Wednesday, March 20, 2019



Chamorro hymn to Saint Joseph

SAN JOSE LAO tai achaigua matunå-mo yan bittut-mo :
(Saint Joseph your praises and virtues are without equal :)

(Beloved Saint Joseph defend us
by your holy prayers.)

1. Si Yu'us ha' muna' håne ayo i mafañagu-mo.
(God alone brought about your birth.)

2. Man sen manman i lumi'e' i sinantos pinatgon-mo.
(They are awestruck who witnessed your holy childhood.)

3. Si Maria asaguå-mo si Jesus ma fa' patgon-mo.
(Mary was your spouse and Jesus was made your child.)

4. Gos ya-ña si Jesukristo i minames tinektok-mo.
(Jesus Christ liked very much your sweet embrace.)

5. Na'manman yan sinantusan sasahnge i fina'pos-mo.
(Your life was awesome, holy and unique.)

6. Hungok i tinayuyot-ho gi sen ma'lak na tachong-mo.
(Hear my prayers from your glorious seat.)

7. Pulan yo' gi finatai-ho ya un såga gi fi'on-ho.
(Watch over my death and stay by my side.)


Verse 3 : Jesus was not the biological son of Saint Joseph. Thus, Jesus "was made" his son, meaning Saint Joseph was considered the legal father of Jesus.

Verse 7 : Saint Joseph is the Patron of a Holy and Happy Death.

Monday, March 18, 2019


We don't write an awful lot in Chamorro.

Dalai. Many Chamorros don't even speak Chamorro.

And, being immersed in an English-speaking and an English-writing world, we are apt to let that influence us when we attempt to write in Chamorro.

But, itt was the Spanish and not the Americans who taught our ancestors the Roman alphabet and, for whatever reason, the Spaniards chose to use the letter Y (mainly) to represent the Chamorro sound that, in English, we might spell DZ. I have an idea why they used Y to stand for Chamorro DZ but that's something for another blog post.

Chamorro has its own sound, represented by the letter Y.

Check this out :

And so that's how we got the Chamorro Y. It has its own sound. And we really ought to be very familiar with it because we have two large villages whose names begin with Chamorro Y.

In Saipan, there is a place called Obyan and another called Chalan Kiya, and in both cases the Y is Chamorro Y, not English or Spanish Y.

We also have the surname Ayuyu.

And yet, despite an abundance of cases where the Chamorro DZ sound is spelled with a Chamorro Y, our Americanized minds revert to the English J when we want to say Chamorro DZ.

For example, in the picture at the very top, many people spell the family nickname Beyong with a J.

Or the family nickname Goyo with a J.

Or the family nichname Yeye with a J.

And in vocabulary, there are many people who spell it LATIJA and TITIYAS, instead of LATIYA and TITIYAS.

In these cases, we're switching from a Spanish-era Chamorro spelling to an American-era English spelling. We're mixing up two spelling systems.

So what happens in the case where the Bejong's first name is Juan?

In this example, the J has two different sounds. In Bejong, an American J. In Juan, a Spanish (and Chamorro) J.

If, in Chamorro, J and Y sound the same (which they don't), then what becomes of Joaquin Jeje and Josefa'n Gojo?

Far better to stick to the very clear Chamorro Y. Jesus Yeye. Juana'n Goyo. Joaquina'n Beyong.

Even in the top picture, the Siboyas family page keeps the Chamorro Y sound, instead of spelling it Sibojas.


Just to complicate things further, the Spaniards also used LL for the Chamorro DZ sound.

This is because, in Spanish, LL sounds the same as Y.

And so Acfalle, Tajalle and Quintanilla all have the Chamorro DZ sound, because LL in Spanish sounds like Y, and Chamorro Y is like English DZ.

And so, some Goyos also spell their nickname Gollo.

But it's also perfectly right, in Chamorro, to spell it Goyo.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Francisco Quitugua Tenorio
(pic courtesy of Fred Tenorio Rodriguez)

Around 1975 or 1976, our science teacher at Bishop Baumgartner Middle School, Sister Joan Weisenbeck, told us that we would all have to do something for a Science Fair she was organizing. It could be anything but the topic had to relate to a branch of physical science.

I decided to make a display about Chamorro herbal medicine. You can see that I already had the cultural bug in middle school. Well, herbs deal with biology, so I'm good, I thought.

I turned to my grand aunt, Asunción "Chong" Torres, my grandmother's sister. She was one of the elders in the family who raised me (ma poksai biha) and she was always willing to help me in anything. Sure enough, she took me one day to visit a suruhåno (folk doctor or herbal practitioner). His name was Francisco Quitugua Tenorio, better known as Supiåno, the family nickname.

We got into her car and we drove not a far distance to Chalan Pago. We went into the house of an older man whom I remembered as quite solid-framed. My aunt and he did most of the talking in Chamorro; I just listened. But in time he started getting out some leaves, branches and roots and explaining to me the various uses. I started to write down the information. What plant was used for what ailment. Most of the time it was a mixture of several plants.

Ton Supiåno gave me those plant samples and we went home and I started to put the display together. I got three poster boards and taped them together to form a three-paneled display. I taped or stapled the plants to the board and artistically explained their use on the boards. I also had some things displayed on the table in front of the boards. The Science Fair was just the next day. I think I won a prize.

Sr Joan Weisenbeck, FSPA

I know I pleased Sister Joan, which was important to me because I really liked her as a person and as a teacher.

But my exposure to Ton Supiåno was a new experience for me. For the hour or so I was at his house, I got a glimpse into Chamorro life I didn't see at my own house. The sights and smells of different plants. And the names of these plants!

Lodogao and betbena. But also tomåtes chå'ka, which even at age 14 I understood as "rat tomato," and mumutung palao'an, which I also already could understand as "woman's stench."

At age 14, from Ton Supiåno's explanations, I was seeing how people got sick (I didn't see much of that yet in life) and in so many different ways. And I saw how our people had their own way of addressing illness and using the natural things found right around us. Plants and trees were not just "there." They had practical uses, and maybe even "life and death" uses. The experience taught me that we were resourceful and that we had "our own way."

Ton Supiåno was not my first experience of Chamorro medicine. That happened when I was 5 years old (or maybe even younger but I don't remember) when Tan Romana Ramos, our next door neighbor, would come over with her åmot Chamorro (Chamorro medicine) made from some very bad tasting herbs. I don't even know what illness I had but they would lay me on someone's lap and force open my mouth and Tan Romana would dip a cloth into her herbal medicine and squeeze the cloth into my screaming mouth! Did it taste awful! But the old ladies were happy that I would now be able to live another day!

