Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Esta guåot para un gatcha'
esta potta para un hålom
esta bångko para un fatå'chong
esta chupa yan mamå'on.

There are stairs for you to step on,
there is a door for you to enter,
there is a bench for you to sit on,
there is tobacco and betel nut and fixings.

So many blog viewers tell me that they wish they could HEAR the words being said so that they can learn how to pronounce them. Let it be said that I try to provide a full-service blog and I will now add a video with audio so you can hear the words. Just click the video right below here.

The early Europeans who saw our ancestors in their culture and personality before Westernization said that they were a lyrical people. They sang, composed poems and debated. This trait carried on into Spanish times, though our ancestors began to adopt outside tunes and melodies. "The Chamorros," one writer said in the 1800s, "sing when they wake up and sing as they go to sleep."

This little verse was said by some when greeting the parents of a young man when they came to speak to the parents of his love interest with a view to inquiring about marriage.

But I suppose it could be used to welcome anyone, because offering mamå'on (betel nut and all the accompanying condiments) was made to anyone, not just the groom's party. Before World War II, at rosary for the deceased, it was mamå'on that was most passed around to those attending. The most that would be served in addition to mamå'on was some sort of bread or rolls. Very light indeed, compared to the huge meals often served in modern times.

In many Austronesian cultures, not to offer mamå'on to guests and visitors was a huge social failure.

The words are telling, giving us clues about life back then.

There are stairs. There are stairs because every house in the Marianas in the old days was raised. The few wealthier people had homes of mampostería (mortar and lime) but, still, the ground floor was a bodega (basement) and there were solid steps leading up to the first floor. This was to keep out animals and muddy water in case of floods.

Most people had more modest homes of wood or thatching. These would be raised on top of pillars (haligi). So steps or stairs would be needed to enter the home.

The guest is offered a bench, not a chair. Chairs were perhaps more fancy and benches easier to make.

Chupa, by the way, meant "tobacco." People now think of cigarettes, but there is a word specific to cigarettes, and that is sigariyo, from the Spanish cigarrillo ("little cigar"). The word for cigar is chigålo, from the Spanish cigarro. Of course, all those are forms of smoking tobacco. But the tobacco, when used with betel nut, was chewed.

Tobacco was not grown in the Marianas before the Spaniards came, but, when they introduced it to the Chamorros to grow, the Chamorros went wild for it, especially the women (according to the accounts). European visitors remarks how the women always had a cigar in their mouths.

Chupa most likely comes from the Spanish word chupar, which means "to suck, lick, absorb" and several other things. Well, one does suck on a cigar to inhale.


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