Thursday, January 19, 2017


Our mañaina were great believers in corporal punishment, and many still are to this day, though the punishment has become much more mild and today's parents turn a blind eye to so much nowadays.

But what were the normal infractions that would merit corporal punishment?

I recently came across the childhood reminiscences of a man who grew up in a southern village of Guam in the 1930s. Here are some examples from his life :

Skipping school. The man and his siblings, including some cousins living in the same house, lived several miles from the school house. In those days, one walked to school. So, during the rainy season, you ducked under huge trees like the lemmai (breadfruit) tree and tried to stay as dry as possible. Sometimes there was no choice but to get drenched.

One day it was raining so bad that the oldest cousin suggested they skip school that day. But rather than return home, he said they should pretend they had gone to school and play in that isolated area instead. And that they did. They were so contented that their scheme worked that they tried doing it several more times in the weeks that followed, till the school teacher (there was only one, for all grades) paid a visit to the family home to inquire why the kids had missed several days of school.

For that, their backs were whipped and sore for about four days.

Theft. Not far from the village school were some garden patches owned by the neighbors. During recess or right after school, it was usual for the kids to play in the area next to these gardens. One favorite game was hide and seek. Well, how convenient that sugar cane stalks grew in the garden and served as excellent cover while playing hide and seek?

Hiding among the stalks, one boy decided to break off a cane ready for the eating and began tearing off the outer skin with his teeth and started chomping away. Just a few steps away, and hid again by the sugar cane, were watermelons. He took out his pocket knife and started carving away, his mouth dripping with watermelon juice.

He was so proud of his achievement that he told his friends about it and, soon after, the boys devised a way that they could all take turns hiding in the garden patch, helping themselves to the sugar cane and watermelon, while the other boys created a diversion with their loud screaming so that the owners paid no attention.

However, the rascal boys were careless with their leftovers and the owner soon one day discovered watermelon rinds and sugar cane strips which the boys forgot to collect. The owner also saw foot prints left on some vines and grass and put two and two together. The owner waited for the next day and hid among the sugar cane right before school let out. There he caught two boys chomping on sugar cane red handed.

That evening, he was generously whipped by his grandmother to screams of "Taimamahlao! Aniti!" (Shameless! Devil!)

A few days later, the boy had to go back to the garden patch owner with a big basket of lemons that his grandmother grew as partial repayment of the sugar cane and watermelon eaten illicitly.

Peeping Tom. Near the school was a stream and a wooden bridge that enabled one to pass over the stream. The kids that lived on that side of the village had to cross that wooden bridge no less than twice a day to go to school. The bridge was made of wooden beams about 2 inches apart. Every now and then, the kids would stop in the middle of the bridge and look through those 2 inch gaps to see if the stream had any shrimp or fish to catch.

The boy started to reason to himself, "If one can look down in between those gaps, one can also look up." So he and two other boys would wait under the bridge very quietly and wait for the girls to cross the bridge. All was well till another boy, who had not been included in this conspiracy, tattled on the boys.

This time it was the teacher who executed the punishment. First, she had the three boys stand on one foot for half an hour. Then she made them switch feet. Then she hit their fingers stretched out on their desks with a ruler. Finally, she made them lie on the classroom floor and gave them ten lashes each. She said she would have done worse than that if she could.

Public Nuisance. In the village was a public area where water pipes were available to anyone needing municipal water. Almost no one in those days had piped water inside the home. There were latrine sheds, with men and women latrines separated, and also showers (again separated by gender) and a large sink for anyone needing to do hand-washed laundry.

In the middle of this small complex was a large pole with a single light bulb on top. That light was for the safety and benefit of the people who might use those public water services at night or early morning. This boy noticed that, now and then, the light would die then turn on again on its own. By observing this several nights, he discovered that the light would die every time there was a strong breeze or gust of wind. The bulb is loose in its socket!

One night, for his own merriment, he waited till some people were inside the sheds using the water, and he started to pull on the heavy wire that helped hold the pole in place. Back and forth the pole swung and, of course, the loose light bulb flickered on and off. Other electrical wires feeding power to some homes were connected to the pole, and with every swing these electrical wires would bounce off the tin roofs of those houses, making a racket.

People, especially the women, some with wet hair, came out of the sheds very upset at the noise, disoriented by the flickering light in the darkness. Some people in the homes came out shouting "What's going on!" The boy fled.

But someone must've recognized him because, the following morning, a messenger went to his house several miles outside the village, requesting that the boy report to the village commissioner's house at 7 o'clock that evening. The commissioner had him lie on his stomach on a bench. His buttocks received six lashes, with a warning that if he ever did that or anything similar again, he'd receive twelve next time.

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