Monday, November 23, 2015


Here is yet another example of how languages, like so many things in life, are forever changing.

In Saipan and, because of its influence, in Luta and Tinian as well, it is common to hear people say paire or pairere (same word, but extended to give emphasis).

But, if you said paire to older people on Guam, you would get an icy stare, especially from the older women.

Here's the reason why. In Guam, the word paire has an exclusively sexual connotation.






How did this difference come about?


From around 1740 to about 1815, Saipan had no human settlement. The island had been depopulated by the Spanish.

So where do the Chamorros in Saipan today come from? There were only two other islands inhabited by Chamorros : Guam and Luta. Tinian also was depopulated in Spanish times (except for a small number of men from Guam who took turns temporarily working on the government cattle ranch there).

So 90% or more of the Saipan Chamorros come from Guam Chamorros who moved to Saipan from the 1850s till the early 1900s. A few people from Luta also moved to Saipan during this time and also during the Japanese period and after.

So the Chamorro spoken in Saipan a hundred years ago was the very same Chamorro spoken in Guam. Thus, at one time, paire meant the same exact thing both on Guam and Saipan - a stud bull, valued by farmers for the breeding qualities it had.


If a certain bull was paire - the best male for breeding purposes - then some Chamorros in Saipan began to apply that idea and word to the best in anything else.

We do the same in English. Literally, a king is the ruler, the top man, of the government of the land. But we also call some people the King of Rock 'n Roll, or the King of Pop, and a certain brand is called the King of Beers.

The use of paire in Saipan to describe someone or something very good, the best or number one became so common that the word lost its ability to make people blush. From Saipan, its use spread to Tinian and Luta.

But not to Guam. On Guam, it retains its original meaning and thus its taboo in public discourse.

Tan Escolastica Cabrera, born in 1930, is from Saipan but she remembers that paire was not a nice word to use in public when she was a child.

In this interview, Tan Esco relates that, when she was a child, paire was used exclusively to refer to cattle, specifically a bull who was good in impregnating cows.

Today is a different story. As Tan Esco says, even Toyota cars are paire!

Pic courtesy of Sam Santos


Now where does the word itself come from?

There are two clues that suggest that the word paire is not indigenous, that is, not used by Chamorros before the Spaniards came.

First, there were no cattle in the Marianas before the Spaniards. Yet, paire means a stud bull (and only that, in its original meaning).

Second, Chamorro doesn't like the letter R. Yet there it is in paire. We often (but not always) change Spanish R to Chamorro L (guitara becomes gitåla, rancho becomes låncho).  Where there is an R, there is a good chance it is Spanish in origin.

But you can search high and low in a Spanish dictionary for paire, and not find it.


This is where having a wide vocabulary in Chamorro is helpful.

We also have the words pairåsto or pairåstro in Chamorro. They're really the same words, but some people prefer saying one over the other. They both mean "stepfather" and come from the Spanish word for "stepfather," padrastro.

Do you see it?

In Chamorro, we change the PADR sound to PAIR, and the MADR sound to MAIR.

Spanish padrastro becomes Chamorro pairåstro (pairåsto).

Spanish comadre becomes Chamorro komaire.

And Spanish padre becomes Chamorro paire.

Paire is simply "the father." The bull that was able to father many cattle.


  1. Hafa Adai, Since the origins of the word Chamorro is spanish, what is the original word to describe the native people of Guahan? I've seen the spelling "Chamoru" "chamorri" used but still the "r" exists in the word. So should we pronounce Chamoru as "Chamolu"? This is in no way a negative comment, I am simply looking for clearification. My uncle has been using "hacha maoli", hacha=first maoli=native people. Any comments on the use of that word?

    1. We don't have enough evidence yet to come to a definitive answer on that. Some chroniclers 300+ years ago say that there was an indigenous term "chamori" or "chamorri" which designated an upper tier of nobles, and then the term was applied to all...and not just natives of Guahan but of all the islands we now call the Marianas. It is hard to explain the presence of the R. Did Chamorros at one time use, even if in a limited way, the R? Or was that just how Europeans spelled it (like Inarajan and Merizo, which Chamorros pronounce Inalahan and Malesso')? As there were no audio recording devices 300 years ago, and since there were very few linguistic studies done 300 years ago on our language, it is hard to answer these questions. As for hacha maoli, is your uncle borrowing the Hawaiian word maoli?

  2. Just to add to you point, for me growing up (we didn't have cows) it was used for a rooster that was a good breeder.

  3. Thank you for responding! I have seen the word Chamorri and Chamori used in text and I believe my Uncle is breaking it down into root words. I believe he used the Maori word and substituted the "R" for an "L" and is using it in the same context as the NZ "Maori" and the Hawaiian "Kanaka Maoli" do to describe their native people. I have not seen anyone use the term "Hacha Maoli" but since a lot of words are interchangeable across the Pacific, the idea of the Spanish recording "Chamorri" similar to THEIR word "Chamorro" in place of "Hacha Maoli" doesn't sound far fetched. Is their any research done with the "Carolinians" and surrounding islands to find the words used to identify us and our islands since they have been trading with us prior to the Spanish's arrival? SYM for your time

  4. Interesting article Pale'! I wonder if the paire from padre was a natural development or if it was the influence of a dialect of Spanish. In the wiki article on Puerto Rican Spanish, it mentions that Puerto Ricans like shortening words: "Puerto Ricans also often shorten words by eliminating whole syllables. A good example are the words para, madre, and padre ("for", "mother", and "father"): Puerto Ricans may pronounce para as /pa/, madre as /mai/, and padre as /pai/." ( As for its usage, growing up, we always used it to refer to something "cool", which is interesting since "padre" is used in Mexican slang to express the same thing. "Que padre!" "How cool!" (

  5. Hi! This in response to Chris Quinata's inquiry about what the Refaluwasch (Carolinians) call the Chamorros: Before the Spanish arrived..."Re-Metawal-wol" and afterward, "Re-Meralis"....far from Chamorro...Perhaps our Brothers and Sisters in Polynesia and Melanesia can also comment.