Sunday, June 26, 2011


What are the Bonin Islands, you ask?

They are Japanese islands just north of the Marianas.  Chamorros call them the "Islas Boninas."

For hundreds of years, the Japanese considered them their own, but failed to occupy them.  That gave the British and American whalers and seamen, tired of their wandering life, a chance to settle there in the 1830s.

Being close to the Marianas, the Anglo-American settlers in the Bonins had much contact with Guam in the 19th century.  A Chamorro woman, Joaquina de la Cruz, left Guam in the 1840s to escape her abusive husband, and ended in the arms of John Millinchamp, a British settler in the Bonins.  She brought along with her a niece, Maria Castro de los Santos.  We're not sure if Maria intended to leave or just say goodbye to auntie, and the ship set sail before she could get off!

Maria first married Matteo Mazarro, an Italian but also a British subject and first British governor of the Bonin Islands (Japan was still uninvolved in the islands).  She had two children from him.  Mazarro soon died, and Maria then married an American settler in the Bonins, Nathaniel Savory from Massachusetts.  With Savory, Maria had a number of children; half-Chamorro, half-Caucasian.

Twice, the Spanish government in Guam sent passports to the Savories so that they could go to Guam to get a Catholic wedding, but they never did.  Savory eventually preceded Maria in death, and she married a German named William Allen.

Maria Castro de los Santos - perhaps the only Chamorro living on an island controlled by English and Americans; populated by a United Nations of peoples : Polynesians, Micronesians, various Europeans and people from Africa; with the Japanese eventually resuming control over the islands in 1875.  With whom could she speak Chamorro?  She probably spoke her own brand of English.

There was no Catholic church in the Bonins.  But, as a visiting Protestant missionary said of Maria, she never gave up her Catholic faith, never sewing on Sundays and always crossing herself and praying.

Maria had ten children with Nathaniel Savory.  They in turn married people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds, and when the Japanese took control in 1875, many Japanese settlers married into the Savory family.  Today, traces of Chamorro blood run through their veins because of Maria Castro de los Santos.  Her bones are part of the soil up there now.

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