Monday, March 26, 2012


Antonia does not believe in taotao mo'na, the spirits of our ancestors who many believe dwell in the jungle and who will physically hurt you if you disrespect them or their environment.  If they make you sick, it is called chetnot maipe, which literally means "heat sickness," because the usual sickness is some sort of inflammation : bruises, swelling, infection, sore, rash and the like.

More on her story follows below, but let me first get to Antonia's way of speaking Chamorro.

I believe that the accent (in Chamorro, tonåda, which means "tune" or "melody") most commonly associated with Luta, but which was also prominent in Humåtak, Malesso' and Inalåhan at one time, reflects the original, pre-contact accent of all Chamorros.  I have no evidence for this, as there were no recordings of people's speech and no written descriptions, as far as I know, about different accents at the time of western contact.  However, look at the facts.  The villages (and island, in the case of Luta) farthest away from Hagåtna, which was overwhelmingly mixed with outsiders marrying Chamorro wives, all have this in common : the sing-song accent.

Three Features

Intonation.  In the Luta (and southern Guam) accent, there is a marked rising of intonation, especially at the end of sentences, where others conclude speech by descending in intonation.

A versus Å.  In many words, what is said as an Å in Guam, Saipan and Tinian is said as an A in Luta.  The Å sound takes on the sound of "paw" or "saw."  In the rest of the Marianas, på'go ("today" or "now") is pronounced like "paw - go."  But in Luta, it sounds like the "pa" of "panic."

While many Chamorros of Luta no longer keep the sing-song accent, a dead giveaway that the person is from Luta is this flat A sound where other Chamorros say the rounded or open  Å sound, and many on Luta still keep this feature, even when they no longer keep the sing-song intonation.

Softer Consonants.  Another trait that stands out among many Chamorros from Luta is the way they soften consonants in some words.  As an example, whereas others will say sodda' (to find) or påddet (cement), extending and intensifying the D sound,  many in Luta soften the D and will say soda' and padet.

Word Usage.  Chamorros in Luta use words and phrases unknown or rarely used on the other islands in the Marianas.  Antonia talks about the man asaina, for example.  We understand what she means; asaina denotes someone of higher status.  But it's not a way of speaking heard outside of Luta.

She also uses the word palacha, a word known to all Chamorros in the past, but not used as much today by Chamorros on Guam.  It means to "to trick or swindle" but, in terms of one's behavior in the jungle in the midst of the spirits, it carries the connotation "to be disrespectful, to tease, to make trouble."

Back to Her Story

She says her nephew went looking for ayuyu (coconut crab) in the jungle, and finding only one, small ayuyu, complained to the taotao mo'na why they didn't allow him to find enough food (totche; main, animal or protein food).  In his anger, he threw his pack of cigarettes at the trongkon nunu (banyan tree), the supposed dwelling of the taotao mo'na, saying, "So take my cigarettes and smoke!"  Well, on his return home he got the chetnot maipe.  He was taken to the American doctors and, of course, they couldn't find anything or do anything.  So he was taken instead to a suruhåno (Chamorro herb doctor) on Saipan and was cured.

Although she doesn't believe and has never seen taotao mo'na, when she does go into the jungle, she explains to the taotao mo'na that she means no disrespect if she answers nature's call in the jungle as her house is too far and she won't get home in time.  Pot siakaso.  Just in case.

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