean a high degree of enjoyment or positive anticipation.

So, off I went to my dictionaries and to my older Chamorro speakers whom I always consult. Even these proficient speakers of Chamorro scratched their heads and needed time to think about the question. How does one say "excitement" or "excited" in Chamorro?

Many words were suggested, but most of them only got close to the idea of excitement, but didn't hit the nail on the head.

Here are some of the words suggested to me :


Manman means to stand in awe or admiration at something amazing or unusual. To be manman is to be beside oneself in wonder. Now, you can be manman when you're excited. But not always. We can be excited about ordinary things which do not cause awe and wonder. For example, carrot cake always makes me excited, but does not cause me awe and wonder.


Borrowed from a Spanish word, it is related to our English word anxious because both are based on a Latin original. Anxious/ånsias. It is true that we are often anxious when we are excited. If I am waiting in a huge crowd for the appearance of my favorite megastar, I can be both excited and anxious. Anxious that the star is taking too long to appear on stage; anxious that I may not get a good view, and so on. I would be ånsias waiting to see the dentist, but I wouldn't say I would be excited to see the dentist! So I don't think ånsias (anxious) perfectly fits the idea of excitement.


This comes from the word guåfe or "fire." Guinafe means "burned" and guinaguafe means "burning." Again, being excited can be likened to burning up inside with one's emotions. But the difficulty is that guinafe can also mean literally burnt, as in a piece of meat on a grill. One can be burning up inside when one is angry, too. So, guinafe may not hit the nail on the head when it comes to excitement.


Another loan word from Spanish, animoso comes from the word ånimo, which means "spirit, energy, intent, effort." Nå'e ånimo means "give it your all, put your heart into it." Animoso usually means, therefore, "industrious, energetic." So, although excitement connotes an increase in spirit, to put it colloquially, "to be pumped up," animoso doesn't quite fit "excitement."


Yet another Spanish loan word, it means "fun, entertainment, play." Again, it suggests excitement but one doesn't have to be excited when one is being entertained or when one is having some fun playing cards. Excitement suggests something stronger than simple pleasure.

And there were other such similar words that suggest excitement, or can be part of excitement, but do not work as an exact translation of "excitement."


Believe it or not, magof (happy) is one of the better translations I came across. And that is because, in the way we are using the word "excitement" in this post, we are talking about strong enthusiasm, delight and pleasure about something. This always means happiness. To say "I am excited to be here" always means one is happy to be there.

Enjoying the thrill of bungee jumping, one could say "Magof yo'" and mean "I am excited!"

Hearing that the show is about to begin in 10 seconds, one could say "Magof yo'" and mean "I am excited!"

Or, "Ei na minagof!" and mean "Wow, what excitement!"

Or, "Na' magof!" and mean "Exciting!"

But magof always means "happy," so Chamorro seems to lack a precise word that specifically means "excited."

But how about.....


If you look at the 1932 Chamorro dictionary of Påle' Roman, he defines agoddai as "to become greatly excited," to become "enthused, impassioned."

I really like this option. I think this is the original meaning of the word agoddai.

The challenge we have today using agoddai to mean "excited" or "excitement" is that, over the years, agoddai has become associated with only one use of the word.

If someone today hears agoddai, s/he will usually think of the intense desire to pinch a baby.

Personally, I find it suspicious that our ancestors would have invented a word that only meant the intense desire to pinch a baby! It is possible they did, I won't deny that. But, to me, it seems more believable that our ancestors had a word to simple express any excitement or intense desire. Then, over time, people narrowed it down to one use of the word.

But Påle' Roman's older dictionary shows us that, at least even as late as the 1930s, Chamorros were using agoddai to express an intense desire, passion and excitement for other things, too. As in a passion for a person.

Ma agoddai yo' nu hågo. I feel passionate for you. You enthuse me.

Na' ma agoddai este! This is exciting! This is exhilarating! 

I think I found my answer. But, I would be sure to be misunderstood by the majority of people today if I used agoddai to mean general excitement about something.

Friday, February 5, 2016



Or in the Marianas, for that matter. And since westernization, to be precise. Prior to 1668, our ancestors were not Christian and were obviously buried in our islands.

But ever since Catholic Spain began to run things, only Catholic cemeteries were allowed in the Marianas, under the supervision of the local priest.

