Monday, November 25, 2013


Culture is never static; there are always changes of one kind or another.  Changes in the material culture - what people do, the time they have or don't have, the resources they enjoy or lack - have an effect on other aspects of culture.

Here's a look at the way we used to pray the rosary for the dead, compared to now.  We're not looking here at the wake or the burial; just the rosary.


Rosaries for the dead held in a church is a recent thing, starting in the early 1970s.  There is a lot of convenience for the family having it in church.  The family does not need to find seating for the large numbers who usually attend.  Parking is usually not an issue.  Churches are air-conditioned.  As more and more families are foregoing serving any food at all, using the parish hall or putting up tents for refreshments (and borrowing the seating for that) becomes one less item to handle.  Don't forget garbage disposal.

But then one has to pay the parish. After all, electricity for all that air-conditioning isn't free for the church.  As more and more people die, there will be (and already have been) scheduling conflicts.  Only rarely have two separate families agreed to hold one rosary for two deceased people.  Having frequent rosaries in the church also adds to the wear and tear of the church building and grounds.  Rosaries at the church also have to fit around pre-scheduled parish events.  Some families choose to have the rosary at the home because there is a more personal feel to it; more of a connection to the deceased.

Before the early 70s, rosaries were held at the home.  Period.  An altar in the living room was set up just as soon as possible.  A techa (prayer leader) was contacted.  Folding chairs (before the war and right after) were not that easily borrowed so wooden benches were more often the seating.


Before the 1970s, people kept it simple.  Before the war, it was common for the family to pass out just mamå'on (pugua', pupulu and åfok; betel nut, pepper leaf and lime rock) to the guests to chew.  Other families would provide water and coffee and something along the line of bread and butter, broas (sponge cake), roskete.

On the final day of the public rosary, the ninth day, the family of the deceased would sometimes provide an actual meal but, again, the basics : åggon (staples) such as rice, titiyas, taro, yam, breadfruit (suni, dågo, lemmai); totche (viand) such as chicken, pork or beef prepared any number of ways; and one or two desserts.

Other families would keep a list of the families who attended.  Someone in the family would actually, in some cases, write down names in a notebook.  The deceased's family would kill a cow or pig on the ninth day, cook it and send portions of it to the families who had attended.

The techa  would be given a bigger share.  Sometimes the family would give her a paper bag full of pugas (uncooked rice), eggs and/or canned goods (laterias).  A techa would not be paid in cash.  That, actually, would have been considered an insult to most, if not all, techa.

By the 70s, full-on meals became more and more common.  All kinds of abuses accompanied this, though the intention of the family was good.  Whispers would roam the area about some people coming just to eat; different rosaries would be compared as to which served better food.  Up in Saipan, the bishop, in recent years, asked people to stop serving full meals when the rosary was held in church because of waste and the economic hardship on families who felt shame if they could not serve full meals each night for nine nights!

Sometimes, when a large clan is involved, the different branches can shoulder the burden and take one night each.  Other times, co-workers, or members of a club the deceased may have been in, will volunteer to sponsor a night.

What many younger Chamorros do not realize is that serving full meals each and every night is not part of the older tradition.  It is a new tradition that developed in the last 40 years, and is increasingly diminishing among many families who find it either a burden or unnecessary.


In the past, a rosary was said immediately after someone died.  This is still often the case.  But the big difference is that, today, families most often have the rosary just once at night.  In the past, while the deceased was not yet buried, the idea was to have as many rosaries as possible.

For example, if someone died in the morning, a rosary would be said immediately.  Then at 12 noon, then some families would say it again around 4PM.  The 8PM rosary was de rigueur.  That was the main rosary, and it was started at 8PM, not 745, nor 815.  Then again at 12 midnight - if the deceased was not yet buried.

Remember that, in the past, burial was as soon as possible, there being no morgue and no family members in the mainland or Hawaii that could just hop on a plane.  Thus, this round-the-clock rosary, more or less, was a matter of just a day or two at the most.

You can see why no huge meals could be served either in the old days.  The person might even be buried the afternoon of the day of death, if he or she had died in the wee hours of the morning.  There was no time to cook for 200 people, and few stores to run to, and little cash to buy with.

Today, people just understand that there is a rosary once a night, and the hour can differ, depending on the church schedule.  On the day of burial, the rosary is usually held during the viewing and not at night.  In fact, many people aim to have the funeral on the ninth day and be done with the whole process on the same day.


The old tradition is to pray two sets of rosaries of nine nights each.

The first round is for the public; the extended family, relatives and friends.  This is called the Lisåyon LinahyanLinahyan means "the multitude" but is meant here as the general public.

The second round is called the Lisåyon Guma'.   It literally means "the rosary of the house" and is meant for just the immediate family, especially those just living in the home of the deceased.   No refreshments were served in this rosary, and it was just once a day, at the 8PM hour.

The Lisåyon Guma' has all but disappeared now.

And even the rosary for the dead itself is disappearing, with some families wanting just nine nights of Mass intentions.  A pity, from my point of view.  But that is material for another post some day.

1 comment:

  1. Buenas yan saludu pale'. Just wanted to comment in na sen ya'hu este siha I iyo-mu post, and as a side note, giya Saipan, asta pago na tiempo, man ma chochogue ha' i lisayon guma; taya na hu hungok na ti ma kukumple i 18 dias. (: