Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Along with "Håfa adai," "Si Yu'us ma'åse'" and a few other expressions, newcomers to the Marianas, before long, hear and wonder about the way we say "Biba!" on many occasions.

Just mention someone's name in a speech, and you might hear someone in the crowd tell, "Biba!"

What does it mean, really, and how is it connected to similar words like bibu and bubu?


The word biba is taken from the Spanish word viva. The literal and first meaning of viva is "live" in the imperative. It is, in Spanish, the command to live. Live! Don't die!

The implied meaning is "long live." The word "long" is not stated, but the idea is implied. So, whereas in English we would cry out "Long live the King," in Spanish one says "Viva el Rey!"

I wouldn't be surprised if this is how the expression made its way into the Chamorro language, hearing soldiers and guards working for Spain say this salutation now and then. In time, these "Spanish" soldiers and guards were Chamorro soldiers and guards. Of mixed blood, to be sure, but born here and speaking the Chamorro language.

Secondly, Chamorros would have heard the word "Viva!" exclaimed in religious settings. Not during Mass, which was in Latin and celebrated with solemnity, but during a procession, or at the end of a priest's remarks on a feast day.

We do this to this day, as it is custom to abiba the saint three times towards the end of a patronal fiesta. Biba San Jose! Or whatever saint is being honored. Three times.

This is interesting because Saint Joseph is alive and well, and for all eternity, in heaven, yet we are wishing that he live long, as if he could possibly die. But that is just the literal meaning of viva or biba. The expanded meaning of biba is simply an exclamation of love, happiness, appreciation and so on.

This is how, I believe, the term was then applied later in time to anyone and anything we want to honor, or to show appreciation for, or even, in politics, support.

Biba Democrat! Biba Republican! Biba Liberation Day! Biba kumpleåños! Biba retirement! Biba si Magdalena! Biba tax refund! Whatever and whoever you want.

One way we make this Spanish expression Chamorro is that we do not follow Spanish grammar when using it. Viva is the imperative for one person. In Spanish, when speaking of more than one person, viva becomes vivan. Vivan los pescadores! Long live the fishermen! But, in Chamorro, it is "Biba i man peskadot!"


The Chamorro word bibu is related to biba.

Even bibu comes from the Spanish word vivir (to live) and it means "fast, energetic, lively" and so on. A car can be bibu in speed and a party can be bibu, full of life, fun, entertaining.

It is pure coincidence that the Chamorro word bubu (angry) sounds similar to bibu. But there is no historic connection between the two words.  There is no Spanish word bubu nor bubo.

Then there's abubu (balloon), also unconnected with Spanish.

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