Monday, June 16, 2014


You hear the name Chaco and you instantly think of Hågat.  And with good reason.  In the 1897 Census of Guam and Luta, all the Chacos reside in Hågat.

It seems all the Chacos of the Marianas today are descendants of one man : José Chaco.  Unfortunately, I know nothing else about him, other than that he is the common ancestor of all the Chacos recorded in the Hågat baptismal register during the 1800s.

Was he Chamorro?  Or not?

Let's look at all the possibilities, without any means of proving any of them!

1. Chamorro

Almost always, an indigenous, Chamorro name is taken from actual words.  Mafnas (erased), Taitano (no land), Gogue (to protect/defend).  But we have lost the meaning of many of these words, and hence the meaning also of names. For example, we don't know what Taisipic means, although it probably meant someone didn't have a supik or sipik, whatever that was.*

There are Chamorro words that end in -ko/-co.  Think of angokko (to depend).  And lo and behold there is an Angoco family.  So Chaco may be a truly Chamorro word, whose meaning we have lost, and the Chaco name comes from that word.

If Chaco, or chåkko, is a Chamorro word and name, it could very well show up in the 1728 and 1758 censuses of Guam and Luta.  In those censuses, the indigenous Chamorros are entered in a list separate from the mestizos, foreign settlers and their Chamorro wives.

Lo and behold, there is man in the 1728 Census from Aniguåk named Pedro Chaco.  What does this prove?

Only that Chaco was used as a surname, of a Chamorro, and is more than likely a Chamorro word, whose meaning, unfortunately, we have lost.

There is also, in that same Census, a young boy from Pågo named José Chaco.  Further evidence that the Chaco name, and word, existed among Chamorros and which is, more than likely, indigenous.

These findings don't tell us much else, because back in those days, including the 1758 Census, indigenous Chamorros were not passing on surnames to their children.  If a man had five children, each of the five had not only a different Spanish Christian first name, but also their own, individual indigenous name.

Notice that neither of the two Chacos in the 1728 Census live in Hågat.  In the 1758 Census, there are no Chacos at all, anywhere.  It doesn't matter.  As I mentioned, Chamorro newborns were given two names, one Spanish/Christian and secondly an indigenous one.  A baby could have been born later, after the 1758 Census, who was given the name Chaco as a second name.

So my guess is that Chaco is indeed a true, Chamorro name.  I just can't tell you where José Chaco, the ancestor of the Hågat Chacos came from.  Was he originally from Hågat?  Another village?  I don't know. But he was, in all probability, Chamorro.

Still, let's look as some other possibilities, though less likely, in my opinion.

2. Spanish or, at least, Hispanic (Latin American)

We normally look to a Spanish source if the name is not indigenous.  Today, in Spain, there are but a tiny handful of people with the last name Chaco, and they seem to be immigrants from South America, where there are plenty more Chacos from various countries in that continent.

There is a geographic region covering several countries in South America called the Chaco, a semi-arid, inland terrain.  The name comes from the Quechua word chaku, or "hunting land."  The Chacos of South America could have gotten their name from this, and may even have been indigenous people, many of them intermarrying with Europeans and others.

Given that Guam was settled by some soldiers from South America during Spanish times, it is possible that the first Chaco on Guam was South American.  But, he doesn't show up at all in the 1728 and 1758 censuses.  Still, he could have come after those censuses were taken, but, if he did, he probably came on his own rather than with a group of imported soldiers.

3. Filipino

Many Filipino soldiers, and later prisoners and adventurers, came to the Marianas.  Many of them had Spanish surnames and others had indigenous Filipino names.  Chaco is not a surname found among Filipinos today.  But, there could have been Filipino Chacos in the past and the name died out in the Philippines.

4. Chinese

This is what a lot of people, even Chacos, think.  Why?  Because a lot of Chinese surnames on Guam do end in -co : Unpingco, Tydingco, Tyquiengco and so on.

But not all names ending in -co are Chinese.  As we've seen, there's Angoco (Chamorro), but also Francisco (Portuguese/Spanish) and Blanco (Spanish).

No Chaco appears on the list of Chinese residents of Guam in the 1850s to 1890s.  It's true that a Chinese Chaco could have come to Guam earlier than that, though.  But he'd be one of the very few, if not rare, Chinese who did not come to Guam with the others in the 1850s and 60s.  No Chinese shows up in the Marianas records prior to the 1850s, so I am highly doubtful the first Chaco here was Chinese.

Another reason why many people think Chaco is Chinese is because it sounds very similar to the famous, or infamous, Chinese adversary of Sanvitores, Choco.  But this is just a coincidence that the two names sound almost the same, with the difference of one vowel.  Even just one vowel makes a big difference between words.

Then we have to be open to all kinds of other possibilities.  The first Chaco on Guam could have been someone from Timbuktu who happened to be on a ship passing through and decided to stay.

At the end of the day, we have no proof (thus far) for anything to explain the origin of the Chaco family on Guam, but my hunch is that the first Chaco is a Chamorro from Hågat.  But I could be wrong.

Here's what we DO know.  There was in Hågat, at least since the 1860s or 70s, two brothers named Chaco, the sons of

JOSÉ CHACO, of unknown origin, who married

Now Salomé we can say more about.  There have been Cepedas on Guam at least since the 1720s because two Cepedas, Domingo and José, show up in the 1728 Census of Guam as "Spanish" soldiers.  This can mean that they were either Spaniards from Spain; pure or part Spaniards from South America or pure or part Spaniards from the Philippines.

Both Cepedas married Chamorro women, one who was a Guadogña (guåddok, to dig) and the other was a Mansangan (meaning, "it is said").  So all the Cepedas of the Marianas are from this Spanish (Hispanic)/Chamorro mestizo blend originating in Hagåtna. There was, at this time, no Cepedas in Hågat, so Salomé probably came from Hagåtña.

José and Salomé had three children :

José Cepeda Chaco, whose birthplace is unknown.  José married Maria San Nicolas possibly of Hågat. These two had a large number of children.

Juan Cepeda Chaco, whose birthplace is also unknown.  He married Margarita San Nicolas possibly of Hågat, sister of Maria, wife of his brother Jose.  So, two brothers married two sisters.  It happens!

Juan and Margarita also had a whole slew of children!  And these we know were (for the most part) born in Hågat.  I say "for the most part" because the older children were born before the oldest baptismal records we have found.  There's a good chance even these older children were born in Hågat, but until we find the records, we can't say this with 100% certainty.

Finally, there is a sister : Micaela.  She married Agapito Pinaula.  They, too, were in Hågat.  So the whole Chaco clan on Guam in the late 1800s were living in Hågat.

So there we have it.

All Chamorro Chacos are descendants of either José Cepeda Chaco and Maria San Nicolas; or of Juan Cepeda Chaco and Margarita San Nicolas.  And both lines are descendants of José Chaco, from where is anybody's guess, and Salomé Cepeda, probably from Hagåtña, who was most certainly a mestiza Chamorro.

* An aside.  Taisipic actually means "no sipik," because there was also the Chamorro name Sipicña.  So sipik (and not supik) is the root word.  Sadly, we no longer know what it means.

1 comment:

  1. RE: Sipik....During Freycinet's 1819 visit on Guam he recorded "Gof sipik" as a skillful fisherman.