Monday, January 7, 2013


In 1990, the Commissioners of our villages were given a new title : Mayor. 

Our mañaina never looked for a Chamorro version of the older title, Commissioner.  They just said "komishana."

But, with the adoption of the new title "mayor," in an era where culture is given more official importance, a Chamorro equivalent had to be found.  The mayors settled on "mahot," as seen above.  I'm not sure where they, or the Chamorro Language Commission, got it, but it seems they wanted to get as close as possible to a Chamorro pronunciation of the English word "mayor."

Before the Spaniards came, our islands had maga'låhe or chiefs in each village, not over the whole island nor over the entire chain of islands that make up what we now call the Marianas. 

When the Spaniards came, the Marianas finally had one ruler over all the islands, though he was a foreigner - the Governor.  It's interesting though that maga'låhe was applied to the Spanish Governor's position, also called Gobernador in Spanish, Gobetnadot and/or Gobietno in Chamorro.

Local government, of course, was still needed and mayors were appointed over the islands, called in Spanish "alcalde."  The Chamorros pronounced it atkåtde, atkåde and sometimes atkaide.

In the villages, the civil leader was called "gobernadorcillo," or "little governor."

Under the Americans, the position of "island mayor" was eliminated.  After all, the Americans took over only one island, Guam, and not all the Marianas.  A leader in each village was still needed, of course, but in time he was given the English title Commissioner.

But when the government wanted to eliminate "commissioner" and replace it with "mayor," what Chamorro equivalent exists for that title?

I'd go with "atkåtde," since it does indeed mean "mayor," though in the past our mayors were mayors of each island in the Marianas, not each village.  (By the way, that's how it still is in the Northern Marianas; there's a mayor for Saipan, a mayor for Tinian and a mayor for Luta.)

Political systems change; languages evolve.  But "mahot" leaves me scratching my head.  The word was invented in 1990, based on a perceived Chamorro pronunciation of  "mayor."  If you were to pronounce the English word "mayor" in Chamorro it would come out MA - YOT.  But mayot already has a Chamorro meaning, and it isn't the public office of mayor.  Mayot means "major," as in size or age.  But how does one get mahot?  Imagination, is what I say.  But it's important to acknowledge that mahot is not an old word, but a modern invention.  I suggest we ask ourselves "Why?", when we already have an older, though forgotten, word atkåtde, a word that has a basis in history.

1 comment:

  1. In Rota, we still use Mayot or Atkade as a title and the usage depends on the choice of the current mayor. However, in speech both are used interchangeably.