Monday, September 22, 2014


So at some point, we don't know exactly when, someone introduced a new farming tool, or ramienta, in the Marianas.

The fusiños, along with the machete, became every Chamorro male's best friend.

It was used to dig holes or to uproot grass and weeds. The long handle, often made of paipai wood, made it work well as a thrust hoe. You lifted the fusiños diagonally and thrust in the opposite direction, and not much muscle was needed.

The fusiños blade, as seen above, had a tooth-like protrusion on one side, to be used when you needed to tug at something to pull away, like a difficult root.


The wood of choice for the fusiños was the paipai (scientific name, Guamia Mariannae). First, this wood grew straight, so it could easily be made into a pole. Secondly, the wood was not very heavy, so it could be handled without being tiresome.


Many sources say, without much documentation, if any, that the word fusiños is Portuguese. Whether that means the tool itself came from some Portuguese settler or visitor to Guam, is not known.

One wonders if this is probable. There were a few Portuguese men who settled on Guam, marrying Chamorros and raising families. For all we know, they introduced this gardening tool. But these numbered just 3 or 4, maybe slightly more, and most, if not all, came to Guam in the 1800s. It seems rather late in the game for the introduction of a farming tool that became so widespread in Chamorro farming.

It seems more likely that it was introduced earlier in colonial times by someone of greater social influence, like a government official or school teacher. Remember that the priests in Hagåtña taught many things, like agriculture, and not just reading and writing. The church school ran its own ranches, too, partly for the needs of the school. From there, new influences could spread all over the islands as the students left school to return to their families.

From the word itself, the name of this implement, we might gather some more clues. The common belief is that the word is Portuguese. Indeed, it is not Spanish.

But the Portuguese word focinho means "muzzle" or "snout," like a pig's snout. There is no other Portuguese word that comes close to the sound of the word fusiño that means anything like a farm implement.

But there is a language spoken in Spain that is closely related to Portuguese - Galician. Many people don't know that there are several languages spoken in Spain, not just Castilian, and that there are numerous local dialects with many words not used anywhere else except in that location.

And lo and behold there is a Galician word fouciño. The puzzle is that the current meaning of fouciño is a "scythe" or "sickle." While a scythe is used to cut grass, it is nowhere near a hoe.

The Fouciño de Ouro, or Golden Scythe
from a children's book in the Galician language

But then one must always remember that words in a language often change in meaning over time. Two or three hundred years ago, when the fusiños was probably introduced on Guam, there could have been an older meaning to a word now used in a different way.

It seems this is the case with fouciño in the Galician language. An older use of the word fouciño defines it as a hoe, with a long handle and a curved blade, used in pasturing or to cut branches and bushes with hard stems or stalks. The word is a synonym of the Galician word fouce, related to the Castilian hoz, which means "scythe." *

I think it is a better bet to say that our word fusiños comes from a Spaniard from Galicia (a priest? government official?) who either brought one to Guam where it was replicated, or perhaps even had the first one made right here, based on the tool he knew from back home in Galicia, Spain.

But, it's just a thought. People didn't document a lot of things back then. They thought it wasn't important enough to put to paper.

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