Friday, September 23, 2016


The journals of the missionaries are often a great source of information about our people's way of life in the old days.

I was reading the recollections of an American missionary on Guam in the late 1930s and into the late 1940s and early 50s.

He writes about the custom of many Chamorro families of that period to shut the whole house up tightly at night when everybody's about to sleep. Despite the lack of air conditioning or even electric fans (some families had them, many did not), nåna would shut all the doors and windows without even a crack, while the whole family huddled together on the guåfak (woven mat) or mattresses placed right on the floor. So, there was the lack of ventilation and a lot of body heat from the whole family lying next to each other. Of course, as many people claim, the island was less hot in those days, especially at night. People get used to things, especially when it's all they know from childhood up.

People shut their homes tight before bed because they were deathly afraid of the sereno, the moisture that comes with the cooler evening air. The sereno is bad and makes people sick! It is to be avoided at all costs. One should cover his or her head if one has to go out at night or in the early dawn. The house should be shut air-tight before bed time.

This priest had to visit a sick man once, whose condition was blamed on the sereno . The man gradually lost the use of his entire body, starting with his hands, then feet then the rest of his body. Towards the end of his life, he couldn't even swallow solid food. He survived on soft or wet foods until he passed. It sounds as if the man died of Lytico-Bodig (Lou Gehrigs' Disease), but the family blamed the sereno . The man was a night watchman at a lumber yard and fell victim to the sereno .

But the priest remarked that the very safeguard Chamorro families believed in was probably a main reason why tuberculosis (TB) was common. An air-borne disease, TB can be easily transmitted person to person when there is poor ventilation and when people sleep so close to each other.

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