So, if you were not Catholic (and the islands always had non-Catholic residents, at least in the 1800s), where was your body laid to rest if you died in the Marianas?

The fact is that Catholic cemeteries had provisions for that possibility.

Catholic cemeteries were consecrated and a fence or a wall marked the area that was consecrated. Right outside that fence or wall was the space provided for non-Catholics, unbaptized babies, suicides and "public sinners," meaning Catholics who lived in a public way in contradiction to the religion who died without reconciling with the Church. Catholics who died unrepentant of living with a partner outside of marriage, or Catholics who joined the Freemasons, for example, would be buried here. Many of these prohibitions concerning burial in a Catholic cemetery are no longer in force, but I remember the days visiting a relative's grave which was outside the fence.

It is documented that, during Spanish times, Protestants and others were buried at Pigo but in the unconsecrated portion of the cemetery.


As far as I know, we don't have any existing documentation detailing the opening of this cemetery but the first burial we know of dates back to 1902, during the tenure of the second American Naval Governor of Guam, Seaton Schroeder.

Seeing the need for a burial space for their own personnel and for the increasing number of non-Catholics on American Guam, the Naval Government chose this site for a military cemetery. At the time, this area of Hagåtña, called San Antonio, as yet had a small population. This area would have been at the outer edge of the barrio or district. But it wouldn't be long before the population grew and new houses would be built to the east of the cemetery. The beach and the road in front served as the northern and southern borders.


The oldest grave is that of an American Marine private, Elwood Hopkins. But more than just active stateside military personnel are buried here. There are some spouses, children and retired military men, too. And there are also some Chamorro military men, both active and retired.

Jesus L. Guerrero, Chamorro, was in the Navy and died during World War II in 1944

Ah Shun Chang was Chinese and a member of the Auxiliary Services of the US Navy, which probably meant he was a cook or other domestic worker in the Navy.

Francisco Unpingco Rivera was a Chamorro Navy man who died in the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His body was later buried on Guam.

Alessandro Veneziano was Greek Orthodox. He came to Guam as a musician in the Navy and married a Chamorro lady. His children eventually moved to the US mainland.

Gertrud Costenoble was a civilian and a German. Her husband had first moved to Saipan when it was under the Germans but he then moved to Guam.

Another German buried here was a civil servant in the Saipan government! For whatever reason (maybe medical?) he was on Guam in early 1903 and passed away.


On April 7, 1917, when the U.S. declared war on Germany, a German ship, the SMS Cormoran, peacefully lay in Apra Harbor. Rather than let the ship fall into American hands, the Germans on board blew up their own ship. Seven crew members died and are buried in this cemetery.

The Cormoran marker, with the German Iron Cross and inscription in the German language.

Poor Emil Reschke of the German Navy didn't make it alive after the explosion.

One of the Cormoran deceased was not German at all but from German-controlled New Guinea. His name was Boomerum (or Bumerum).


Thursday, February 4, 2016


In the famous song recorded by the Delgado Brothers, Ramon San, the second verse begins with :

Si Sococo segundo-ña
sa' ha dåkngas ilu-ña.
Eyo mina' må'gas gue'

Sococo was his second-in-command
because he shaved his head.
That's what made him a boss.

Now, who was this Sococo?

Was he a fictional character? Or was he a real person?

I knew from the 1897 Guam Census that there was indeed a family by the last name Sococo. We don't hear about them on Guam anymore because, as far as we can tell, no one has that last name anymore.

But, just to be sure, I called up one of the Delgado Brothers to find out.

According to him, to the best of his recollection, a man named Benavente from Dededo, composed the song Ramon San. The "Sococo" in the song is not really Sococo. It was a nickname given to a man by the last name San Agustin.

But while we're on this topic, we might as well talk about the real Sococos.

In the village of Asan, in the 1890s during Spanish times, lived a Chinese man named Manuel Sococo. Like many Chinese settlers on Guam, his last named ended in -co (Unpingco, Limtiaco).

He was married to an Asan lady named Juliana Megofña.

They had five daughters, it seems, and no sons. But the oldest girl had a son out of wedlock so he carried the Sococo name. The boy's name was Jose.

Jose may have been the Jose who fathered children with his wife Rosa Ungacta. A son of theirs, Peter, left Guam and joined the US Navy in 1939. He had a brilliant Navy career for over 30 years as a submariner.

