In 1912, the U.S. Naval Government of Guam decided to send island residents they deemed to have contracted Hansen's disease (usually called leprosy in those days) to an island in the Philippines called Culion, where facilities set up by the American Government in the Philippines would give them better care.
At first, conditions at Culion were horrible. But by 1922, with new administrators, Culion in time became one of the best, most well-equipped and modern treatment center in the world for patients suffering this malady. Culion took on the atmosphere of a normal town, with a band made up of patients entertaining the residents in a Spanish-style plaza on Saturday nights. There was also a church in Culion, cared for by Jesuit chaplains.
Chamorro patients in Culion
Antonio Unpingco Collection
But the Americans, who thought that Chamorros and Filipinos were similar enough to make for an easy transition, did not expect the tremendous emotional trauma the Chamorro patients underwent.
Even the Filipino patients suffered emotionally, unable to see loved ones and family. Patients from all the different provinces, many speaking only their own local language, were put together, increasing the sense of loss and unfamiliarity. Imagine what it felt like for the Chamorros if even the Filipinos felt they were in a strange land, an "Island of No Return," as they said of the place.
So in 1926, a group of Chamorro patients wrote this letter, in Chamorro, to the Governor of Guam, begging him to repatriate them. I will write it here in a more modern form of spelling.
Señor Maga'låhe :
(Sir Governor : )
I in sen gofli'e yan i in sen respeta na Gobietnon-måme giya Guam.
(Our very beloved and very respected Governor in Guam.)
Señor! In tatayuyut si Yu'us, yan man didimo ham gi me'nå-mo, man mangågågao ham mina'åse',
(Sir! We pray to God, and we kneel before you, asking mercy,)
na un konne' ham guine na tåno'.
(that you take us away from this land.)
Sa' demasiao in padedese triniste yan minahålang pot i familian-måme ni esta åpmam na tiempo
(Because we suffer too much sadness and homesickness for our families which for a long time now)
na ti in li'e matan-ñiha yan i tano' lokkue' annai man mafañågo ham.
(that we haven't seen their faces, or the land where we were born.)
Ti siña in maleffanñaihon ha'åne yan puenge in guiguife ha' siempre.
(We cannot forget day and night we will surely dream of them.)
Ma'åse' Señor nu este na inigong-måmåme nu hågo,
(Have mercy Sir on this our sighing towards you,)
ya un na' li'e ham ta'lo ni tano'-måme åntes de in fan måtai.
(and make us see our land again before we die.)
Sa' tåya' nai mås maolek i taotao na i tano'-ña.
(Because a person is nowhere better than in his own land.)
Ginen in hingok, Señor, ma sångan na para in fan ma konne' guine, para ennao iya Ipao.
(We have heard it said, Sir, that we will be taken from here, to there in Ipao.)
Pues in desesea na dångkulo yan man mannanangga ham siempre giya hågo
(So we greatly desire and are waiting from you)
kao håfa disposision-mo ya in tingo' hame guine todos ni manåtanges.
(what are your orders and all of us who are weeping will know.)
Unfortunately, the Government never changed its mind. The Chamorro patients were never taken back to Guam and they died there in Culion. They were not given individual and identified graves. All that remains is a mass grave for all of them.
Culion as it appears in recent years
Culion's location in the Philippines