But Tan Romana was not a suruhåna in the full sense of the term. She was able to make one kind of medicine for children. She was not consulted by many about many health issues.

Later, I would encounter a suruhåna who was more of a makåhna (spirit intermediary) who dealt with spirits and divination, and not with herbal medicine. That was a weird experience.

But Ton Supiåno was my first experience of a bona fide suruhåno, someone the community looked up to as knowledgeable about all herbal medicine and many health concerns. And meeting him was an affirming experience of my Chamorro culture.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


They say that love makes you do crazy things.

Case in point. Two American Marines, stationed on Guam in 1920, decided to grab a boat and hit the high seas with their newlywed brides.

First Sergeant Everett E. Clifton, 25, and Corporal William V. Dawson, 22, were both in love with Chamorro girls. Clifton fell in love with Tita León Guerrero Palomo, the daughter of Joaquín Blas Palomo and Rita Acosta de León Guerrero of Hagåtña. Their Palomo family nickname was Palolo. Dawson's belle was Rosa Cruz Lizama, the daughter of Ezequiel Fejarang Lizama and Candelaria Ulloa Cruz of Sumay.

The problem was that the Navy Governor at the time, Captain William Gilmer, disapproved of interracial marriages on Guam between military personnel and Chamorro civilians, so he outlawed it. His Executive Order forbidding interracial marriage was not scrapped till June 30, 1920, after enough voices in protest were heard in Washington, DC. By this higher authority, Gilmer was told to rescind his prohibition of interracial marriages on Guam and Gilmer was soon replaced as Governor.

Well, the two couples were not going to wait. With Gilmer's prohibition was still in force, what to do? They decided to escape Guam (and military duty) by finding a boat, loading it with supplies and head towards Australia, away from American jurisdiction. Then, free from Gilmer's laws, they could find someone to marry them. They set out on April 22.

But, problems soon came. First, they started to run out of food. Then, the fuel got desperately low. Finally, a storm obscured vision and posed a danger. Fortunately, they saw a small island and made for it. Sadly, the island had little to offer. The two couples subsisted on shell fish and what meager vegetation the island provided. But then, a Japanese trading vessel passed by and saw their distress signals. The ship picked them up and took them to Yap.

We know that the four left Guam and ended up in Yap, and somewhere along the way they stayed for a while on an unpopulated island with very few resources. Maybe it was Gaferut, but who knows?

In Yap, the Japanese authorities held them in custody. Then, the four were sent to Yokohama and then put under American supervision while there. The two Marines were made to live on a stationary Japanese ship while the two Chamorro ladies were housed at the local YWCA. Eventually, the four were sent back to Guam, where they celebrated their nuptials with the government's blessing since Gilmer was now gone. Both pairs got married on the same day - September 19, 1920. Dawson and Lizama got married in Sumay by Påle' León de Alzo, the future Bishop Olano. Clifton and Palomo got married at the Hagåtña Cathedral, officiated by Påle' Román de Vera.

There remained one problem. The two Marines faced trial for desertion.

Clifton and Dawson were sentenced to three years in prison and after that to be dishonorably discharged. They did their time in California.

Talk about broken dreams. They married, but they never got to enjoy their matrimony for long, since the two husbands were sent to be incarcerated in the US mainland. Rosa remained on Guam, and so did her son that she had with Dawson, George Lizama Dawson. They appear in the 1930 Guam census. But, in the 1940 census, Rosa Dawson is identified as being divorced and George is no longer with her. George had enlisted in the US Navy in 1939 and was off on his own. I suppose when Dawson was released from prison, he decided against returning to Guam and chose instead to find a new wife and remain in the US. By the early 1930s he already had a son with a new wife.

Clifton's marriage to Tita also did not last as he appears in the 1930 US census having a new wife, living in the US mainland.

Serving time in San Quentin

Monday, March 11, 2019


From the 1913 Typhoon

An American visitor to Guam around 1895 wrote about his experience of a typhoon coming out of nowhere.

We know, of course, that typhoons don't come out of nowhere but are actually formed over time when the right factors combine to create a storm that intensifies into a typhoon. But, in those days, they didn't have the technology we have today to see trouble spots and track the development and direction of storms.

Our American visitor was a spectator at the island's biggest cockfight of the year, where people were so focused on the contests that they didn't notice some of the telltale signs that islanders believe suggest a typhoon is on the way.

First, people eventually did notice that the air became still. There was no more wind, and it was the time of year when the trade winds should have been shaking the trees. People looked up, and all the coconut fronds were perfectly still. Not a breeze in sight.

Second, the birds had all disappeared. There were none to be seen resting on branches. There was no chirping to be heard. The birds had all flown somewhere else, to seek shelter from a storm they knew, ahead of the human beings, was coming.

Next, someone went down to the beach and looked at the horizon and the sky above. He was soon followed by others, till there was a bit of a crowd with him, all scanning the same horizon and sky. They all concluded that a storm was on its way, and they returned to their homes to prepare for it.

Long wooden stakes were nailed into the ground and the main posts and beams of the roofs of houses were anchored to these stakes by cords and ropes.

Wooden or metal stakes to help keep the roof from flying

Just as people were busy doing these things and tying up animals, a large gray cloud appeared from the southwest. The trees swayed once more, but with ever-growing strength. Gray turned to black and more black clouds appeared and the sky was darkened. The wind started to blow hard now, and some thatched roofs blew off.

But this storm was not a long one, nor a particularly strong one. By dawn the wind had died down to a normal breeze for that time of year. Some houses lost their roof and roads were impassable due to downed trees, but no one was seriously hurt. Thank God, it was a weak typhoon this time.

Friday, March 8, 2019


Para hita guine gi islas siha i familia yan asunton familia i mås impottånte.
(For us in the islands, the family and family matters are the most important.)

Gi pot båndan i lai ti libiåno ma komprende kabåles
(In legal matters it isn't easy to understand thoroughly)

mucho mås para un fakcha'i un abogådo osino abogåda
(even more to find a lawyer, male or female,)

ni siña ha eksplikåye hao pot i lai gi klåro yan komprendiyon na manera
(who can explain the law to you in a clear and understandable way)

yanggen guaha kaosa fumåfåna' hao.
(when you are facing a case.)

Lao guaha remedio. I ofisinan i abogåda as Señora Rosemond Blanco Santos
(But there is a solution. The office of the attorney Mrs Rosemond Blanco Santos)

siña ha probeniye hao akonseho pot i fundamenton i lai,
(can provide you with advice concerning the basics of the law,)

håfa ha sedi yan ti ha sedi hao para un cho'gue,
(what the law allows and doesn't allow you to do,)

håfa i direcho-mo yan håfa lokkue' siha i gåsto yanggen un deside para un ma representa
(what are your rights and also what are the costs if you decide to be represented)

pareho ha' yanggen måtto i kaosa gi kotte osino åhe'.
(whether the case goes to court or not.)