Peter Sococo, USN

Sococo married in the States and had three daughters.

There were a few other Sococos but, apparently, the family name disappeared in Guam in the last few decades.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Neither a hoi nor a goi

Ni hoi ni goi is said when not a word has been heard from someone.

Måtto mågi si Kiko ya ha li'e yo' lao ni hoi ni goi.

Kiko came by here and saw me but didn't say a word.

In the video above, Tan Esco talks about one of her father's brothers. She says,

Sa' i dos måtai, ah malingo gi che'lu-ña si tatå-ho i Mariano. 
Because the two who died, ah lost of my father's brothers (one) was Mariano.

Humånao ya ilek-ña bayinero, no? 
He left and became, as he said, a whaler, no?

Saonao gi batkon man aligao bayena. 
He went with the ships that searched for whales.

Eyegue ni uno ni hoi ni goi ti ma tungo' håfa uttimon-ña, no?
He was one who they heard nothing from and didn't know what happened to him, no?

Tåya' "communication."
There was no communication.


It's an interesting phrase, first of all, because the Chamorros of old did not like the OI sound.

Our future-marker verb BAI comes from the Spanish word VOY which means "I go." Some older Chamorro writings maintain the BOI spelling. But no Chamorro ever says BOI. We all say BAI. Our preference is the AI sound.

Secondly, the NI in the expression "ni hoi ni goi" comes from the Spanish word "ni," which means "neither." Ni tú ni yo means "neither me nor you."

But there is no Spanish expression ni joi ni goi.

There is a Spanish expression ni pi ni pa, and it means "zero, zilch, nothing, not a thing."

~What did you learn from math class today?
~Ni pi ni pa! Not a thing!

~What did he tell you about last night?
~Ni pi ni pa!

~What do you know about tonight's schedule?
~Ni pi ni pa!

Filipinos have their own version of this expression. "Ni ha ni ho."

So it seems that the Chamorro expression is based on a Spanish model, which Chamorros heard, and which Chamorros used to create their own expression.

Usually, one person comes up with an expression, and it is copied by others who hear it and like it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


When Johnny Sablan started recording Chamorro music albums in 1968, I was old enough to play the records my aunties bought and listen to his songs.

One of the songs that instantly became one of my favorites is Lelu Lelu Lelu Le. I memorized the lyrics to this sweet and simple melody, and even then I could not understand what the lyrics were trying to say, although I understood some words like kafe and leche.

As I grew older I began to learn about children's songs which often have no deep meaning or message and which can sometimes simply be nonsense words so that we can just have fun singing the melody.

Today I listen to Lelu and think of the simple, innocent but fun life children had in the past. The song speaks of yummy food and fruits that kids would have readily available at their disposal. Nothing from a can except for the milk and maybe the coffee. Everything else was from the land and sea before them.

The last verse in Johnny's recording, though, was more mysterious to me. So I went to ask him about it. From Johnny himself I learned how he came to record this song.

His mother Rita had friends from Saipan who suggested Johnny record this song and provided him with the traditional lyrics. Then Johnny thought about including his own message of the youth of his time in the late 1960s who were getting involved with drugs.

He used the image of the banyan tree, the trongkon nunu a tree with many leaves, whose abundant and exposed roots are feared and respected as the abode of the spirits of our ancestors. In these roots we can "see" the faces, young and old, of our ancestors and people. He says, "If you are high on drugs, and you are asking who you are, you will find the answer to that, your name will be called, you will find yourself, if you come down off your high and just sing Lelu lelu le. The song will calm you down and you will find yourself again."


1. Lelu lelu lelu le, latan leche yan kafe, gi ha'åne San Jose
(Lelu lelu lelu le, a can of milk and coffee, on Saint Joseph's day)

ya hagon suni, fina'denne', ti u ma igi para mångge', lelu....
(and taro leaves, fina'denne', they can't be beat for flavor, lelu....)

2. Lelu lelu lelu le, un titiyas mamaipe, tininun ti'ao na totche
(Lelu lelu lelu le, a hot titiyas, barbequed ti'ao fish for the main dish)

yan alåguan ni ma leche, para atmåyas ni dinanche, tiinun lemmai ni ma guesgues.
(and rice porridge with coconut milk, corn porridge made just right, barbequed scrubbed breadfruit)

3. Guaha trongko gi hatdin, manmanfloflores pot fin, manmanokcha i tomåtes
(There is a tree in the garden, that is finally flowering, the tomatoes have sprouted)

manmañensen kakaguåtes, man sen meppa trongkon åtes, todo maolek mås ke åntes.
(the peanuts are full, the åtes tree is abundant, everything is better than before.)

