Wednesday, May 27, 2015


In the days before the internet, TV or even radio, how was important news from the government immediately disseminated to the general public?

As far as the capital city was concerned, by way of a town crier.

This was a common practice in Spain, and it was repeated here in the Marianas.

When something had to be announced to the whole population in Hagåtña, the crier would go out at night with a lantern bearer and a bugler (kotneta). The bugler's tune would call the people in that particular area out from the homes to gather around the crier. When everyone was present, he would read out the news. Many times these were instructions from the governor, perhaps concerning health (there were often epidemics in those days) or some public works project, or a new law. After announcing in one barrio, the crier and company would move to the next.

Why at night? Well, probably because a lot of city dwellers, especially the men, were at their ranches since even before dawn. The government had to wait till they returned home before sunset to have most of the men present to hear the news.

More than likely, the Chamorros called the town crier the same thing the Spaniards called him, the pregonero. Påle' Roman's Chamorro dictionary has the word pregón, which means "announcement" and the verb pregona ("to announce"), but he doesn't include the word pregonero (announcer). Another early dictionary (von Preissig's in 1918) does not include the term. But, as late as 1946, up in Saipan, the word pregonero was used for a news bulletin in both English and Chamorro. Today, the word is completely absent from conversation.

One thing's for sure, these announcements were read out in Chamorro. It's quite possible they were announced in both Spanish (for formality's sake) and Chamorro (for effectiveness), but almost certainly at least in Chamorro, as most Chamorros did not understand Spanish very well, at least those in the late 1800s.  In fact, some Americans who came to Guam in the early 1900s, thinking their Spanish would be enough to ensure successful work with Chamorros, soon realized that their Spanish was useless with most Chamorros. They had to learn Chamorro in order to communicate with all Chamorros, "high and low."

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