Tåya' dinagi, tåya' fina'baba, tåya' fina'ga'ga' sinede nu i lai.
(The law allows no deceit, fraud or abuse.)

Yanggen este na manera ni malago' hao ma ayuda
(If you want to be helped in this way)

pues ågang i ofisinan Rosemond Blanco Santos
(then call the office of Rosemond Blanco Santos)

gi numero 234 4357.
(at number 234 4357.)


Abogådo. Lawyer. Many people say abogao (abugao) instead. The female form of the word remains abogåda.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


Life is rarely totally black and white. There is good and bad in almost every facet in life.

Some Spanish governors of the Marianas were well-received by the people; some were not! Some were hard task masters. Some were unfair and unjust in their treatment of people. But one of the main complaints people had against some Spanish governors was financial.

Many Spanish governors considered their assignment to the Marianas a form of exile. Self-seeking Spanish officials saw only one advantage in being sent to the Marianas, especially those who happened to live at the time British and American whaling ships were coming to the Marianas in good numbers in the early 1800s. The Spanish Governor could make some decent money during their short stint on Guam, using the power of the office to demand fees of all kinds from visiting ships. The locals had no money; but a small fortune might be squeezed from whaling ships.

Spanish governors still had to be careful. A few Spanish Governors of the Marianas were, in fact, denounced in Manila and faced charges. But not always.

Here is how one American visitor to Guam described in a newspaper article a story he heard when he visited Guam, if we can assume from the time of publication, in 1895 or 1896.

In February of 1895, an American whaler had anchored in Apra Harbor. The captain was hoping to replenish the ship's food stocks and to give his crew rest and relaxation.

As usual, the Spanish Governor and his officers came on board. Captains knew they had to welcome the Governor and give him the royal treatment. Otherwise, the Governor could make trouble for the visiting ship. The smallest misbehavior by any foreign seaman could result in fines. Seamen could be jailed; ships not allowed to leave port. So, a nice dinner was served on the ship for the Governor and guests.

After the dinner, the Spanish Governor took the American captain aside for a private conversation. The Governor told the captain that he wished to buy an American $20 gold piece to use as a gift to his wife. These gold coins were called "Double Eagles," not because they had two eagles on them, but because they were worth twice the value of the $10 Eagle coins.

An 1877 Double Eagle

At the time, an American Double Eagle was worth 40 Spanish pesos, but the Spanish Governor haggled and got the American captain to sell one to him for only 14 pesos. When asked why he gave in to the Governor's ridiculously low price, the American captain said he had no choice. It's either give in and avoid trouble or irritate the Governor and pay a higher price for it in other ways. The Governor tried to buy more but the captain demurred. At least the Spanish Governor let him get away with that.

Later, the writer of the story says the Governor tried to sell gold coins to him and, when he saw the Governor's collection of gold coins, the Governor had no less than $600 worth of gold coins, most of them American. In current values, $600 would be $18,000.

The Governor of the Marianas in 1895, by the way, was Lt. Col. Emilio Galisteo y Brunenque, who served from late 1894 to late 1895.

Friday, March 1, 2019



It is better to regret backwards than to regret forward.

It is better to have already made a mistake in the past (tåtte/behind) and regret it, than to move ahead (mo'na/ahead) and do something you will learn to regret.

The mistake you made in the past is done. Whatever damage it would have caused, has happened.

But the mistake you make in the future may be bigger than expected; the damage more severe than you think will occur.

Best not to play with fire. Rather than just burn your finger tip, the fire may burn down the whole house.

Mañotsot can also mean "to repent," which means more than just the feeling of regret. To repent means to do something about what you regret, to repair the damage and to change one's life so as not to repeat the same mistake.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019



The three main islands of the Marianas before the war - Guam, Luta and Saipan - Tinian had no stable Chamorro population until after the war - all seem to have had one priest who stood out.

Guam had Påle' Román; Saipan had Påle' Tardio; and Luta had Påle' Pons. His story is one of unusual suffering and religious piety. The people of Luta who knew him at the time considered him something of a saint. Stories about him were passed down to younger generations who, now in their old age, can still remember them.


Juan Pons was born in Manresa, a town in the province of Barcelona, Spain in 1876. He then joined the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) and was ordained a priest in 1911. In 1921 (he was 45 years old already!), he came to Chuuk to serve in the Jesuit missions of the Carolines and Marianas. He even became mission Superior for a time.

In 1935, he was sent to serve in Saipan, and now had to acquaint himself with a new language - Chamorro. It was the style in those days for the priests of Saipan and Luta to switch places every so often, so Pons also got a taste of life in Luta while serving in Saipan.


In 1937, Pons was permanently assigned to Luta. Around that time, the Japanese decided to relocate all the Chamorros from Songsong to a new location in Tatåchok. Songsong would be a totally Japanese community (with their Korean and Okinawan associates), with emphasis on the sugar industry. The big sugar company, the Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha (NKK) paid for the building of a new Catholic church and konbento (priest's residence) in Tatåchok. Pons and a Jesuit brother companion, Miguel Timoner, took up residence there.

All that is left of the konbento Pons lived in at Tatåchok


While in Luta, Pons' suffering began. Ulcers developed on his legs. Supposedly, the condition began while he was still in Chuuk but it seemed minor, at the time. But when he arrived in Luta, the ulcers began to ooze pus and also a clear, watery liquid. Doctor's treatments did nothing to heal it. He even went to Saipan to get medical attention from the Japanese doctors there, to no avail.

So, these awful ulcers became something Pons just had to live with, but not just Pons, but also those who cared for him and those who came in close physical contact with him, because these ulcers also smelled horribly.

Pons accepted his physical suffering with Christian resignation, and did nothing to stop flies from settling on them, which in time produced maggots. It was believed by others that Pons welcomed such mortification.

As the condition worsened, Pons would have to be carried into the church to say Mass. While he stood saying Mass, one or two adult men serving Mass had to wipe away the stinking pus on his legs, brace him up to avoid falling and catch him if he did lose his balance. When Pons distributed communion, two people needed to hold him on both sides. Despite the suffering, Pons never missed a single day of Mass until just a few days before he died.

His signature


What really convinced the people that Pons was a holy man was the way his prayers on their behalf were heeded by God. Perhaps, they believed, God answered his prayers on account of the suffering he willingly endured.

When the farmers needed rain, Pons would look up to the sky, raise his hands and pray. Within hours, the rain would fall. It would be just enough rain, not too much.

