Friday, February 7, 2014


Russian tourists have been flooding Saipan for some time now and are now becoming a common sight in Tumon.

How does one say "Russian" in Chamorro?

Usually, we borrow the term for foreign nationalities and races from the Spanish.  A Chinese person is called "Chino" in Chamorro, which we borrowed from the Spanish.

A Spaniard is an "Españot," which is "Español," pronounced in the Chamorro way.  An "American" is "Amerikåno," and so forth.

But we sometimes differ from the Spaniards, even when we create our own term and make it sound Spanish.  Case in point, "Russian."

In Spanish, a Russian is a ruso.

But Chamorros say Rusiåno, which sounds Spanish enough.

Russians were such a rarity in Spanish times that Chamorros didn't need to identify Russian things very often, so that might explain why we didn't borrow ruso and make it our own term.

We learned that adding O at the end of English words, more or less, could make them Spanish-sounding, and thus more Chamorro-sounding.  Take, "document" or "pilot," for example.  They easily become dokumento and piloto in Chamorro by adding an O at the end.  So, "Russian" becomes Rusiåno, whereas Spaniards say ruso.


In the early 1800s, a Russian expedition visited the Marianas under the command of Otto von Kotzebue.  Though ethnically German himself, his officers and crew included Russians, besides Russian Germans as well.

In 1870, another Russian ship visited Apra Harbor.  The Spanish priest of Hagåtña went on board and had a visit.

There may have been, almost certainly, at least a few other Russian ships who visited the Marianas in her history.


When Russia fell to the Communists in 1917, the anti-Communists fled as much as they could.  They were called "White Russians" as opposed to the Communist "Reds."

Many who lived in the eastern part of the Russian Empire, in Asia, fled to Japan.  When Saipan and Micronesia became Japanese territory in 1914, these islands were open to them for settling, as well.

One Vladimir Osmolovsky, who had once been police chief in Vladivostok, took up residence in Saipan during Japanese times.  He became a shop keeper.  He lived on Saipan all the way into the war, and was detained by the Americans in the civilian camp after the invasion.

Though they lived in Yap, the Tretnoff family, another group of White Russians, would have been in contact with the Chamorros living in Yap before World War II.  In fact, the Tretnoffs were good friends with a Chamorro lady, Filomena Untalan, who had married a Filipino, Agapito Hondonero.  All the Hondonero family were killed by the Japanese during the war.  The Japanese suspected that Hondonero was a spy.


  1. Do you have contact information available? I was trying to send you an email about learning fino Chamoru but I don't see any way to do so.

    My first question was in regards to a Chamoru dictionary that I caught wind of vaguely that supposedly lists all the forms for each verb along with the definition of the verb. I was told that it is a big dictionary (maybe over 1000 pages) and that it is quite hard to find a copy of it. Any advice and contact information for you? Mahalo from Hawaii!

    1. Tony you can message me again on this blog but this time include your email address. That way I can reply to you. Then I will delete your 2nd comment so your email is not divulged. SYM