Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Not all folk beliefs are consistent.

People are people, and come up with a variety of beliefs that are the same in some ways, and differ in others.

Take for example rain.

Some believe that if it rains on Christmas day, it will rain on and off the following year.  There will be no true "dry season" or fañomnagan.

But others say this :

Yanggen uchan gi Åño Nuebo, siempre u templao entero i sakkan.

If it rains on New Year's Day, the whole year will be temperate.

Templao means that the year will be evenly regulated, with no extremes.  There will be rain and shine evenly distributed all times of the year.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


My informant was in his early teens when the Japanese invaded Guam in December of 1941.  He prefers to remain anonymous.

When the people had to vacate Hagåtña when war began, his family headed north to Yigo where the family had farm land.

I asked him about his Japanese school teacher in Yigo.

"Marino.  Si Kanabichi na'ån-ña." 
("He was a sailor.  Kanabichi was his name.")

"Kao maolek pat båba kostumbre-ña?"  I asked.
("Were his ways good or bad?")


"Ti ha patmåda hamyo, pat ti ha anña' hamyo?"
("He didn't slap you, or beat you up?")

"Åhe', Påle'.  Tåya' bidan-måme lokkue' ni para in merese man ma anña'!"
("No, Father.  We didn't do anything either to deserve to be beaten up!")

Then he grinned a little, looked at me and said,

"Påle', ti todo Chapanis man båba."
("Father, not every Japanese was bad.")

Monday, March 24, 2014


In the village of Hågat there has been, for many years, a small number of families who go by the last name Taiañao or Taieñao.

They really are the same name, but since people in the old days spelled names the way it sounded to them, slightly different spellings came about. 

The root word for this Chamorro name is å'ñao.  We see it in words like ma'å'ñao, which means "fearful."  But that meaning came later.  Å'ñao means "victory, domination, subjugation."  Ma'å'ñao meant someone or something was dominated, subjected, beaten in a fight.  Naturally, this was something fearful so ma'å'ñao also came to mean "fearful," or perhaps "overcome with fear of subjection."

A'a'ñao means someone who is victorious and who dominates another.  The "a'a" is then changed into "ak" and "a'a'ñao" becomes akñao, meaning someone who is victorious.

Tai means "lacking."  So Taiañao/Taieñao means "invincible, unconquerable" but also fearless about being dominated, so intrepid.

The entire Taiañao/Taieñao family seems to be descended from one man with that surname, one Alejandro Taiañao from Hågat.  He was married to a Maria Charfauros.

Their children were Mariano and Martin.  Martin (born 1844) married Maria San Nicolas Quintanilla, had a number of children, including sons, in the 1860s and 70s and from them the family continued to this day.


To make matters more interesting, also in Hågat, there was the Eñao family.  This family did not continue to our times due to lack of males to carry on the name.  Eñao could actually be Añao, but perhaps not.

So you see how there are three Chamorro families, the Taiañao from Hågat, the Maañao from Asan and the Taimañao from Luta, and all three names are derived from the root word å'ñao.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Chamorro politics traditionally has been, like the Spam above, hot and spicy.

Political meetings were a form of entertainment, back when less people were lucky to have a TV to watch the one channel we had in those days, which went off the air dutifully at midnight after the playing of the National Anthem.

Political speakers were supposed to attack the opposition; the more fiercely, the better.  But what really scored points was when you made the audience laugh when you attacked the other party.

People judged a speech on its content, eloquence and humor - all in Chamorro.

Guam politics has become more Americanized, which means much (not all) of the humor is gone.  Very few speeches are said in Chamorro, as there are fewer candidates who can speak Chamorro.

But in the Northern Marianas, much of the campaigning continues to be in Chamorro, and speakers are expected to be combative yet humorous at the same time and entertain the audience.

On one of the northern islands, a certain politician's intials were PAM.  As he was a senator, they added S to PAM and he became known as SPAM.

So the opposing party milked this for all it was worth, habitually referring to this politician as SPAM.

Said one speaker, "Magåhet na SPAM hao.  Ya bai hu nangga asta ke måkpo' i election ya bai hu aflito hao ya bai hu na' dokngos!"

"It's true that you are SPAM.  And I will wait until the election is over and I will fry you and I'll make you burnt."

