Friday, March 22, 2013


"Kalakas!" your mother says when you come home from school dirty and smelly.

"Kalakas!" when you tell a dirty joke.

"Kalakas!" when people think your attitude stinks.

Where did we get this expression?

For years it escaped me, because one doesn't find this word in a standard Spanish dictionary.

Then, last year, I was at a community center in San Diego showcasing various minority cultures, and I came across these familiar Mexican figures associated with the Day of the Dead on November 2.

But, was I surprised to find out that these skeletal figurines are called "calaca." 

What most people don't realize, which I stress time and again in my talks and in my writing, is how strong Mexican influence has been on Chamorro culture.  This is because Spain ruled the Marianas through Mexico for the first 150 years or so.  Many of the so-called "Spanish" soldiers on Guam were actually Mexicans, even beginning with Sanvitores' group.

Look at our Chamorro cuisine for more evidence of Mexican touches : corn, titiyas, chalakiles, atuli and so on.

So I can just imagine how skeletal remains, evincing a reaction of disgust, could be transformed by Chamorro minds into an expression of repulsion.  I have no proof for this theory.  And I doubt that we'll ever find proof.  We don't have a complete dictionary or lexicon of ancient Chamorro to show that it's indigenous.  And no one, as far as we know, was documenting all the changes of our Chamorro language over the years back then.

If our kalakas is a term borrowed from the Mexican word, it's just one more example how our ancestors not only borrowed but changed imported vocabulary.  In borrowing, we change things and make it our own, slightly (and sometimes hugely) different from the original usage.


And the Chamorro said, "Kalakas!"

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