Friday, January 18, 2019


Perhaps because a new administration has just taken office on Guam, some people are wondering how to say "Lieutenant Governor" in Chamorro.

For many years already, the usual way most people say "Lieutenant Governor" in Chamorro is :


or, perhaps spelled Sigundo Maga'låhe or Segundu/Sigundu Maga'låhe.

Sigundo Maga'låhen Guåhan
"The Lieutenant Governor of Guam"

Segundo means "Second" and is borrowed from Spanish.

Segundo, by the way, is also a proper name, meaning a first name for a male. That's because most people in the past were named after saints and there are actually more than one Saint Secundus, in Spanish, San Segundo.

Maga'låhe is one way to say "Governor" and is an indigenous term, not borrowed from Spanish. It was the word for "chief" that was used at the time the Spaniards came to the Marianas.

It comes from two words. The first is må'gas, meaning "great." The second is låhe, meaning "man." The S in må'gas is dropped when combining the two words. When combined, the word means "great man." Thus, "chief."

But, over time, the Chamorros, whose chiefs all disappeared when the island politics changed, applied the word maga'låhe to the islands' Governor.

There are two issues, to my mind, created by the term "Segundo Maga'låhe."

The first is that maga'låhe is used. Today we have a woman governor. She is now being called the maga'håga ("great daughter"). But the Lieutenant Governor is being called "the Second Great Man." Is there a first "Great Man?" Is his superior also a male? No. She is a håga. Daughter. So how can there be a Second Great Man if there is no First Great Man.

And suppose we had (again) a woman Lieutenant Governor (as in the days of Lt Gov Madeleine Bordallo). If we called her the Segundo Maga'håga, does that mean there is a First Great Daughter? That her superior is also female?

The second issue is that segundo is used. If the Lieutenant Governor is the Second Governor, do we now have two governors? A first and a second?

Both these terms seem a bit problematic to me, although I do concede that they may not be problematic to anyone else in the universe but me.

So what, then, would be an alternative?

The above name for the position "Lieutenant Governor" is traditional and avoids the messiness of calling one a maga'låhe and another a maga'håga, or calling someone a "Second Governor," implying that we have two governors.

The first word in this title is a word the older people remember, but not the younger. A teniente was the second-in-command, the vice or the assistant.

Take another look at the English word we use for Lieutenant Governor.

LIEU + TENANT (teniente)

LIEU comes from French and means "place."

TENANT also comes from French (and all the way back to Latin) and means "holder."

Think of the person renting an apartment as the tenant. Our word maintenance comes from "holding" (tenance) by the "hand" (main, French from the Latin word for hand, manus, as in "manual").

A lieutenant is a "place holder." When the Governor is away, the Lieutenant Governor holds the place of the Governor.

The Marianas under Spain were full of tenientes. Take a look at this list of officials in Hagåtña during Spanish times :

At the top of this document it says "City of Agaña."

Then we see the name of Don (Sir) Mariano Luxan. He was the Governadorcillo ("little governor"), something like a town mayor, of Hagåtña. Don't worry about the X in Luxan (Lujan). For the Spanish in those days, X and J often had the same sound if it came before a vowel. Think of Don Quixote, or Oaxaca in Mexico (itself pronounced me - hi - co in Spanish).

But the next official, the second-in-command to Don Mariano, is Don Pedro Pangilinan (same as Pangelinan), who is called the - TENIENTE!

By using the word teniente, it is clear that we don't have a "second" Governor. We have only one Governor. But, we also have someone who holds the place of the Governor when she or he is absent. A Lieu-TENANT Govenor. Teniente.

Next, by using the word Gobietno (Governor), there is no issue of gender. The older meaning of maga'låhe, anyway, did NOT mean the ruler of the whole island. Before the Spaniards came, maga'låhe meant "chief," and there were many in one village and hundreds all over the island and in the neighboring islands. When all the Chamorro maga'låhe disappeared, due to the Spanish conquest, our ancestors applied the title to the Spanish Governor, of all things!

