Friday, April 8, 2016


(1896? ~ 1985)

The Guam Seal that we see all over the island, on flags and government letterheads, is the subject of some controversy.

For years, a stateside woman named Helen Longyear Paul has been credited for the creation of the Guam flag, which includes this seal. Paul was a Navy wife who also taught in Guam's schools and she had entered her design in a flag contest begun by Naval Governor Roy Smith in 1917.

The heart of the debate is whether a Chamorro student in Hagåtña, originally from Humåtak, by the name of Francisco Feja Feja, was the true artist who conceived and sketched the seal. There is a lot of support for this claim since Francisco (Ton Kiko) lived all the way till 1985 and the story was known from him by some people. It's the "official" literature of the past that is silent about Feja, giving all the attention to Helen Paul.

Francisco's daughter, and the late Dr. Bernadita Camacho Dungca, who learned about Feja from her father, who was friends with Feja, did much to spread awareness of Feja's story.

What seems clear is that Feja moved from Humåtak to Hagåña around the year 1910 and his artistic talents were noticed and appreciated by teachers in Hagåtña's schools. One day he was taken by the scene depicted by the Seal today, with the lone coconut tree and the river mouth and the coastal background, and he was inspired to draw or paint it.

The story isn't very clear how Feja's design ended up in Helen Paul's hands. Two different stories, totally based on oral tradition, explain how Helen Paul stumbled on Feja, either at the beach or at the Governor's office steps, with his sketch. Feja then gave the sketch to Paul.

Agueda Johnston's explanation doesn't involve Feja at all, but gives credit to Helen Paul as the designer. She says that the sketch then ended up being used in a flag created by the Home Econmics class taught by another American woman, Lillian A. Nagel.

In 1917, Governor Roy Smith approved the design of a Guam flag, using this Seal. The blueprint for the design was rediscovered only recently. The blueprint does not state who is the designer of the Seal. Tradition says that there was a felt need for a Guam flag and artists were encouraged to turn in proposed designs. It is believed that Helen Paul's design, possibly based on Feja's sketch, was turned in for consideration.

No designer's name is credited in the 1917 blueprint

In 1930, Governor Bradley made official the 1917 seal as the Seal of Guam and the following year he made the flag using this seal the official flag of Guam.

The fact that the 1917 design was created as a blueprint lends support to the idea that Helen Paul had something to do with the final product. Paul was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with a BS in Science and having studied architecture there, too. Clearly, the blueprint suggests someone educated in these fields, such as Paul, was involved.

I think it is safe to say, though, that both individuals had something to do with the existence of our Guam flag and seal as we have them today.

Feja's creation. Paul's submission.

Had Feja not designed the seal, we might not have the seal and flag we see today. Had Paul not submitted her flag design, which included the seal, in the contest, we might not have the seal and flag that we see today. As far as I know, we aren't aware of any other flag design submissions in that fateful contest in 1917. History, they say, is written by the winners.

Feja may have designed the seal indeed, but it was Paul's design that got into Navy hands in order for that seal to be formally adopted.


Reading up on this topic is an experience of the frustrations and limitations of doing history.

We don't have all the evidence we would like to have, and what we do have doesn't always check out.

Different sources have different years for Feja's birthday.

The official resolution from the Guam Legislature in 1992 states that Feja went to school around 1910 at the Jose Rizal College in Manila and didn't draw the seal until he returned to Guam. But Jose Rizal College didn't exist until 1919, two years after the Helen Paul submission won the flag contest.

These, and other examples, serve to remind us about the weakness of human memory and the importance of documents, even though documents themselves are far from totally reliable in all cases.

Rest in peace, Ton Kiko and thanks for the Guam Seal. I wonder what Ton Kiko and Helen might be saying to each other as they watch us on earth struggle with this puzzle.

BY THE WAY......

I think the Chamorro family nickname is misspelled in the funeral announcement.

I believe it should be Payesyes, and not Jasjesjyes.

The payesyes was the small, insect-eating bat that is now extinct on Guam.

1 comment:

  1. Tun Kiko is my Great grandfather. It was my mother, Marie Feja Guerrero (Familian Robat), who first told me the story of her grandfather, the artist, who created the Guam seal.That was over three decades ago. Since then, I have always gleamed with pride whenever I look upon our flag. A bit of my family's history as well as the island's identity, is firmly rooted in that Great seal of ours. The seal is also used for the Guam National Guard's unit patch. As a guard member, I was told to remember who we represent. My squad leader once said, "The seal represents your island, your last name represents your family, and the American Flag represents your country." Words that still inspire me today! Thank you for the research Pale Eric!