When Johnny Sablan started recording Chamorro music albums in 1968, I was old enough to play the records my aunties bought and listen to his songs.
One of the songs that instantly became one of my favorites is Lelu Lelu Lelu Le. I memorized the lyrics to this sweet and simple melody, and even then I could not understand what the lyrics were trying to say, although I understood some words like kafe and leche.
As I grew older I began to learn about children's songs which often have no deep meaning or message and which can sometimes simply be nonsense words so that we can just have fun singing the melody.
Today I listen to Lelu and think of the simple, innocent but fun life children had in the past. The song speaks of yummy food and fruits that kids would have readily available at their disposal. Nothing from a can except for the milk and maybe the coffee. Everything else was from the land and sea before them.
The last verse in Johnny's recording, though, was more mysterious to me. So I went to ask him about it. From Johnny himself I learned how he came to record this song.
His mother Rita had friends from Saipan who suggested Johnny record this song and provided him with the traditional lyrics. Then Johnny thought about including his own message of the youth of his time in the late 1960s who were getting involved with drugs.
He used the image of the banyan tree, the trongkon nunu a tree with many leaves, whose abundant and exposed roots are feared and respected as the abode of the spirits of our ancestors. In these roots we can "see" the faces, young and old, of our ancestors and people. He says, "If you are high on drugs, and you are asking who you are, you will find the answer to that, your name will be called, you will find yourself, if you come down off your high and just sing Lelu lelu le. The song will calm you down and you will find yourself again."
1. Lelu lelu lelu le, latan leche yan kafe, gi ha'åne San Jose
(Lelu lelu lelu le, a can of milk and coffee, on Saint Joseph's day)
ya hagon suni, fina'denne', ti u ma igi para mångge', lelu....
(and taro leaves, fina'denne', they can't be beat for flavor, lelu....)
2. Lelu lelu lelu le, un titiyas mamaipe, tininun ti'ao na totche
(Lelu lelu lelu le, a hot titiyas, barbequed ti'ao fish for the main dish)
yan alåguan ni ma leche, para atmåyas ni dinanche, tiinun lemmai ni ma guesgues.
(and rice porridge with coconut milk, corn porridge made just right, barbequed scrubbed breadfruit)
3. Guaha trongko gi hatdin, manmanfloflores pot fin, manmanokcha i tomåtes
(There is a tree in the garden, that is finally flowering, the tomatoes have sprouted)
manmañensen kakaguåtes, man sen meppa trongkon åtes, todo maolek mås ke åntes.
(the peanuts are full, the åtes tree is abundant, everything is better than before.)
4. Guaha trongko ni mi hagon, måtan taotao yan påtgon, sinangåne hao i na'ån-mo
(There is a tree with abundant leaves, the face of a man and child, you are told your name)
yanggen tatkilo sagå-mo, fåtto påpa' ya ta (fa)ngånta : lelu lelu lelu le.
(if your place is high, come down and let's sing : lelu lelu lelu le.)
My friend Goro from Saipan sings a verse of Lelu himself :