Thursday, January 7, 2016


People not yet fluent in Chamorro, searching for a Chamorro word, often "hispanicize" an English word and hope that it comes out Chamorro!

An example. How does one say "examine" in Chamorro? Hmm. Let's make the word sound Spanish (examina) then spell it more like Chamorro. Eksamina.

Yes! Correct!

But it doesn't always work that way.

A good example of that is the word "conserve."

One is tempted to make it konsetba. But, in this case, one would be talking about candied papaya.

There is a Spanish word conservar. Indeed, it can mean "to conserve," as in, "to keep something from being lost." A synonym would be "preserve."

And foods en conserva in Spanish means preserved foods, such as canned or potted foods.

So sometime back during the Spanish colonial days, someone brought to our islands the knowledge of soaking papaya slices in åfok (baked limestone or coral rock) to act as a brine. The papaya is then cooked in generous amounts of sugar and in the end becomes candied papaya.

The candied papaya is not a good environment for bacteria to breed and spoil the papaya, for it was rightly called konsetba, from the Spanish en conserva.....preserved papaya.

But the Spanish word conserva never made it into Chamorro as a word for "to conserve" or "to preserve." Therefore, konsetba in Chamorro only means candied papaya.

"Conserve water" would never be "konsetba i hanom" in Chamorro. Older Chamorros would laugh if you said that.


Today, and for a couple of centuries already, we have been using the Spanish word mantiene to express the idea of holding on to something, not allowing something to be lost, weakened, deteriorated and so on.

"Preserve our culture." "Mantiene i kutturå-ta."

To "conserve" as in "not to waste," there is the Chamorro term chomma', which means to reduce usage or abstain (as well as "to block, forbid, prevent").

But in the 1865 Spanish-Chamorro dictionary by Father Ibáñez, nå'na' is another word for "conserve."

Now, before I go on, be careful not to confuse nå'na' with the word nåna. Those glotas make a difference. Nåna means "mother."

Påle' Román's 1932 dictionary confirms that nå'na' did indeed mean "to save, keep, safeguard" because one often hides what one keeps safe for the future.

Therefore, one could say "Nå'na' i kutturå-ta"  if you wanted to say "Preserve our culture."

The problem today is that most people understand nå'na' to mean only "to hide."

So I'm afraid if we tried to use the word nå'na' today to mean "conserve" or "preserve," we would be misinterpreted.

"Nå'na' i kutturå-ta" would be interpreted by Chamorro speakers as "Hide our culture."

Perhaps, many generations ago, our people understood nå'na' as also meaning "to conserve/preserve."

Maybe there was, at one time, a specific Chamorro word for "to conserve/preserve" which we no longer remember.

The Chamorro word "to preserve" was not preserved!

Instead, we use Spanish loan words like mantiene (to maintain), protehe (to protect).

One thing's for sure, we do not use the word konsetba for anything other than candied papaya.

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