The thing is SPAM took this in stride.  He and his party also fired the same kind of shots back at the opponents.

My grandmother's brother-in-law was also a politician in Guam in the 1950s and 60s.  A man told me he went to one of the campaign rallies and heard a politician attack my uncle fiercely.  Later that night, he saw my uncle and the politician who attacked him sitting at the same table in the same restaurant having a meal together and having a great laugh.  While this was not true in every case, it was true that such attacks, often humorous, were just part of the natural and expected course of Chamorro politics in those days and up to now in the northern islands.

Our politics today is much more serious, and perhaps for good reason.  The issues of the past did not include many of the deep philosophical divisions we have going on today.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


For hundreds of years, the island of Luta (Rota) had but one church, San Francisco de Borja in Songsong.

But in 1991, a mission was started in a new housing development in Luta near the airport, in an area called Sinapalo.  The priest was Fr (now Msgr) Louis Antonelli.  He moved from Songsong, which received a new pastor, and took up residence in Sinapalo.  San Isidro (Saint Isidore of Madrid), the patron of farmers, was made patron of the new Sinapalo Church.

Msgr Antonelli worked hard with the people to build the present church, with small living quarters for the priest.

Actually, there are many small chapels and roadside shrines in Luta; many of them built under Msgr Antonelli's direction.  Sinapalo was one of them and, due to the new housing development there, it was selected to be the site on an emerging parish.


In March, the farmers gather their first batch of fruits, vegetables and tubers.  These "first yields" are called primisias (from the Spanish).  They are offered to God in thanksgiving for a good harvest.  Also thanked is San Isidro, the farmers' patron.  The primisias are placed before San Isidro's altar at the fiesta.

After the fiesta Mass, these fruits and vegetables are left for the visitors to come and take home.  The locals are not to take any, unless visitors have left any behind.

Complete with fireworks (kuetes; from the Spanish word cohete), live music, dancing, raffles and carnival games, one finds it curious that such a traditional place as Luta would have this kind of festivity in the Lenten season, when traditional Chamorro Catholics refrain from all such merrymaking.  Besides, San Isidro's feast day is May 15, not in March.

It was explained to me that the local people had difficulty celebrating May 15 as the feast day.

May is graduation month; First Communion month and sometimes Confirmation, too.  There are many small chapel around Luta and each of them celebrates an annual fiesta.  May was too crowded with other events, and families felt overwhelmed with the burden of putting out for fiestas and parties in this one month.

Summer time would be too late to celebrate and had its own fiestas.  April would be risky with Holy Week and Easter usually falling in that month.  So March was chosen as the best time to hold the fiesta.

So, permission was granted to do so.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


This Chamorro hymn to Saint Joseph is one of the most popular ones to him in our language, but one that a lot of people are afraid to sing because it can get complicated!

The original melody is taken from a Basque hymn to a completely different saint, Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.  But how would people on Guam ever find that out back in the pre-war days?  But now we have the internet and Youtube, so the secret is out!

Nonetheless, this has become our San Jose hymn and we love it.


San Jose, si Yu'us guinaiya hao, ennao na pine'lo hao, sasague i linahyan na taotao;
(Saint Joseph, you are beloved of God, thus He made you defender of the multitude;)

Hagas ha' giya Belen yan Nasaret si Jesus lachaddek inesge hao, lu guiya ha' sen Yu'us.
(Since Bethlehem and Nazareth Jesus quickly obeyed you, though He Himself is truly God.)

San Jose tohge ya un sågue ham; Patriåtka goggue ham!
(Saint Joseph, rise and defend us; Patriarch, safeguard us!)

Chomma' nai i tailaye, si Satanås godde gue', pulåne ham as Jesus ya in na' rai-måme gue',
(Repel the evil, bind Satan, watch over us under Jesus and we shall make Him our King,)

na minaolek i pinilan kannai-mo, San Jose!
(through the watchful care of your hands, Saint Joseph!)

Må'gas hao ke si Moises yan David Rai Israet
(You are greater than Moses and David, King of Israel)

ayo na un hohoggue si Jesus ni Emanuel.
(that is why you hold in your arms Jesus who is Emmanuel.)

Såntos ni manguaiya in tayuyute ham ni mangatoliko, adinganiye ham nu i un hohoggue
(Loving saint, pray for us Catholics, speak for us to Him whom you hold)

ya un na' fan maolek ham!
(and make us good!)

