Friday, January 16, 2015


The Spaniards ran schools in the Marianas. The first and the best was founded by Sanvitores in Hagåtña, the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán. "Colegio" did not mean "college" in the American sense - a school of higher learning beyond high school. In Spain, then as well as now, "colegio" meant a secondary school, the level after primary or elementary education.

Education was free, but limited. It was meant to groom leaders among the Chamorros. Primarily men who would be Catholic and obedient to the Spanish government. The Jesuits, who started schools in the Marianas, also trained the select students at the Colegio in music, farming and other skills.

Thus, even in Hagåtña, an education was given mainly to the most promising youth. Hundreds more children did not go to school. It was believed, even up to American times, that youngsters who would eventually become farmers and fishermen wouldn't need a western education except in how to write their names and (for the Spanish) in the catechism. Even the catechism was as basic as can be, and most often passed down orally and retained by memory, not by books.

But, what books did the select students actually use?

In the records of the 1800s, the most prominent book mentioned was the catón.

The catón was a primer, the fundamental and basic reading book first given to little children to use in school.

Although the catón I am using in this post as an illustration was printed in 1919, it would have been very similar in content to the catón used in the Marianas in the late 1800s.

The language of the catón was Spanish. This is how the brightest children would learn to speak basic Spanish. Some Chamorros learned excellent Spanish, as well.

As you can see, the catón taught the alphabet and basic readings skills; on this page, how to pronounce syllables. Some of these Spanish words would have been easily recognizable to the students, as these had been passed over into the Chamorro spoken at home. Dåño for "wound," såla for "hall" or "large room," siya for "chair," tåsa for "cup," båla" for "bullet" are just some of the many Spanish loan words in the text above that entered Chamorro speech. Of course, when necessary, we changed the Spanish pronunciation to our own and used Spanish words according to our grammatical rules.

The catón would also cover basic math skills; adding, subtracting and multiplying. Above we see an additions table.

The catón was also a kind of catch-all book. It included whatever the educators thought would be necessary for the fundamental formation of the child on all levels, including the moral and the religious. On this page, we see the Roman numerals as well as proverbs and refrains meant to enlighten the child in moral lessons about general life.  One such proverb above says, "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." And, "He who wants it all, loses it all."

Under Spain, at the time, religion was not separate from education. So, the catón also included, if not emphasized heavily, the Catholic religion. Religion is spread throughout the catón, no matter the subject. On this page, we see the enemies of the soul (the world, the devil and the flesh); the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity); the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) but also the five corporal senses (to see, hear, smell, taste and touch)! All older Chamorros know from memory that the three enemies of the soul are : i tano', i anite yan i sensen.

On other pages of the catón, there are the Ten Commandments, the Seven Sacraments, a guide how to hear Mass in Latin and many other religious teachings.

Agueda Johnston, Guam's foremost educator under the early American administration first went to school under the Spanish system, more than likely using a catón.  In one of her written recollections, she complains how limited and rudimentary her schooling during Spanish times was. She said, words to the effect, that it was too basic and then became repetitive.  Agueda was meant for much more in life than just the basics.

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