4. Guaha trongko ni mi hagon, måtan taotao yan påtgon, sinangåne hao i na'ån-mo
(There is a tree with abundant leaves, the face of a man and child, you are told your name)

yanggen tatkilo sagå-mo, fåtto påpa' ya ta (fa)ngånta : lelu lelu lelu le.
(if your place is high, come down and let's sing : lelu lelu lelu le.)

My friend Goro from Saipan sings a verse of Lelu himself :

Monday, January 25, 2016


Apolinario Mabini outside his tent at Asan

On this day 115 years ago, the US Rosecrans arrived in Apra Harbor, Guam from Manila. It carried 34 Filipino political exiles and their male servants. But among the most famous of them was Apolinario Mabini, the "Brains of the Philippine Revolution." His deportation to Guam was justified by the American authorities based on Mabini's communication, even while inside an American jail in the Philippines, with Filipino fighters continuing the fight against American rule.

Mabini returned to Manila in February, 1903 after having sworn an oath of allegiance to the U.S.

Mabini's two year stay on Guam (along with his fellow exiled countrymen) is commemorated by a historical marker at Asan Point.

Another marker is just a few feet away. From this vantage point, you can see how close the camp site was to the capital city of Hagåtña.


Last year, yet another monument to Mabini was to be erected in Asan, in the center of the community and not at the seaside spot where Mabini's camp actually was.

This was not received well by a number of vocal village residents.

For half a century or more, the village residents never said a word about the two monuments at Asan Point (or the old Camp Asan). That was, in fact, where Mabini's camp was and the village itself was not located there.

But this intended monument was in the heart of the village, which is small enough that any marker or monument placed there would stand out. Planned to rest next to the mayor's office and community center, which is next to the parish church, perhaps villagers felt that this monument would be too defining a structure, coloring the Chamorro villagers with an association to a person who had no significant relationship with the village or villagers themselves over 100 years ago. Mabini happened to live a short while by a beach a mile or so distant from the community itself, and that was all, so to speak, in the eyes of the community.

My sources tell me that the monument was completed and dedicated. But Mother Nature had a quick and, at least for now, final word. A typhoon toppled a tree branch nearby and damaged the monument. Thus, only the foundation and base remain.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Naturally there is no snow in the Marianas, just as coconut trees do not grow in Alaska.

But there have been many women named Nieves among the people of the Marianas.

"Nieves" means "snows" in Spanish. Why would Chamorro mothers name their daughters "snows?"

Because of Catholic tradition.

In Rome is a basilica which was the first church in Western Europe named after the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is called Saint Mary Major, "major" meaning "greater," as there are many churches named after Mary in Rome, but none as grand in size as Saint Mary Major.

How this church was built explains why it is also known as Our Lady of the Snows.

In ancient Rome, a Christian couple could not have children and were thinking what to do with their wealth once they died. As they were devoted to Our Lady, they vowed to use their wealth to do something in Our Lady's honor but didn't know exactly what to do. They asked Mary for a sign.

On August 5th, snow fell on the spot where the basilica now stands. Not only is it unheard of for snow to fall anywhere in Europe in August, even in winter it doesn't snow much in Rome at all. So everyone took this as Mary's sign to build a church in that spot. And so many people called the church Our Lady of the Snows and August 5th its feast day on the church calendar.

In Spain, "snows" is "nieves." So the custom began of naming some baby girls Nieves, especially those born on August 5th.

Nieves C. Aguon
3rd name from top
1920 Guam Census

Though typically a woman's name, the Spaniards were not hesitant to name their boys, once in a while, Nieves.

Case in point, our very own Hagåtña library is named after the Filipino Nieves M. Flores, a Guam educator before the war.

The Chamorro nickname for Nieves is Ebi' or Ebe'.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Our people, in general, like their food spicy hot.

And nature has given us the very thing to achieve that - the donne' pepper, of which there are many kinds.

When the donne' pepper is prepared (the Chamorro word fa', or "to make"), it becomes fina'denne'. Donne' that is prepared.