When there was too much rain, and the crops were at risk of being damaged, Pons would pray again and, this time, the rain would stop.

When the ocean was too rough, and the fishermen couldn't go out to catch fish, Pons would pray for the sea to calm, and it did. Families could eat that day because the fish was caught.

People tolerated the horrible smell of Father's ulcers because they depended so much on him for these blessings.

These ladies from Luta tell me stories they heard from their parents and elders about Påle' Pons....

  • How he let the flies come around his open sores
  • How his prayers had power over the rain
  • How he foreknew he would be dead in three days


In March of 1944, the Japanese came to Pons' konbento in Tatåchok. The Japanese told him he had to vacate the house; the Japanese would be using it from now on. This was just months before the Americans came to the Marianas and the Japanese were already preparing for it.

The Japanese came back a second time on March 20 only to find Pons (and Brother Timoner) still living in the konbento. "Come back in three days and you can have the house," Pons told the Japanese. It was as if Pons knew in advance what was going to happen.

Pons could not get up from bed from that point on. He stopped saying Mass. On March 23, close to midnight, going into March 24, Pons died. In three days, he said, the Japanese can have the house.

Those taking care of Pons at his death noticed that the ulcers had disappeared, and so did the stench. Brother Timoner, Corbiniano Ayuyu and Bonifacio Esteves buried the body of Father Pons. It remains to this day in San José cemetery, behind San Francisco de Borja Church in Songsong, Luta.




En el año 1937, el P. Pons fue enviado a Rota permanentemente. Alrededor de ese tiempo, los japoneses decidieron mandar a todos los chamorros (los indígenas de las Islas Marianas) en Songsong a una nueva localidad en Tatáchok. Songsong sería una comunidad japonesa (con sus socios coreanos y okinawenses), con énfasis en la industria del azúcar. La impresa grande de azúcar, la Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha o NKK, pagó por el edificio de una nueva iglesia católica y convento en Tatáchok. Pons y un hermano jesuita, Miguel Timoner, fueron a vivir allí.


Cuando llegó a Rota los sufrimientos de Pons empezaron. Las úlceras se le desarollaron en las piernas. Se supone que esa condición empezó cuando él estaba todavía en la isla de Chuuk (o Truk o Ruk, en las Carolinas), pero la condición parecía muy pequeña en ese tiempo. Pero cuando llegó a Rota las úlceras empezaron a tener pus y tambien algo como líquido aguado. Los tratamientos de los doctores japoneses no servieron nada para curarle. Él incluso fue a Saipan (capital de las Marianas japonesas) para que los doctores japoneses le atendieran medicamente pero tampoco sirvió para nada. Así que estas úlceras horribles fueron algo con los que Pons tuvo que aprender a vivir. Pero no solo Pons sino tambien los que le cuidaron y los que acercaban a él. Esas úlceras olían horriblemente. Pons aceptó esto con resignación cristiana y no hizo nada para parar a las moscas por posarse en ellas. En poco tiempo se le produjeron gusanos. Algunos creyeron que Pons se gozaba en esta mortificación.

Cuando la condición se hizo peor Pons tenía que ser llevado a la iglesia a decir Misa. Cuando él se levantaba para decir Misa, uno o dos hombres tenía que limpiar el pus de sus piernas y cogerlo para evitar que cayera en caso de que perdiera su estabilidad. Cuando Pons daba la comunión, dos personas necesitaban sostenerlo en dos lados. A pesar del sufrimiento Pons nunca dejó decir Misa un solo día hasta solo unos días antes de morir.


Lo que de verdad convenció al pueblo que Pons era un hombre santo fue la forma en que Dios escuchaba sus oraciones en favor de ellos. Cuando los labradores necesitaban lluvia, Pons miraba al cielo, levantaba las manos y rezaba. A las pocas horas empezaba a llover. La lluvia era suficiente y no demasiada. Cuando llovía demasiado y las cosechas estaban a punto de perderse, Pons volvía a rezar y esta vez la lluvia paraba. Cuando el mar estaba muy bravo y los pescadores no podían salir a pescar, Pons rezaba para que el mar se calmara y se calmaba. Las familias podían comer ese día por el pescado que habían cojido. La gente toleraba el espantoso olor de las úlceras del Padre porque dependían mucho en él por sus bendiciones.


En marzo de 1944, los japoneses llegaron al convento de Pons en Tatáchok. Le dijeron que tenía que moverse de la casa. Los japoneses la iban a usar de ahora en adelante. Esto fue pocos meses antes que los norteamericanos vinieron a las Marianas y los japoneses estaban ya preparándose para ello. Los japoneses volvieron una segunda vez el 20 de marzo solo para encontrar que Pons y Timoner estaban todavía viviendo en el convento. "Venir dentro de tres días y tendréis la casa," Pons les dijo a los japoneses. Parecía que Pons sabía de antemano lo que le iba a pasar. Pons no se pudo levantar de la cama desde ese momento. Ya no pudo decir Misa. El 23 de marzo cerca de la medianoche Pons murió. El dijo que en tres días los japoneses podían tener la casa.

Los que cuidaron a Pons cuando murió notaron que las úlceras habían desaparecido y tambien el olor. El H. Timoner, Corbiniano Ayuyu y Bonifacio Esteves enterraron a Pons. Hasta este día su cuerpo se conserva en el cementerio de San José detrás de la iglesia de San Francisco de Borja en el pueblo de Songsong, isla de Rota.

Monday, February 25, 2019


This taotaomo'na (ancestral spirits) story was told to me in Luta.

The focus of this story is the invitation to follow the spirits into the jungle. God forbid that ever happens, so the older people say. This is true especially of children, who seem to be the preferred targets of the spirits. When found by searching parents, the child is often mute, or dazed or affected in some other way.

Kada uttimon i semåna, siempre man danña' ham ni familia
(Every end of the week, we the family would surely get together)

gi lanchon-måme giya Teneto na lugåt giya Luta.
(at our ranch in Teneto, a place in Rota.)

Singko pat sais åños ha' yo' edåt-ho annai ma susede este.
(Five or six years only was my age when this happened.)

Ayo na ha'åne, ma tågo' yo' para bai maigo' gi halom guma'
(That day, I was told to sleep inside the house)

gi lancho mientras man machocho'cho' i mañaina-ho yan
(at our ranch while my elders)

i mås man dångkulo na mañe'lu-ho.
(and older siblings worked.)

