Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Altar Server

In my day, being a tanores was an all-male preserve.  You had to wait till you received 1st Holy Communion before you could become a tanores.   In Saint Jude parish, Sinajaña, Franciscan Sister Optata was moderator of the tanores.  I kept pestering her at ages 6 and 7 to join, and she kept telling me, "Wait till you receive 1st Holy Communion."

On December 8, 1970, at Saint Francis Church, Yoña (I was a student at Saint Francis School), I received 1st Holy Communion at age 8.  The very next day, I went to see Sister and joined.  A few weeks later I served my first Mass, and I almost fainted.

I joined a group of about 70 tanores.  We vied with Agat to have the most tanores on Guam.  I soon became part of the inner core of tanores, serving every day; sometimes several Masses a day.  Living 200 yards from the church helped.

Besides serving, we tanores simply hung around the church, all day if possible (weekends and holidays).  We cleaned, inserted bulletins into the Umatuna si Yuus (diocesan paper), did whatever was needed.  The pastor would take us to McDonald's once in a while, or movies (when we were older).  One priest took us on hikes or swimming every so often.  It was fun being a tanores.

Three former tanores from Saint Jude became priests.  Not bad.


As I grew up and became more interested in our language and culture, I wondered where in the world did Chamorros get the word tanores?  Usually, if the thing did not exist on Guam before the Spaniards, the Chamorros used the Spanish word for it (like tenedot for fork - tenedor in Spanish, or katsunes for pants - calzones).  But the Spanish word for "altar boy" is monaguillo - no where near tanores!

I had a theory, now abandoned, that the word came from the Spanish word tenores - the musical tenors.  I knew that the Spanish priests ran a colegio in Hagåtña, the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán.  I knew that they taught the boys more than reading and writing; that the boys were also taught agriculture and - music (tenors!).  I speculated that perhaps the tenors in the boys' choir functioned as servers, too.  Hence, tenores, then tanores.  Good try, no cigar.

I came across a book (100 Events That Shaped The Philippines, National Centennial Commission, 1999, p. 129).  It said that tanores were unpaid domestic servants of the Spanish missionaries in the Philippines.  A check of a Spanish dictionary under "tanor" defines it as a Philippine domestic servant to the Spaniards.

Antonio de Morga, writing in 1609 , in his book The History of the Philippine Islands, says that the word tanores was used to describe unpaid native servants of the Spaniards, both cleric and lay, as early as 1608, long before Sanvitores came to Guam (1668).

This reminds me of the old Chamorro custom of the låhen Påle'.  He was a boy or young man, usually from a large family, who lived in the konbento or rectory and assisted the priest in parish work, including serving Mass.  Though unpaid, their families felt their son was more than compensated by serving God and benefitting from the priest's religious, cultural and even academic guidance.  Among the priests, or among those either coming from the Philippines or having been there, these konbento servants (who also served Mass) could have been called tanores.  Or, perhaps, any boy who came to serve Mass was seen as an unpaid helper - a tanores; a term they were familiar with in the Philippines.

We were certainly unpaid - with money, that is.  But, for some of us, we were paid in other ways.  Some of us even found our life's vocation because we were tanores.

What's interesting, too, is that the word tanores is no longer used in the Philippines. The Marianas, therefore, are preserving a word that originated in the Philippines but which is now lost there.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I have been looking for the definition of Tanores.

    Si Yu'os Ma'ase! :D