Thursday, January 22, 2015


Chamorro Studies staff learn about the belembautuyan

The belembautuyan is considered a native musical instrument in the Marianas, but we can't be sure about its origins.

Not much documentation exists about it prior to World War II. We can't even be sure just how extensively used it was before the war.

After the war, a few people still played it. By the 1980s, Guam had just two men - Jesus Meno Crisostomo and Manuel Indalecio Quichocho - who were belembautuyan players. But Jesus, now deceased, did train Delores Taitano Quinata and the art is now being passed on by her to others.

The art involved is actually two skills : making the belembautuyan and then playing it.

The name of this instrument - a long wooden rod tied with string or wire - is actually a combination of two words.

Belembau is a Chamorro word meaning "to sway, to brandish, to totter, to wave, to swing." The general idea behind belembau is for something to move side to side.

Tuyan means the abdomen. This is because the gourd of the belembautuyan, which allows the vibration of the string or wire to be amplified, is placed on the tuyan of the player.

But we are torn between the theory that belembau is truly an indigenous term, and that it is a Chamorro version of the imported word berimbau.

Brazilian berimbau

Since Chamorros avoid the R and replace it with an L, one can see how it is possible that the berimbau of Brazil became the Chamorro belembau.

It's possible that the actual instrument came to the Marianas from abroad. When Chamorros were first introduced to it, they heard it being called a berimbau. In time, that was changed to belembau.

Chamorros then applied it to the harmonica, calling it the belembau påchot, as opposed to the belembau tuyan.

Brazil and Guam seem too far apart for this connection to have happened. But one should remember that Guam was often visited by people from South America. Some of the first governors of the Marianas were actually from South America. Whalers of every race and color visited Guam in the early 1800s. Anything could have happened!

From the musical instrument, then, Chamorros could have applied the word belembau then to anything that swayed side to side.

Jesus Meno Crisostomo of Inalåhan
Master Belembautuyan Player

How does the belembautuyan sound?

I once saw, when I was a kid in the 70s, Jesus Crisostomo riding on a parade float on Liberation Day, playing the belembautuyan.  Boing, boing, boing was the sound it made, but he could change the pitch, though there was not much variation in the sound it made, as far as I remember.

But, as you can hear from the video below of Quichocho playing the belembautuyan, it can actually give off a good array of sounds. Caution, however. The narrator's Chamorro pronunciation is not the best.

For more, go to


Manuel Quichocho playing the belembautuyan :

Jesus Crisostomo and Manuel Quichocho show how to make a belembautuyan :

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