Monday, May 9, 2016


In 1886, a book was published in Spain entitled "History of the Mariana Islands, the Carolines and Palau" by the former Governor of the Marianas, Luís de Ibáñez.

Towards the end of his book, the author includes a made-up conversation between a recently-arrived Spaniard and a Chamorro boatman. Of course, the dialogue is based on reality. Ships anchored in Apra Harbor but, to get to Hagåtña, you had to pay for a ride on a small boat to Punta Piti (Piti Point) and from there rent a carriage pulled by a horse (fastest), cow (slower) or carabao (slowest).

What's neat about this, though, is that it gives us yet another sample of the way Chamorro was spoken in 1886. It also shows how different the two languages were and are (Chamorro and Spanish) even though Chamorro borrows a lot of words from Spanish. You can compare the two languages in the picture above.

I will add here the Chamorro dialogue, in my own style of spelling, and provide the English translation.

Ei! Taotao lao! Håye gai bote ennao?
Hey there man! Whose boat is that?
Boti-ho, señot.
It's my boat, sir.
Siña yo' hu ma udai guennao gi boti-mo?
Can I ride there in your boat?
Hunggan, señot.
Yes, sir.
Kuånto nai hu apåse hao?
How much shall I pay you?
Kuåttro riåles, señot.
Four reales, sir.
Maulek. Chule' maletå-ho.
Fine. Take my luggage.
Fatå'chong guine, señot.
Sit here, sir.
Hu sodda' nai kabåyo pat koche gi Puntan Piti asta Hagåtña?
Will I find a horse or carriage at Piti Point that goes to Hagåtña?
Hunggan, señot.
Yes, sir.
Kuånto ma apåpåse?
How much is he paid?
Pot i kabåyo, un peso. Pot i koche, bente riåles.
For the horse, one peso. For the carriage, 20 reales.
Kuånto chago'-ña desde Piti asta Hagåtña?
How far is it from Piti to Hagåtña?
Katna dos oras, señot.
Around two hours, sir.
Håye na'ån-ña si Maga'låhe?
What is the name of the Governor?
Si Don Luís Ibáñez, señot.
Sir Luís Ibáñez, sir.
Håfa taimano si Maga'låhe?
How is the Governor?
Maolek ha', señot.
Fine, sir.
Pues hu na' tungo' hao na guiya abok-ho yan parientes-ho.
Well I am letting you know that he is my friend and relative.
Magof yo', señot.
I'm glad, sir.


1. Señot. Notice how often the Chamorro ends his sentences calling the Spaniard "sir." When I was small, my grandmother and aunties told me never to answer someone older with a simple "yes" or "no" but to always add "señot" or "señora."

2. Riåles.  This was an old Spanish coin that was later replaced by coins with other names, but in the Marianas the Chamorros continued to call some coins riåles or riåt, right into the early American and German times.

Spanish real

3. Distances were measured by travel time, not by land measurements (miles, kilometers, etc.).

4. Don. This was a respectful way of addressing any man of status. Women of status were called Doña. An English equivalent would be Sir and Madam. Certain Chamorros, especially those who were in government service, were called Don. Even when someone left office, they were still called Don.

5. The question concerning the Governor was a tricky one. The question may have been about the Governor's overall condition (e.g. health). But it could have also been a way of find out the Governor's reputation among the people. Was he popular or not? A decent man, or an ogre? Thus the Chamorro man's safe reply.

6. The remark indicating that the Spaniard is a friend and relative of the Governor was also pregnant with meaning. Did he mean that the Chamorro boatman better treat him well? The Chamorro man's response was also safe. He probably could have cared less who this Spaniard was. Was the Spaniard bluffing, hoping to get better treatment by making such a claim? How close of a relative to the Governor? How close of a friend? Or no friend at all? So the Chamorro boatman safely said, "I am happy for you!"

7. Abok. The Chamorro word for "friend," now almost nearly replaced by the Spanish loan word "amigo" or "amiga." But a few people still use the word abok today.

So, in the end, we see that the Chamorro we speak today was already the form of Chamorro spoken in 1886. A hundred years earlier, the few examples we have of written Chamorro shows how much the language was the same and yet also somewhat different.

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