Gi durånten i maigo'-ho, makmåta yo' sa' hu hungok na guaha
(While I slept, I awoke because I heard that there were)

taotao siha mangåkanta. Annai hu gef ekkungok ginen mano siha,
(people singing. When I listened closely where they were,)

hu repåra na man gaige gi hiyong guma' pues hu baba i kuttina
(I realized that they were outside the house, so I opened the curtain)

ya hu atan huyong. Dios mío sa' hu li'e' un dosena ni man lokka' na
(and I looked outside. My God I saw a dozen tall people)

taotao na mangåkanta yan man babaila gi tatten i gima'. Ti man lini'e' siha ni
(singing and dancing behind the house. They weren't seen by)

familiå-ko sa' man eståba i familiå-ko gi me'nan guma'.
(my family since they were in front of the house.)

Humuyong yo' gi pettan san tatte ya sige de hu atan i
(I went out by the back door and I kept looking at)

man babaila na taotao. Man lokka', man åttilong yan man na'
(the dancing people. They were tall, black and)

ma'añao hechuran-ñiha. Ti hu komprende i lengguåhe ni ma
(their appearance was scary. I didn't understand the language)

såsangan gi kantan-ñiha. Guaha unos kuåntos umatan yo'
(they were speaking in their song. There were a few who looked at me)

ya sige de ma kombida yo' para bai hu tattiye siha gi halom tåno'.
(and kept calling me to follow them into the jungle.)

Ti hu komprende ta'lo i fino'-ñiha, lao hu komprende ha'
(Again I didn't understand their language, but I understood)

gi halom hinasso-ko na ma kombibida yo'. Ma'åñao yo'
(inside my thoughts that they were inviting me. I was afraid)

tumattiye siha lao hu tattiye ha' siha, sa' ha na' malago' yo'
(to follow them but I followed them, because their dancing)

i bailan-ñiha. Siempre hu tattiye siha gi halom tåno'
(made me want to. I would have followed them into the jungle)

lao måtto si tatå-ho ya ha faisen yo' håfa bidådå-ho
(but my father came and asked me what I was doing)

gi sanhiyong sa' pine'lo-ña na mamaigo' yo' gi halom guma'.
(outside because he thought I was sleeping inside the house.)

Ha go'te kanai-ho ya ha konne' yo' hålom. Gigon hu bira
(He grabbed my hand and took me in. As soon as I returned)

yo', esta ti siña hu li'e' i taotaomo'na, ya hu tutuhon tumånges
(I couldn't see the spirits anymore, and I began to cry)

ni diruru. Gi sigiente dia, sige ha' yo' de tumånges ya hu kontinua tumånges
(abundantly. The following day, I kept crying and I continued crying)

gi mina' tres dias. Ma konne' yo' para Saipan para
(on the third day. They took me to Saipan to)

bai ma åmte ni suruhåna. Taotao Karolinas este na suruhåna ya ha palai
(be cured by a folk doctor. This suruhåna was from the Carolines and she anointed)

entero tataotao-ho ni låñan niyok pues man ngångas gue' hågon
(my whole body with coconut oil then she chewed leaves)

halom tåno' pues ha tola'e yo' ni nginangås-ña. Ha sangåne yo'
(from the jungle, then she spat what she chewed on me. She told me)

na ti siña yo' umo'mak asta i sigiente dia. Ai na nina' bubu
(that I couldn't shower till the next day. How irritating)

i para hu siente todo ennao gi lassås-ho! Sigiente dia, ha konne'
(for me to feel all that on my skin! The following day,)

yo' i suruhåna gi kanton tåse ya ha na' o'mak yo' gi tase.
(the suruhåna took me to the beach and made me bathe in the ocean.)

Magåhet na desde ayo, pumåra yo' tumånges.
(It's true that from then on, I stopped crying.)


Karolinas. The suruhåna (folk medicine practitioner) was Carolinian. Carolinians have been living in Saipan since 1815 or so. Chamorros call them by various name, including taotao Karolinas (people of the Carolines).


is not far from the main village of Songsong

Thursday, February 21, 2019


In Luta they have an old custom called på'ot.

When a newborn baby is unusually bothered or can't stop crying, or perhaps is experiencing the opposite and is unusually quiet, making no sound, perhaps even keeping his mouth wide open without a sound, people believe that something happened while the baby was still in the mother's womb. The child heard something going on outside the womb, and was affected by it.

One lady with roots in Luta told me how it happened to her child.

She was carrying her child in her womb and one of her male relatives decided that day to kill a chicken to make lunch. He went out to the coop and chose one chicken. Then, with some of the family members hanging around, including the pregnant lady, the man killed the chicken by wringing its neck. Obviously the chicken let out a squeal as it fought for its life.

When the baby was born, the mother noticed it wouldn't cry much. At times, the baby had its mouth wide open, but made no sound. The baby also had something like a blank look in its eyes.

She expressed this concern to her mother, who was born and raised in Luta and who knew something about traditional herb medicines and practices. The mother listened to her daughter's concerns and replied, "Debe de u ma på'ot i nene." "The baby needs to go through på'ot."

Another lady told me that a wild pig in the jungle was captured and brought to the house to be slaughtered the next day for a party. There was a member of the family who was pregnant at the time. While in captivity, the pig snorted a lot, especially since it was not happy to be caged.

When the baby was born, it also snorted! "Ha hungok nai lossos-ña i babui!" "He heard the snorting of the pig!"

Fermina Blas, a well-known herbal healer from Luta, explains it this way,

Este manhungok este nene nai....
(The child hears....)

taiguihe pa'go i guaha na biåhe na kalan umå'å'a' i patgon 
(as when the child opens it's mouth)

pat eyi i guaha defekto-ña
(or when the child has a defect)

guaha na hiningok gi annai nenene, guaha na manhungok
(there are times it hears, when it is a baby, there are times it hears.)

~ Annai gaige trabia gi halom tuyan nanå-ña.
~ (When it is still in the womb of its mother.)

Guaha este hengok na påtgon
(There are children who listen well)

ya angin håfa bidådå-ña i saina
(and if the mother is doing something)

pat ya-ña este i saina umatan nai
(or the mother likes to look at something)

guaha na manhungok i patgon.
(there are times the child hears it.)


In order to bring the child back to normal, the mother can wave her hand over the child, especially when the child is sleeping, and say

Takhungok, takhungok.
båsta manli'e', båsta manhungok.

Good of hearing, good of hearing.
Stop seeing, stop hearing.

Takhungok means "someone who hears very well." Hungok means "to hear" and the prefix tak means "good," "well," or "very much." We see it in taklalo', meaning "someone who gets angry a lot."

Others say,

Takhungok, takhungok, båsta manhungok.
Takli'e', takli'e', båsta manli'e'.

Good of hearing, good of hearing, stop hearing.
Good of seeing, good of seeing, stop seeing.

