Friday, December 18, 2015



(The person's child)

I rarely hear the expression nowadays, but I used to hear it in the past. 

Another Chamorro way of referring to a person. Påtgon taotao. Someone's child. Literally, "the person's child" or "child of a human being."

Words are important, not only because of their direct meaning, but often because of the mentality or psychology these words reveal about those who use them.

First of all, it seems our older Chamorro mentality was to sometimes prefer the indirect way of referring to specific people.

Instead of talking about Juan or Maria, we wouldn't call them by name but instead refer to them in a roundabout way.

And påtgon taotao is just one of many examples of how Chamorros did just that. I'll have to save the other examples for later so I can have more topics for the blog!

Secondly, it seems unusual, from our Americanized frame of mind, to refer to someone as "a person's child."

But I am immediately reminded of this saying in English about the enemies we shoot and kill in war.

"Every soldier killed is some mother's child."

The point here is that, whereas the relationship between two enemy soldiers is one thing, one should keep in mind that there is another, more weighty relationship going on between that enemy soldier and his or her mother.

I think that when a Chamorro speaks of another as "i patgon taotao," we are keeping the conversation mindful of that person's connection to others, and thus, that person's high value in life.

That person may just be a customer to you and me, but s/he is something far more important to his/her mother and father.

Thus, I have heard one clerk tell another clerk in a government office, "Atiende fan i patgon taotao." "Attend to the person's child." That person waiting in line at that office is not just someone demanding your time and service. S/he is someone's child.

Another example.

A teenage guy is waiting in a store for his mother to finish shopping. Bored, he starts to do things other people find irritating. Someone starts to make a move to scold the teen, and someone sitting next to the irritated person reminds him or her, "Pasiesiåye, sa' påtgon taotao." "Be patient, because s/he is someone's child."

This expression can also be a way of reminding people (yes, sometimes we need to be reminded) that the person is a human being - påtgon taotao - and therefore someone to be treated with dignity, even if they are a nuisance or difficult.

I have even heard adults be called påtgon taotao, but not seniors. Other people, though, may have heard even seniors be called påtgon taotao. I am not sure.

Man more examples abound, but I believe one major reason for this kind of thinking, and this kind of addressing people, is to be mindful of that person's special connection with others not visible at the moment; to be aware that a person has a special place in the world to some people. It's a call for us to treat people in a more caring way. That other person may not be so special to you and me, but they are påtgon taotao, someone else's special someone.

1 comment:

  1. Hafa adai, Påle'. You'll be interested to learn that this phrase is Austronesian in origin. The idea of referring to someone as "someone's child" is not restricted to Chamorro. Check out this entry from an Austronesian Comparative Dictionary for "anak i tau":