Usually, fina'denne' is donne'' swimming in soy sauce, or vinegar or lemon juice, often with onion slices added. People then dip their food into this sauce or spoon it over the food.

In Guam, when the donne'' is mashed (ma gulek) into a paste, usually with salt and maybe some vinegar added for flavor and preservation, it is called fina'denne' dinanche. Dinanche means "correct." Others call it donne' dinanche. Same thing.

I suppose the name came about because people had the idea that donne'' that is prepared this way is donne' that is prepared "just right" or "correctly," meaning "most pleasing to the palate."

It should be remembered that the Chamorro verb danche can also mean "to hit a target" or "hit the mark." So, fina'denne' dinanche is to "get it just right."

Purists will say that fina'denne' dinanche is just the donne' paste with some salt and vinegar. But many others add a wide variety of extra ingredients which differ from home to home. Some add string beans, onions, garlic, coconut crab meat, imitation crab meat, coconut milk, lemon juice, finely chopped pumpkin tips and even mayonnaise. I think the variations will continue to evolve into the future.

In the Northern Marianas, which has more Japanese influence, some add miso paste.

But the purists will say that such fina'denne' dinanche is not dinanche!

In Saipan, no one called it fina'denne' dinanche. Recently, some in Saipan have started to call it so, because of Guam's influence.

Otherwise, the Chamorros of Saipan just called it donne' or fina'denne'.

But in Saipan there is another name for it : donne' chosen.

Chosen (some pronounce it Chosing) is an old Japanese way of naming Koreans. Koreans do not appreciate the name and it should not be used among them.

Guam Chamorros are unfamiliar with the term Chosen because we on Guam did not have a Korean community on our island before the war, unlike the thousands of Korean workers brought into the Saipan in the 1920s and 30s by the Japanese. Japan ruled Korea before World War II.

The Saipan Chamorros, observing the Koreans (or Chosen) and their love for the chili pepper in their food, started to call donne' paste after the Koreans.

I asked someone from Saipan what he thought of the Guam term fina'denne' dinanche.

He chuckled and said, "Todo fina'denne' dinanche."

"All fina'denne' is correct."

Thursday, January 7, 2016


People not yet fluent in Chamorro, searching for a Chamorro word, often "hispanicize" an English word and hope that it comes out Chamorro!

An example. How does one say "examine" in Chamorro? Hmm. Let's make the word sound Spanish (examina) then spell it more like Chamorro. Eksamina.

Yes! Correct!

But it doesn't always work that way.

A good example of that is the word "conserve."

One is tempted to make it konsetba. But, in this case, one would be talking about candied papaya.

There is a Spanish word conservar. Indeed, it can mean "to conserve," as in, "to keep something from being lost." A synonym would be "preserve."

And foods en conserva in Spanish means preserved foods, such as canned or potted foods.

So sometime back during the Spanish colonial days, someone brought to our islands the knowledge of soaking papaya slices in åfok (baked limestone or coral rock) to act as a brine. The papaya is then cooked in generous amounts of sugar and in the end becomes candied papaya.

The candied papaya is not a good environment for bacteria to breed and spoil the papaya, for it was rightly called konsetba, from the Spanish en conserva.....preserved papaya.

But the Spanish word conserva never made it into Chamorro as a word for "to conserve" or "to preserve." Therefore, konsetba in Chamorro only means candied papaya.

"Conserve water" would never be "konsetba i hanom" in Chamorro. Older Chamorros would laugh if you said that.


Today, and for a couple of centuries already, we have been using the Spanish word mantiene to express the idea of holding on to something, not allowing something to be lost, weakened, deteriorated and so on.

"Preserve our culture." "Mantiene i kutturå-ta."

To "conserve" as in "not to waste," there is the Chamorro term chomma', which means to reduce usage or abstain (as well as "to block, forbid, prevent").

But in the 1865 Spanish-Chamorro dictionary by Father Ibáñez, nå'na' is another word for "conserve."

Now, before I go on, be careful not to confuse nå'na' with the word nåna. Those glotas make a difference. Nåna means "mother."

Påle' Román's 1932 dictionary confirms that nå'na' did indeed mean "to save, keep, safeguard" because one often hides what one keeps safe for the future.

Therefore, one could say "Nå'na' i kutturå-ta"  if you wanted to say "Preserve our culture."