Other people say the child should be brought into the jungle, and some say at night when no one can see them. Some also say if a suruhåna (folk doctor) can do it, all the better.

Monday, February 18, 2019



In 1853, eight years before the American Civil War, a Chamorro seaman named Benjamin Crowell, got married in an African American Baptist church in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Crowell is not a Chamorro surname, but many Chamorro whaling men in the 1800s changed their names, both their given names and their family names. They changed them in all sorts of ways, but sometimes completely! A Chamorro named José de la Cruz might become Arthur Washington, for all we know, once he settled in the United States.

Benjamin was 29 years old, so born around 1824, though people were notoriously imprecise about their ages back then. Many times it was all guess work. Sometimes they told outright lies, to be older or younger as the benefit may be.

He stated that his father's name was Pedro Crowell. The Pedro is believable; the Crowell, not so much.

It's no surprise that he ended up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, one of the main whaling centers of the United States in the 1800s. Quite a number of Chamorro men ended up there, some of them settling there for good.

His bride was Mary Anderson, a native of New York. The minister officiating at their wedding was the Rev. Cummings Bray, who was pastor of Second Baptist Church in New Bedford. That church, located on Middle Street, was founded for African Americans in 1844. The church served as a station for the Underground Railroad, sheltering runaway slaves moving from the South to the North.

Why Benjamin got married in an African American church is a mystery. Was it on account of his (we assume) dark brown skin? Was it on account of his wife Mary's race (we are not sure what it was)? Was it on account of an altogether different reason?

In 1863, Benjamin got married again. His second wife was Elizabeth Howland. They were married by a Justice of the Peace. In this record, Benjamin's parents are listed as Peter and Sarah Crowell.


Friday, February 15, 2019


Kao manhongge hao gi magåhet na guinaiya?
(Do you believe in true love?)

Eståba dos na asagua ni sen umaguaiya i dos.
(There were two spouses who really loved each other.)

Un dia, ilek-ña i lahe gi asaguå-ña, "Kerida, desde ke umassagua hit na dos,
(One day, the husband said to his wife, "Sweetheart, ever since the two of us got married,

tåya' ni un biåhe na ti humihita na dos maigo'.
(there was not even one time that we didn't sleep together.)

Promete yo' na masea håye dumingo este na tåno' fine'na,
(Promise me that whoever leaves this earth first,)

siempre ma håfot i uttimo måtai gi mismo naftån-ña i fine'na."
(the last to die will surely be buried in the same grave as the first.")

Ya taiguennao kontråtan-ñiha i dos.
(And that was how the two agreed.)

Måtai i lahe fine'na, ya para bente åños lumuluto i palao'an ha'åne yan puenge.
(The husband died first, and for twenty years the wife wore black day and night.)

Ti un li'e' i biuda solo gi halom guma'yu'us yan gi propio gumå'-ña.
(You wouldn't see the widow except inside the church and in her own house.)

Taiguennao tinaddong-ña i piniten i bumiudå-ña.
(That was how deep the pain was of her widowhood.)

En fin, kontodo i biuda måtai yan taimano ha' i kontråtan-ñiha i dos,
(Finally, the widow also died and as the two had agreed,)

ma guåddok i naftan i lahe pot para u ma håfot i palao'an.
(they dug up the grave of the husband in order to bury the wife.)

Annai måtto gi ataut i lahe, ma baba i ataut, ha estira i kanai-ña
(When they reached the husband's coffin, the coffin opened, the dead man )

i matai na låhe ni puro' ha' to'lang
(stretched out his bony hand)

ya ha go'te i kanai i matai na asaguå-ña.
(and grasped the hand of his dead wife.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019



(Bird sleep)

Have you ever seen birds taking a nap while perched on a tree branch or utility cable? Do you notice how they bow their heads slightly, but wake up quickly every few seconds or so, because of a noise?

Some older Chamorros use that image when they see someone dozing off while sitting up. Just as soon as their chin hits their chest, they snap out of it and lift their head. Only to doze off again after a few seconds. Again the cycle repeats.

The sight reminded them of the way birds do the same when they nap on tree branches and other places. Maigo' paluma. Bird sleep.

Maigo' paluluma este na palao'an.

Monday, February 11, 2019


Trust our mañaina (elders) to come up with a descriptive Chamorro name for a bell clapper; the hanging metal piece that strikes the bell from the inside.

We didn't have bells until the Spanish came and brought them with them, for use in the church, primarily. Thus our word for "bell" is borrowed from the Spanish - kampåna (in Spanish, campana).

So the Chamorro word for the clapper can also be the Spanish name for it, which is badajo (or badåho in Chamorro).

Our elders also called it the panak kampåna (bell striker).

But two other old dictionaries give us descriptive Chamorro terms for the clapper.

Von Preissig (1918) calls it the CHILIN KAMPÅNA.

Påle' Román (1932) calls it the DAMMUT KAMPÅNA.

Both chili and dammut mean the male organ.

Go figure.

Friday, February 8, 2019


One of the things that makes the English language so flexible is the wide choice of different words meaning, more or less, the same thing.

To describe someone powerful, you can use the words durable, forceful, vigorous, robust and many other words.

The reason why English can do this is because English borrows words from all over the place. The word strong is from German roots, while the words durable and robust are from Latin roots.

Chamorro also borrows from more than one language, but especially from Spanish, the language of the government of the Marianas from 1668 till 1898 (and 1899 in the Northern Marianas).

While the indigenous language has a word for "life," being lina'la', and "to live" being "lå'la'," our forebears also adopted the Spanish word vida or "life." Our pronunciation for it is bida.


The main meaning in Chamorro of bida is "action" or "activity." Certainly, action and activity are signs of life.

Håfa bidå-ña? What did s/he do?

But we can also ask, "Håfa ha cho'gue?" and mean the exact same thing, "What did s/he do?" but using the indigenous term cho'gue ("to do").

Tåya' bidådå-ña. "S/he is doing nothing."

Bida can also be used in a passive sense, meaning "what is done to someone else."

Ai ma bidå-ña! "Oh my, what was done to him!"

Tai bida ("without action or activity") can be used to describe a person with nothing to do.

Malabida is a word meaning "bad life," but can mean a person who has done something wrong.


But Chamorro also uses bida to mean "life" itself. Fewer and fewer Chamorro speakers use the word in this way, but old writings clearly use it, even though we have had long before the Spaniards our own word for "life," which is lina'la'. So, we have two ways to say "life" in Chamorro : bida and lina'la'.

So, in the example above, from the Apostles' Creed, we can say "taihinekkok na bida" to say "everlasting life," or we can also say, "taihinekkok na lina'la'." In fact, we switch between the two depending on the island or even depending on the techa (prayer leader).