Believe me or not, in the 1970s or 1980s, I did see a campaign sign in Chamorro, asking voters to support someone for Gobietno and another person for Teniente Gobietno.

But I didn't know I'd have a blog one day, so I didn't take a photo of the sign.

This entry from Francisco Valenzuela's Chamorro Dictionary from the 1960s shows that teniente was a known word among our elders. And, as you can see, it means second-in-command.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Washing in the Hagåtña River

The image of the old Chamorro grandmother as a sweet and cuddly matron is a figment of the imagination. Certainly there were many of those - but not all grandmothers were like that!

Many grandmothers, mothers and godmothers in the old days were strict disciplinarians, quick to use corporal punishment with all the strength of their seventy-year-old hands.

Take for example Manuela Manalisay Dueñas in 1903.

Manuela had a goddaughter, Joaquina Materne, aged 18 years old.

Joaquina was washing clothes in the river in Hagåtña one Thursday. Catalina Crisóstomo Cruz was there, as well, washing clothes in the river. Up came the godmother Manuela, who called her goddaughter Joaquina out of the river. As soon as Joaquina came up, Manuela whacked her repeatedly with a bamboo cane (båston piao).

Manuela withdrew and Joaquina went back to washing. But a short time later, godmother Manuela came back and this time beat Joaquina with a stick of ordinary wood.

Two days later, Manuela called Joaquina to her house, where she attacked her goddaughter with a piece of cord or rope. Catalina Bae Cruz was a witness to that. Joaquina filed a complaint in court against her own godmother.

Manuela admitted to the court that she beat her goddaughter Joaquina on those occasions. But, she argued, she was within her rights. Joaquina had disobeyed her and she, as godmother, had every right to punish her.

Unfortunately for Manuela, the law was not on her side. Even though she was godmother (matlina, nina) to Joaquina, what she did to Joaquina was a crime, according to the Código Penal (Penal Code) at the time. This was the same Spanish Penal Code used in the Marianas before the Americans came, so it can't be said that this was all American thinking.

In Chamorro culture, the godmother had a lot of say over her godchildren. Think of the legend of Sirena, and how her godmother mitigated the curse pronounced by Sirena's own mother.

But, even under Spanish law, the godmother could not do whatever she wanted to her godchild. Corporal punishment had its limits even then.

Manuela was fined and had to pay court costs.

The question is : did Joaquina involve her godmother in her wedding later in life? Or anything else later in life? Or was this relationship broken forever?

Godmother Manuela Dueñas' signature

Monday, January 14, 2019


Slocum's article in 1889

A lot of wild and fantastic things have been said about the Marianas over the years, up to the present. Some of it is borne out of ignorance, and some of it is invented because it's entertaining to the purveyors of tall tales.

Apparently, one such fanciful tale was that you could get eaten up by cannibals if your ship happened to take you to Guam in the 1800s.

The story was that a 16-year-old boy had been captured at Guam and fattened by the natives to be the main course in a banquet.

Every westerner who sailed the Pacific in those days could have set the record straight.

One did; a rather colorful seaman named Joshua Slocum.

Slocum on the Spray

A Canadian-turned-American, Slocum was a veteran seaman who could be found in all the world's oceans. He spent a good deal of time in the Philippines and almost anywhere else you could imagine. At least once, we know, he set foot on Guam in 1879 on his way from Hawaii to Manila. On Guam, he replenished his water and food supplies, and visited Hagåtña while his ship lay in Apra Harbor.

Slocum wrote to a newspaper in 1889 mocking the report of cannibalism on Guam. He wrote that Guam had no cannibals and was a Spanish colony for a long time already. It was a place frequently visited by many ships to stock up on water, coconuts, yams, sweet potatoes, pigs and goats, all in abundance.

"One of the pleasantest days of my life was spent on this pleasant island off there in the Pacific Ocean," he wrote.