Sasague-måme, sågue i Santa Iglesia!
(Our defender, protect the Holy Church!)

Jose Patriåtka goggue ham!
(Joseph the Patriarch, safeguard us!)


The opening words in Basque are :

Inazio, gure Patroi haundia
Jesusen Kompania


The Spanish version opens with :

Fundador, sois Ignacio y General
de la Compañía real.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


A certain intonation and pronunciation can still be found alive and well in Luta (Rota), which I hope will endure as long as I live. 

Just today I verified with a man of many years, who has lived his whole life in Malesso', that this intonation, called the tonåda in Chamorro, was very strong among the older people of Malesso' and the other southern villages.

To this day, we can hear the tonåda among a small group of people in Humåtak.  The interesting thing is that when they speak English, the tonåda vanishes.  When they switch to Chamorro, it is always with the tonåda.

I thus believe that the tonåda is the original Chamorro accent.  The Chamorros of Hagåtña, being so intermingled with outsiders, perhaps lost the accent.  Saipan was depopulated and when it was repopulated, it was mainly by Hagåtña settlers.  Tinian had also been depopulated and then repopulated by Chamorros from Yap (originally from Guam and then Saipan), Saipan and only a few from Luta.  That is why those two islands do not have the tonåda.  The Hagåtña influence spread far and wide!

But Luta and the southern villages of Guam were more distant from this outside influence, and thus, I believe, retained the tonåda, the original accent.

But more than the intonation, there are other characteristics of Chamorro speech in Luta, and here's a video pointing them out :

For our listening pleasure, the Luta accent as spoken candidly by people in that beautiful island :

Monday, March 10, 2014


One of the neatest things about Luta (Rota) is that you can drive in your 21st century vehicle and go to the edge of a cliff and watch life as it was thousands of years ago as if nothing has changed.

The lush vegetation covering the lowlands that come up against steep limestone cliffs that jump up from below provide shelter and food for many kinds of birds, each with their own peculiarities.

The place is called I Chenchon.  Chonchon in Chamorro means "nest."  As the sun sets, birds come in from the sea, where they had looked for food among marine life.

Its other name is the Rota Bird Sanctuary.

Most days you could be the only person watching nature at her best.  If you're lucky, a bird may swoop in from nowhere and perch itself not far from you on the railing.

I hope I Chenchon doesn't change much in the years to come.

Here's a video.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


From Guam to Luta, Tinian to Saipan; even within Guam itself, there are slight variations in the same hymns we all sing.

This Lenten hymn comes to us from singers living in Malojloj and Inalåhan.  You can detect the differences between their rendition and the melody sung by those in Hagåtña, who spread all over central and northern Guam after World War II.  The Hagåtña version can be found here :

The lyrics are :


Atituye Kilisyåno i sinantos kilu'us
(Reflect O Christian on the most holy cross)
Annai måtai ma atåne i magåhet na Yu'us.
(Where the true God died by crucifixion.)
Mames lulok, mames håyo ni umuma si Jesus.
(Sweet nails, sweet wood which carried Jesus.)


An elderly lady was talking to me yesterday about wanting to show me an old book written in Chamorro passed down to her from her grandmother.

But she wanted to apologize in advance because her grandchildren had gotten a hold of the book and marked it up a little bit with their scribbling.

She said, "Mampos geftao i kannai-ñiha man månge'."  Literally meaning, "Their hands are too generous in writing."

It struck me as an unfamiliar and endearing way of expressing something children do.

Language is more than just the black-and-white expression of things like "Open the door; shut the door."

Language conveys feelings, attitudes, a way of looking at life.  This will differ from culture to culture, person to person.

It is also why learning a language from a book; looking at just vocabulary and grammar is not enough.  The best way to learn a language is to interact with someone who speaks it as a first language.  Those opportunities are running out fast.

To see a child's scribbling as being generous in the use of one's hand.  That's a new way (for me) of looking at something old.  But it was her old, Chamorro way of looking at it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014



Today I was asking our worker where he put the ashes which we will use tomorrow for Ash Wednesday.

I said, "Måno un po'lo i apo?"  "Where did you put the ashes?"

I was simultaneously conscious of the fact that our word for ash or ashes - åpo - sounds dangerously close to apo', which means "to lean."