In this hymn from Saipan (which has spread elsewhere), the title of the song is "Jesus Bidå-ho," meaning "Jesus My Life." But one could just as easily say, "Jesus Lina'lå'-ho," "Jesus My Life."

In a Guam hymn entitled "Jesus Pån-måme," or "Jesus Our Bread," there is a line that goes

Yåfai yan mahgef i minetgot-ho
sa' ti dumanña' hao gi bidå-ho,

which means

Tired and weak is my strength
because you are not joined to my life.

And there is a hymn to Saint Joseph that says,

Gef adahe, San Jose, i bidå-ho
på'go yan i oran i finatai-ho.

Watch over my life well, Saint Joseph,
now and at the hour of my death.

So there you have it.

Two ways to say "life." Lina'la' and bida. One indigenous to the Marianas and the other borrowed from Spanish.


Because we have incorporated many Spanish words into the Chamorro language, we actually have a linguistic connection with Latin, the language of ancient Rome. Because Rome conquered so much of Western Europe, the Latin language was planted there and over time developed into Italian, Spanish, French and many other languages and dialects of those languages.

So,  in Spain, the Latin word for "life," vita became vida. Then Spanish vida became Chamorro bida.

From Latin vita we get English words based on vita, since French also influenced English. Some of those words are vital, vitamin and vitality.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019


Age 20 years in 1928

There's not much to this story, sad as it is. But it's not often we can look into the eyes in a photograph of a Chamorro born over 100 years ago.

Miguel Garrido, like many young Chamorro men, left Guam on a ship in search of a better life, so they believed. Many of them did settle down elsewhere and did well for themselves. Not all of them did.

Miguel, it seems, arrived in San Francisco from Manila in 1926. At least one Miguel Garrido from Guam, born in 1907, appears on a passenger list that year.

It didn't take long, however, for Miguel to find himself in trouble. Just the following year, he was arrested and charged with rape. He was found guilty and sentenced up to 50 years. In January 1928 he entered the gates of San Quentin Prison. He stood 5 foot seven and weighed 133 pounds. He was 20 years old, so born in 1907 as mentioned before.

There was a Miguel Garrido born in Guam in 1907. His full name was Miguel Sablan Garrido, the son of José Garrido and María Agüero Sablan.

He and his family appear in the 1920 Guam census as living in Malesso'. His mother had passed away already. He was only 13 years old and without a mother.

Garrido served 10 years at San Quentin and was paroled in 1938. He died just two years later in 1940, at the age of 33 years. RIP

Wednesday, January 30, 2019



Based on an American visitor to Guam's description of a wedding feast he attended in 1895 or 1896.

The daughter of Félix, one of the richest men on Guam, is going to get married and Félix does nothing half-hearted. It is to be a grand feast.

The chubby father of the bride greets you with a handshake at his home. Crates of beer and claret wine are being brought in, as women in the rear of the house bake in an outside oven (hotno). They smile and wish you a "buenos dias." Young boys are tending an outside fire meant to roast a pig. A neighbor brings in bananas (aga') and oranges (kåhet) as a gift. On the floor, to the side, lay a big pile of yams and taro (dågo and suni). An old woman is grinding cacao, which was often made into chocolate for drinking.

Later that night, you walk to the groom's house which you easily identify among the neighboring homes because of the noise of the fiddle and accordion. There, the groom is having his own party. The Chamorros all know how to dance the waltz (båtso) and the Virginia reel. Margarita, a member of the family, escorts you by the arm into the party. On one table one finds various breads, tropical jellies, fruits, cakes, chicken, meat and fish.

Maybe your great grandmother danced this on Guam in the 1800s

On another table are wine, beer, gin and tuba (coconut toddy). Our American visitor is introduced to the groom's sister, who agrees to dance with him, her black eyes alive with excitement. After the dance, he must drink wine with her. In comes the groom, named Juan, accompanied by his male friends, who all tease him about the troubles of married life he is about the enter. In the corner is the groom's mother, puffing away at her cigar, made from local tobacco. He asks her for a dance, old as she is, to which she gives a curious look. Are you joking? But when she gets up to dance, she proves she's not as old as she looks.

All throughout the 1800s, visitors described how Chamorro women loved smoking cigars

The American now goes to the bride's party. Her father Félix owns a piano, which is being put to good use for the evening. In a prominent chair sits the bride's mother Guadalupe, and some plump, older ladies sit in their own chairs nearby, making remarks about this or that lady's attire. The bride is twirling on the dance floor with a Spanish officer. The Spanish officers go to all the parties, whether they are invited or not.

If you tire of dancing, there are always games of chance at these parties. And if you get bored at one party, you go the second one. Neither party will end soon, anyway. These parties go on till just before the sun rises.


Although the newspaper article does not give last names, even first names are enough of a clue.

When the writer said that Félix was one of the richest men on the island, and that his wife was named Guadalupe, that was enough for me to think of Félix Díaz Torres and his wife Guadalupe Crisóstomo Martínez. Félix was one of the manakkilo' (high status) Torreses. His brother Luís, for example, was a Manila-educated teacher and government official. Another brother, Juan, was island treasurer under American Governor Leary.

Félix and Guadalupe did have a daughter Josefa who married a Juan, Juan Anderson Millinchamp.

I'd put my last dollar that this American visitor had been a guest at the wedding parties of Juan Anderson Millinchamp and Josefa Martínez Torres.

Félix Díaz Torres

Monday, January 28, 2019


A young Hawaiian male and female

Whaling ships, which visited the Marianas with much frequency in the 1800s, were notorious for grabbing and disposing crew members left and right.

At times it was difficult to recruit whalers, so many a captain resorted to questionable methods to put men (and sometimes women) on their ships. It was not unheard of to lure men onto the ship for a party, get them drunk then pull out to sea while they were inebriated. When the poor lad woke up, he was many miles from home.

Sometimes, when a crew member or members became problems, such as with illness, or if they were trouble-makers, these whalers were conveniently "forgotten" on shore when the ship ventured off again.

It is a credit to the Hawaiian Government at the time that they pursued, perhaps at the urging of relatives, information about Hawaiians who left on a whaling ship and were not heard from again.

The Hawaiian Government wrote letters to Manila inquiring about four such Hawaiians reported to be on Guam. The Governor of the Marianas, Pablo Pérez, made the reply to the Hawaiian Government in 1849.

Pérez informed the Hawaiian Government that two Hawaiians, a brother and a sister, named John Tahuane and Maria (maybe Mary?) Tahuane were, in fact, left behind on Guam by a French whaling captain named Debats of the ship Gustave. But, Pérez said, he had put the pair on an American whaling ship, the Howard, in January of 1849, and had a signed, written promise by the captain, Alexander Bunker, that he would repatriate the siblings back to Hawaii.

