Monday, December 28, 2015


Parade at the Guam Fair in Hagåtña in 1932

History can be learned in many ways.

Through documents. The physical remains that survive. Stories passed down by elders.

But once in a while you learn something from photographs.

As far as I know, I have never seen anything written about this. Nor has any elder ever said anything to me about this.

But there it a photo. Undeniable evidence that it once existed on Guam.

And that is the papier maché giants that are part of festivals, carnivals and parades in Spain and other parts of Europe. Besides the skeleton that formed a frame, the giants were clothed and costumed. These playful figures often represented historic characters, mythical persons or stereotypes of the location, such as the peasant, the clergy or other social classes. Someone underneath the figure carried it, hidden below.

In Spain, they are called los gigantes (the giants). I don't know what Chamorros called them. As our elders often used Spanish terms, perhaps they themselves called them gigantes or higånte.  The G before I or E in Spanish is sounded like an H.

Gigantes in Spain

So here we see in the pic above a parade during the "Guam Fair" held in Hagåtña in 1932. Clearly walking in front of a float is a - higånte.

I assume that higåntes were once part of our local scene during a feria or carnival or during some holiday festivity, thanks to our Spanish heritage.

Higantes (as they are called there) are also found in the Philippines, where they are prominent features of specific festivals in a few places. One of the more famous ones is in Angono, Rizal.

Higantes in the Philippines

Why older people didn't speak (in my experience) about this is interesting to me, and perhaps suggests that the higånte was not so prominent a feature of pre-war Guam festivities that it made such an impression on their memory as to recall them years later. But that is just speculation. What we do know, from the pic, is that they did exist. How far back in time and to what extent is what we don't know, unless someone out there in reader land knows from their parents or grandparents.

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