Thank goodness, therefore, for two little improvements to our Chamorro alphabet that weren't always there.

The first is the glota, which came into common usage in the 1970s.  Though it is often misused, when it is properly used, it makes a big difference.  As I have often mentioned, when you see a glota, cut off the sound of the vowel at the back of your throat, as if you are choking.  In English, the closest we can mimic the glota is to say, "Uh oh!"  You notice the way we close the back of the throat after we say "Uh."

So our word apo' includes the glota.  That's one way we know we're talking about leaning, and not about ashes.

The second recent addition to our spelling system is the A with the little, open circle on top - Å.  This distinguishes two A sounds in Chamorro.  There is the Å that is open or rounded, sounding like the A in "father" in English.  Without the little, open circle, the A in Chamorro would sound like the A in "fat."

When we use the definite article I (the), it changes the Å to A.  Åpo becomes "i apo," taking on the A sound of "fat."  But, thanks to the glota, when I asked the worker, "Måno un po'lo i apo?" he knew I was talking about ashes, because he didn't hear a glota at the end, and also because of context.


Monday, March 3, 2014


This hymn looks at the Seven Sorrows of Mary, but, as her sorrows are tied to the sufferings of her Son, this hymn can be, and is, sung during Lent, which starts very soon.

One note of caution : this hymn is sung with some slight variations from place to place.  The way it is sung in this clip is not the way it is exactly sung in a few other places.  But the melody is basically the same.


Sen mahålang si Maria annai taigue i Saina-ta;
(Mary was grieving when our Lord was absent)

Mañe'lu-ho pinitiye i maså'pet i Nanå-ta.
(My brethren, grieve over the suffering of our Mother.)

1. I tutuhon na espåda i sinangan i profeta
(The beginning sword was the word of the prophet)
na ti åpmåm u ma puno' ayo i Nana'libre-ta.
(that our Savior would soon be killed.)
Sen pinite si Maria sa' ma sångan i Saina-ta.
(Mary was greatly sorrowful because Our Lord was prophesied about.)

2. I segundo na espåda ayo annai ma na' hånao
(The second sword was when)
i Sagrådo na Familia guato Ehipto na tåno'.
(the Holy Family was sent to the land of Egypt.)
Sen pinite si Maria sa' ma yute' i Saina-ta.
(Mary was greatly sorrowful because Our Lord was rejected.)

3. I tetsero na espåda i tinaiguen i Lahi-ña
(The third sword was the absence of her Son)
gi tres homhom na ha'åne annai hokkok piniti-ña.
(during the three dark days when her sorrow was complete.)
Sen pinite si Maria sa' malingo i Saina-ta.
(Mary was greatly sorrowful because Our Lord was lost.)

4. I kalåktos na espåda ha na' låmen si Maria
(The sharp sword wounded Mary)
guihe gi Chalan Pinite entre i sendålo siha.
(there on the road of sorrow among the soldiers.)
Sen pinite si Maria sa' ma anña i Saina-ta.
(Mary was greatly sorrowful because Our Lord was assaulted.)

5. Kololo'ña nina' låmen annai måtai gi fion-ña
(She was wounded even more when He died by her side)
ma atåne gi kilu'us i yinius na patgon-ña.
(her divine child nailed to the cross.)
Sen pinite si Maria sa' ma puno' i Saina-ta.
(Mary was greatly sorrowful because Our Lord was killed.)

6. Dimo påpa' kilisyåno ennaogue' i Nanan Yu'us
(Kneel down, O Christian, there is the Mother of God)
na ha hohoggue mahålang i Lahi-ña as Jesus.
(sorrowfully embracing her Son Jesus.)
Sen pinite si Maria sa' ma dulok i Saina-ta.
(Mary was greatly sorrowful because they pierced Our Lord.)

7. I mahåfot Jesukristo yan i Santos na Naftån-ña
(The burial of Jesus Christ and His Holy Tomb)
kalan na' mahalang Åcho na gumugom i Nanå-ña.
(were like a desolate rock which crushed His Mother.)
Sen pinite si Maria sa' mahåfot i Saina-ta.
(Mary was greatly sorrowful because they buried Our Lord.)

Siette na Espåda - Seven Swords - Seven Sorrows