Saturday, May 4, 2013


A Chamorro lady in her 70s called me up recently.

"Emergency! Emergency!"

She had started her May devotions, in Chamorro, I Pilan Santa Maria (The Month of Mary).  This devotion is not like a nobena, which lasts nine days or nights.  I Pilan Santa Maria has a different prayer for each of the thrity-one days of May.

And some of the Chamorro words are old and obsolete.  Words we almost never use anymore.

Luckily, the author of this devotion, Påle' Román María de Vera, also wrote a Chamorro dictionary.  So we can find out the meanings of these deep words.

Here are some of them, found in I Pilan Santa Maria :

YEGON.  It means "to visit."  We borrowed from the Spanish and now say bisita

MAFOKNA.  It means "to reduce, diminish."  One way we say that today is rebåha, again borrowed from the Spanish.

GUAICHONG HA'.  It means "indifferent, equal."  As in, "Either flavor of ice cream is good for me."  "One is as good, or as bad, as the other."  Today we would say, "Pareho ha'," borrowed from the Spanish, or "Achamaolek" or "Achababa" or what have you, using the Chamorro prefix "acha" which means "equally."

MAGGUAK.  It means "spacious."  A spacious room, for example.  Today we might say, "Gai kåmpo na kuåtto," "a spacious room."  Again, kåmpo is borrowed from the Spanish.

Påle' Román, though a Spanish citizen, always wanted to revert to the truly Chamorro word if he could find it, even though few if any Chamorros used the word anymore because they had adopted the Spanish term.

But history shows that his attempt to revive some obsolete words didn't succeed, as shown in the case of this 70-something old woman who had no clue what yegon meant.  Påle' Román could put it in his religious literature, which many Chamorros read time and time again, without changing the language of ordinary conversation.  It's a challenge to buck social trends.  Not impossible, but a challenge.

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