Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Spanish Missionaries in Saipan in 1929

Unlike the Chamorros on Guam who continued to be exposed to a Western and Christian power (the U.S.) in 1898, the Chamorros of Saipan were governed by a people more foreign to their prior experience - the Japanese. Except for a brief period of 15 years (1899 - 1914) under the Germans, the Saipan and Rota Chamorros had to deal with a new colonial power that was neither Western nor Christian.

I believe this made the Chamorros there cling even more closely to their Spanish missionaries. I was fortunate to know some older people who were teens and even young adults when the Japanese ruled the Northern Marianas and they shared with me how they disliked having to bow every morning to the Emperor who was considered a god by the Japanese. Their Christian faith could not accept that, even though they were compelled to stand in formation at school in the morning and make those bows. It seemed to me that, as soon as they could, they found solace in the company and guidance of the Spanish missionaries, until the Japanese severely curtailed the freedom of those missionaries to be with the Chamorro people.

Like the Chamorros on Guam, the Spaniards all the Chamorros dealt with in the 1900s were no longer political masters. They were now all religious figures, dealing with supernatural hopes and aspirations, and ministering to the souls and bodies of people, keeping alive the Christian way of life, the beloved customs and traditions, that gave many Chamorros comfort for the last 300 years. Yes. The Spanish missionaries in both Guam and the Northern Marianas in the 1920s and 30s were generally loved by the people.

In Saipan, the Japanese allowed the Catholic missionaries something the American authorities in Guam refused to do. The Church in Saipan was able to open a Catholic school for girls, whereas, on Guam, the U.S. Navy did everything to prevent Catholic schools.

In 1929, the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz (Berriz is a town in Spain) opened a "colegio," or school, for girls in Saipan. The Japanese government at the time was actually supportive of this endeavor, since the Japanese schools could not accommodate everyone interested in getting an education. The girls' school would focus, anyway, on some academics (the basics) but also on religion, music and domestic skills, as was the custom at the time in female education.

When Mother Margarita Maturana, the Superior in Spain, visited Saipan in 1929, she was welcomed with great emotion by the "such simple and affectionate" ("tan sencilla y cariñosa") Chamorro people. A delegation of both Chamorro and Carolinian civic leaders came to pay respects to Mother Margarita.

They were the Chamorros Francisco de León Guerrero, José de los Reyes, Luís Tenorio, Mariano Pangelinan, Manuel Pangelinan, Vidal Arriola, Domingo Blanco and Vidal Camacho. Two Carolinian leaders accompanied them : Ignacio Lairopi and Antonio Angailen.

The Chamorros talked of Spain with Mother Margarita; how they valued the customs and traditions given them centuries before by the Spanish missionaries. They shared with Mother how they managed for two years when no Catholic priests were living on Saipan when the Northern Marianas changed from German to Japanese rule. Despite the absence of priests, the people of Saipan went morning and night to the church to say their prayers as a community. A well-educated layman, Gregorio Sablan (Kilili) performed baptisms and kept records and did his best to keep things going.

I can attest that, to this day, there are many people in Saipan who cling to these traditions, although the number gets smaller and smaller with every funeral.


From the Spanish original letter of Mother Maturana (beatified in 2006):

Hablan de España, del amor que le tienen y lo mucho que se precian de conservar las antiguas costumbres implantadas por los españoles. Cuentan luego cómo procuraron conservar la fe y la piedad religiosa cuando quedaron sin los misioneros alemanes. Mañana y tarde, a la hora de la Misa y del rosario, se congregaba el pueblo a toque de campana en la iglesia y rezaban las oraciones acostumbradas.

Source : http://comunidad-maturana.blogspot.com

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