Tuesday, March 22, 2011

THE MANNGINGE' : Defining the Relationship

"Hånao ya un fannginge'!"  How often did we hear this when we were kids?  We entered a room or a space, and we were told to fannginge'.  We weren't told exactly who.  We assumed it meant to fannginge' every adult person in the room, known to us or not.  That was a lot of mannginge', sometimes 10 minutes' worth.  The very, very old were safe bets.  The silver haired but still agile were usually dependable.  Those in their 40s and 50s were risky.  You might be scolded for trying to make them feel old.  Being scolded made the mannginge' a fearful exercise for us kids.

The custom is ancient and was not borrowed from the Spanish.  No Spaniard takes the hand of a senior man and puts his nose to it!  The early European explorers describe Chamorro signs of respect.  Venerating the hand of a higher status person is found in other cultures within our Austronesian family, such as the "mano po" of the Filipinos.

The ancient salutation, "Ati aring-mo," which meant "I kiss your feet," (aring is probably "addeng," the Chamorro word for feet), has been replaced by Spanish words and phrases.  We were scolded if we didn't say "Ñot" (short for Señot, or Sir) or "Ñora" (short for Señora, or Madam).  The higher status person blessed us with "Dios te ayude" which is Spanish for "God help you."  Of course we pronounced it the Chamorro way, with the Y in "ayude" sounding like DZ.

We had to fannginge' the priests, too, even if they looked fresh out of seminary. 

The fannginge' is also called "amen" but my mañaina never called it that.  I heard that term later from others.

And you had to take full possession of the person's hand.  Just bending forward a little and gesturing a little wasn't good enough.  There was no "air mannginge'."

When I was a baby priest, all of 29 years old, 80 year old women would fannginge' me.  It felt awkward.  But the fannginge' is not a sign of groveling subservience.  It is a way of starting off interaction with positive feelings.  I, who bend down and venerate the hand, show respect; I acknowledge someone's status; I define the relationship.  I, who am venerated, bestow a blessing.  We can now proceed.  We feel good about each other.  What favor do you want?

Neither is it a sign of affection.  The mannginge' has been replaced in modern times by kisses with the lips.  Much too intimate for old-time Chamorros, who rarely even held hands in public between husband and wife.  I remember almost having to provide a papal dispensation to some manåmko' to get them to hold hands for a brief moment when celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

Respect, not affection.  Nose, not lips.  Even the word is "nginge'" which means "to smell."  One doesn't really take a big whiff of the person's hand, but when Chamorros kiss (romance aside), they kiss with the nose.

Here on Guam, I see the custom still practiced to a large extent.  The other day, here at the friary, a young man reached for the hand of a visiting American priest.  The priest didn't know what was going on and jerked back his hand.  I told the priest, "Give him your hand.  It's what we do here." 

Among my close relatives, we practice what I call "mutual mannginge'."  They are older than me and are my mother's siblings or cousins, but many will fannginge' me.  Of my own volition, I reciprocate.  Sometimes we bump heads doing it simultaneously.

So younger people or you in the beneficiary class, fan mannginge'!  And you seniors (even if you're just 50) and you in the benefactor class, don't give them a hard time for rendering you respect.  The world could use a lot more of it.

1 comment:

  1. I was told that it was a blend of the catholic custom of kissing the bishops ring, and the sniffing or inhaling of the essence of the person being greeted. I know there are polynesian custom of taking a deep breath when embracing a friend or family member. and in other islands the inhaling or sniffing is customary when greeting or being greeted. I think it could be a mix of both catholic and native pacific customs.