Friday, May 22, 2015


When I was growing up, it was Truk.

Then, in the 1980s, we first heard about Chuuk.

But how did Chamorros call this island, or group of islands, back in the day before they also spoke English?

They used the Spanish version of the name Chuuk.

We always have to forgive people in the past for spelling unfamiliar things in foreign lands the way they did. After all, if someone spoke to you in a language you didn't understand, and asked you to write down what you heard, it would be a mess!

So when the Spaniards (and other Europeans) heard the word Chuuk, the best they could spell it as their minds tried to grasp the sound they heard, was Ruk. Sometimes the Spaniards spelled it Ruc, as K is not found in the Spanish language (except sometimes when spelling foreign words or names).

Here is a close-up of a Spanish map of the Carolines, showing the island of Ruk. In the map at the top of this post, you can also see Ruk spelled out, and it's an American map, not Spanish! You can see the name Ruk in the heading and also in the part encircled.

A Spanish magazine talking about the "island of Ruk."

But, for the Spanish, the U in Ruk is pronounced like the OO in hook. Ruk rhymes with hook or crook. Not with luck or duck.

It was the Chamorros of Saipan, Rota, Yap and Palau who maintained this version of the name for Chuuk even up to our days. Why?

In 1898, the Chamorros of Guam were separated from all the other Chamorros. The U.S. had no connection with Chuuk until after World War II.

But the Germans, and then the Japanese, controlled everywhere else in Micronesia : the Northern Marianas, Palau, Yap and yes - Ruk.

Chamorros from the other Japanese mandate islands, in small numbers, went to work in Ruk now and then under the Japanese.

So the Chamorros outside of Guam kept up a connection with Ruk. They were all under the same flag - the Japanese. They would hear news about Ruk. They had relatives living and working in Ruk. Their Jesuit priests in Saipan and Rota sometimes went back and forth, serving in Ruk.

"Ginen mano si påle' mågi?" ("From where did Father come here?")
"Ginen Ruk mågi." ("He came here from Ruk.")

Even as late as 1992, I heard older Chamorro women in Saipan talk about a place called Ruk.

I would say, "Where?" "Ruk!" they answered. And that's how I learned how the older Chamorros called what we call Chuuk, and, at one time, Truk.

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