In addition, Pérez said there was another Hawaiian, named Kalehuahi, who was abandoned on Guam due to illness by his captain, named Coteel, of the American whaling ship the Alabama. But Kalehuahi died on his illness on May 14 and was, we can assume, buried on Guam.

Besides these three individuals, there were no other Hawaiians on Guam to the best of Pérez's knowledge as of that date. Two other Hawaiians the Government inquired about were unknown to anyone on Guam.

Because trans Pacific sailing, especially due to the whaling ships, was frequent in the 1800s, our Chamorro ancestors were acquainted with indigenous Hawaiians, and adopted the sometimes offensive term kanaka to describe them.

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Based on a true story from 1903.

Hagas ti man afamaolek i familian Vicenta yan i familian José.
(Vicenta's family and José's family did not get along in the past.)

Man besino siha giya Yoña.
(They were neighbors in Yoña.)

I lanchon Vicenta eståba gi kattan i chalan.
(Vicenta's ranch was to the north/east of the street.)

I lanchon José eståba gi lichan i chalan.
(José's ranch was to the south/west of the street.)

Un dia, mamomokat si Vicenta yan i yetno-ña as Manuel gi chalan gi entalo' i dos låncho,
(One day, Vicenta and her son-in-law Manuel were walking on the road between the two ranches,)

ya umessalao si José, "Håfa na mamomokat hamyo guennao na chålan?"
(and José shouted, "Why are you walking on that road?"

Manoppe si Vicenta, "Ya måno na chålan malago'-mo para in pokåte?"
(Vicenta answered, "And on what road do you want us to walk?")

Manoppe si José, "Famokkat nai gi chalan para sasalåguan!"
(José answered, "Walk on the road to hell!")

På'go si Manuel ha oppe si José,
(Manuel now answered José,)

"Ti in tingo' ayo na chålan para sasalåguan.
("We don't know that road to hell.)

Lao yanggen hågo tumungo' måno nai gaige,
(But if you know where it is,)

pues hågo un chule' ayo na chålan!"
(then you take that road!")

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


A Chamorro classic by Johnny Sablan

1. Buenas noches Marikita / kao siña yo' un na' hålom
(Good evening Marikita / can you let me inside)

ya ta hihita man rega nu / i man fresko siha na hånom.
(and water together  / with fresh water.)

REFRAIN : Kao mungnga hao? Kao mungnga hao? Sa' hunggan yo', nene.
Will you not? Will you not? Because I am willing, baby.

2. Ti ya-mo åttilong na taotao / lao gof ya-mo i fanihi
(You don't like dark-skinned people / but you like the fruit bat)

ya hu desesea kerida na / un guaiya yo' taiguine.
(and I desire sweetheart that / you love me in the same way.)

3. Åttilong yo' nai na taotao / åttilong ti ma guaiya
(I am a dark-skinned person / dark-skinned persons aren't loved)

lao gef atan nu i dos matå-mo / sa' un dia un fina' baba.
(but look well at your two eyes / for one day they will deceive you.)

4. Ti pinite yo' as nåna / komo hågo yo' kumonne'
(I won't feel bad for mama / if you are the one to take me)

komo humihita chumochocho / ai masea linemmok donne'.
(if we eat together / oh, even if it's just crushed chili pepper.)

5. I famalao'an ni man dudus / man gof andi' i lalåhe
(The flirtatious women / the show-off guys)

an un pala'i labios-mo libistik / siempre ha' un ma essitane.
(if you smear your lips with lipstick / you will surely be mocked.)

6. Ti guåho na klåsen taotao / para hu tohge gi flores-mo
(I'm not the kind of person / to stand on your flowers)

lao måtto yo' para hu konsuela hao / annai hu hungok i tanges-mo.
(but I came to comfort you / when I heard your weeping.)

Monday, January 21, 2019


"Tea" in Chamorro in chå. It's the same word for tea in many Chinese languages; in Korean, Japanese (ocha) and Filipino (tsaa).

But tea didn't grow in the Marianas, so the word chå must have been adopted from other people who called "tea" cha. But from who?

The Spanish word for "tea" is . Why didn't the Chamorros borrow the Spanish word , as they did so many other Spanish words?


With few exceptions, the world has only two ways to say "tea." Both ways originate in China, where the plant was cultivated before anyone in Europe or America knew anything about it.

For much of China, "tea" is cha, and that word spread to Korea and Japan, and also to those places where tea was carried over land by merchants. Land routes carrying tea and other goods from China reached Persia (where cha became chay); Russia (where cha also became chai) and Arabia (where it became shay).

But a coastal area of China called Fujian says te for "tea." Where tea was exported by ship from Fujian, the word te went with it. This is how English got the word tea, and French thé and Dutch thee. The Spanish word for tea is .

Interestingly, the Filipino word for tea is tsaa, even though the great majority of Chinese in the Philippines have roots in Fujian, where tea is called te.


You would think that, if the Spaniards were the first to bring tea to the Marianas, we would also use their word for it - . But we don't.

Dutch and English ships also came to the Marianas now and then. We don't use a word similar to theirs for tea. When American ships started coming to the Marianas in the early 1800s, we didn't borrowing their word for tea, either.

Instead, we use a word coming from the majority of China, and Korea and Japan. But, other than Choco in the time of Sanvitores, we don't know of any Chinese living in the Marianas in the 1600s. And how much tea could Choco have had, if any? He was a castaway, anyway, who probably landed here with not a whole lot of possessions. Did Choco grow tea? If he did, from what source, having been a castaway? Tea didn't grow well in the Marianas. Safford (writing around 1905) says that they tried to grow tea on Guam, but it failed.

Chinese immigrants moved to Guam in the late 1850s and into the 1860s and after. They might have brought small supplies of tea, and relied on incoming British and American ships to sell them more. But almost all of these Chinese immigrants were from Fujian, where the word for tea is te, not cha.

That leaves Japanese merchants. Their word for tea is ocha. But the Japanese traders didn't start coming to the Marianas until the 1890s, and the Chamorros already had the word chå for "tea" since
1865 (or before) when Ibåñez wrote his Spanish-Chamorro dictionary and chå appears there as the Chamorro word for tea.

Perhaps the Filipinos, who always had a trickle of people coming to the Marianas in the 1700s and 1800s, brought the word chå to the Marianas.

Who knows? It's a mystery why Chamorros did not borrow the Spanish word for tea, and it's a mystery from whom they did borrow the word chå.