Slocum later achieved fame by being the first human being to sale around the world all alone, on his boat, the Spray, between 1895 and 1898.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


Vice and virtue have no favorites. They can be found, sometimes in equal measure, among all races, ages and genders.

Take for example Joaquina del Rosario, better known as Joaquina'n Dalalai.

Joaquina was at the top of the list of Guam's "bad girls" in the early 1900s. She was hauled into court on more than one occasion.

In 1903, Joaquina went to the home of Manuel Asunción, who was selling island moonshine called åguayente. Åguayente was a stronger liquor than tuba, although it was often made from tuba. But åguayente could be made from almost anything that contains sugar.

Joaquina bought three cups of åguayente for one reåt each. A reåt (in Spanish, real; pronounced ray - al) was a coin found in the Spanish colonies and in Latin American countries.

Those three cups were enough to make Joaquina terribly drunk and she went around Hagåtña being a nuisance. She stopped outside the house of Juana Acosta and started yelling obscenities at her. "Puñetera! Karåho! Puta! Demonio! Animåt!" The whole neighborhood could hear her. There must have been bad blood already between Joaquina and Juana.

The police came and apprehended her. As she was disorderly in public, there was no want of witnesses. She was sentenced to serve a short time in the city jail.

Later, Joaquina'n Dalalai would be arrested for something more serious than public intoxication. But that's a story for a future post.

Åguayente, by the way, is the Chamorro version of the Spanish word aguardiente, made up of two words : agua (meaning "water") and ardiente (meaning "fiery"). Fire water!

Chamorros of the early 1800s distilling åguayente

Monday, January 7, 2019


An older man was telling me how he would go on and on, talking to his mother when he was a child, making bold claims as he talked to her.

His mother was not impressed with what he was saying, as teenagers often become inflated with self-importance or become over-confident in what they are saying.

To cut him back down to size, his mother said to him, "Ya kao si Påle' Lottot hao?" "And are you Father Lottot?"

The thing is that the man himself had no idea what lottot meant. His mother used the expression, and she was born in the early 1900s. We knew that påle' meant "priest," but neither of us knew what lottot meant.

From the context we knew that "Påle' Lottot" was not a term of endearment. If by calling him Påle' Lottot, the mother was more or less telling him that he was full of baloney when he talked, we knew that lottot must have meant something disparaging.

According to all the more recent dictionaries, lottot means "full of lice."

But when I checked Påle' Román's older (1932) dictionary, he says that lottot means tina in Spanish, and tina in Spanish means a tub, or basin or a large jar. But this might be an error or a typo. Perhaps Påle' Román meant tiña, not tina. Tiña means a ringworm or a kind of mite that attacks beehives. That would correspond more with "lice."

But Påle' Román's dictionary solved the mystery by adding that "Påle' Lottot" means "a false priest or minister."

Those were the days of strong religious bias, with Catholics mocking Protestants and Protestants mocking Catholics. The Protestant missionaries came to Guam in the early 1900s claiming to be preachers of God's word. Catholic missionaries would have opposed that claim. Mockery and ridicule were found everywhere in the world, and Chamorros weren't outdone in that either. I am not surprised, then, that someone considered a false preacher was called a "lice-filled priest" in those days.

Thursday, January 3, 2019


Today we simply call it "Government House" but, for some time during the Spanish period, the area was called Kasamåta, or in Spanish Casamata. It's mentioned in some Spanish-era documents.

That word has a meaning in Spanish. It means a domed structure where artillery is placed. Here's one photographic example of a casamata :

So, it seems possible that an actual casamata was built there. The location makes sense for one, and an actual fort was built close by at Apugan, Fort Santa Águeda.

vigía, or lookout point, is indicated at Fort San Ågueda by Governor Villalobos in 1833.

What the pre-Spanish name of the place was, if there had been one, is unknown to me unless and until we find some evidence for it.