The problem today is that most people understand nå'na' to mean only "to hide."

So I'm afraid if we tried to use the word nå'na' today to mean "conserve" or "preserve," we would be misinterpreted.

"Nå'na' i kutturå-ta" would be interpreted by Chamorro speakers as "Hide our culture."

Perhaps, many generations ago, our people understood nå'na' as also meaning "to conserve/preserve."

Maybe there was, at one time, a specific Chamorro word for "to conserve/preserve" which we no longer remember.

The Chamorro word "to preserve" was not preserved!

Instead, we use Spanish loan words like mantiene (to maintain), protehe (to protect).

One thing's for sure, we do not use the word konsetba for anything other than candied papaya.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


(The story teller preferred not to appear on the video)


In 1944, the Americans by-passed Luta (Rota) while invading the other three main islands of the Marianas : Saipan, Tinian and Guam.

Luta was cut off from supply ships and food was scarce. The Japanese made the Chamorros farm for them in the fields, and American planes would sometimes fly in and attack military and Japanese targets, but Chamorros were also vulnerable to these attacks.

The story teller recounts an incident told to her by her mother about one such strike from an American plane while farming the fields of Luta when she was a baby, carried on her mother's back.

In 1945, the Japanese were given the opportunity to surrender, without an American invasion, when the war ended.

Gi liyang annai man gaige todo i taotao.
(In the cave where everyone was.)

Kada dia debe i famalao'an de u fan hånao para i gualo'
(Every day the women must go to the farm)

para u fan macho'cho' ya u fanånom para i Chapanis.
(to work and plant for the Japanese.)

Pues guåho nai "cry baby" yo' ya ti siña yo' ma po'lo
(Well I was a cry baby and I couldn't be left alone)

sa' siempre yanggen duro yo' kumåti lalålo' i Chapanis.
(because the Japanese will be angry if I keep crying.)

Pues ha kokonne' yo' si nanå-ho, ha o'ombo' yo' gi tatalo'-ña
(So my mother would take me, carrying me on her back)

ya humåhånao yo' lokkue' para i gualo'.
(and I would also go to the farm.)

Uchan yan somnak gaige yo' gi tatalo'-ña.
(Rain and shine I was on her back.)

Pues un dia annai man mamaila' i aeroplåno,
(So one day when the airplanes were coming,)

tåya' chansan-ñiha para u fan malågo ya u fan attok.
(they had no chance to run and hide.)

Pues manohge kalan eståka "or" måtai trongkon håyo ya mangeto.
(So they stood there like poles or dead trees and stayed still.)

Pot fin, mamaki i aeroplåno ya uno na båla poddong
(At last, the plane fired and one bullet fell)

gi me'nan i damagas adeng-ña si nanå-ho.
(in front of my mother's big toe.)

Ya despues ilek-ña, "Nihi ya ta fan malågo ya ta fan attok sa' siempre ha bira gue'."
(Later she said, "Let's go and run and hide because surely he will return.)

Magåhet na ha bira gue' i aeroplåno ya mamaki.
(Sure enough the plane returned and fired.)

Annai humånao i aeroplåno yan man huyong siha,
(When the plane left and the people came out)

duro ma sångan i sinienten-ñiha annai duro mamaki i aeroplåno.
(they kept expressing their feelings when the plane was shooting.)

Si nanå-ho ilek-ña, "Poddong un båla gi me'nan i damagas adeng-ña lao ti påkpak."
(My mother said, "A bullet fell in front of (her) big toe but it didn't explode.") *

Pues ilek-ñiha i famalao'an, "Ai Luisa. Ennao ha' i Sånto Anghet-ña i patgon
(Then the ladies said, "Ay Luisa. It was only the Guardian Angel of that child)

gi tatalo'-mo muna' fan såfo'," sa' todos siha magåhet man såfo',
(on your back who protected us, because they were all surely safe,)

kontodo guåho.
(including me.)

* The story teller switched back to the third person while speaking in the first person, quoting her mother.


~ She uses another word for airplane, aeroplåno, borrowed from the Spanish. The more usual word we use is båtkon aire, both words borrowed from Spanish but according to Chamorro usage. It means "air ship."

~ She uses the original Chamorro word for the human foot, addeng, preserved by the Chamorros of the Northern Marianas. Guam Chamorros switched to using påtas, originally meant for animal feet only.