Even today, despite much Americanization and loss of the older culture, a Chamorro funeral is not quite the same as a funeral in the US mainland. Unless, of course, the funeral in the US mainland is that of a Chamorro; then it is possible, to some extent, to have the same feel there as a Chamorro funeral in the Marianas.
But many people are not aware of all the aspects of the old-time Chamorro funerals.
Take, for example, the way children were buried a hundred and more years ago.
To give us a little glimpse of that, let's hear from the pen of a German Catholic missionary in Saipan, writing around the year 1910. What he describes would have applied to Guam, as well, since the Chamorros in Saipan originated in Guam. Some of them in 1910 would have just moved from Guam to Saipan a few years before. And, the missionaries on Guam during the same period have the same things to say about children's funerals on Guam as this German missionary says.
Before I share what he said, a few remarks are necessary to prepare you for it :
2. Our Chamorro grandparents and great grandparents were very knowledgeable about Catholic teaching concerning the death of a baptized child. According to Catholic belief, a baptized child is free of Original Sin, the sin of Adam and Eve which closed the door of heaven to the human race. Since the child is not old enough to commit his or her own sins (lying, stealing and so on), the child is not guilty of sin that would send him or her to hell, nor even Purgatory which a place of purification for those who die in the state of grace but who need cleansing from imperfections. The baptized child who dies goes straight to heaven and is like an angel. Thus, there should be happiness that the child is in the perfect joy of heaven. Furthermore, there is no need to pray for the soul of the child.
Our great grandparents expressed this happiness that a child has entered heaven in a manner that faded in time, such that even you and I would find it strange, as you will see when you read on.
3. What follows now is a LOOSE TRANSLATION of the German article written by Father Gallus Lehmann in 1910 about the funeral of a child in Saipan. It is not an exact translation since my knowledge of German doesn't allow it to be exact. But, I can assure you it is faithful to the general ideas expressed by Father Gallus.
(1) Chamorro women traditionally (even before European contact) expressed emotions at the death of a family member in very loud and dramatic ways, as can be seen also in many other cultures. Some people think it can be just a lot of show, at times. It is suggested by Fr Gallus that, in this case, the loud screaming was a way of notifying the neighborhood that someone had just died. It was a custom to leave the house lights on all night, inside and out. When people passed by at 2AM to see a house all lit up, it was a sign that there was a death in that house. Since in this case the child during the day, a scream was needed.
(2) Thus not even a funeral Mass was celebrated many times in the old days. This was because the body had to be buried soon, and one couldn't wait till the next day to arrange a Mass. A priest could be called more quickly for a simple burial. In those days, too, the priest had to say Mass early in the morning (4AM even) because the rules for fasting before Mass or communion were more strict than today. From midnight on, a priest could not even drink water before saying Mass. So a funeral Mass at 1PM was unthinkable.
(3) Many foreign observers in the 1800s mentioned the particular fondness Chamorro women had for smoking cigars. They didn't mention the men (who also smoked, but the women stood out). The tobacco was grown locally.
(4) Apparently an old custom was for children to carry the corpse of a child to the cemetery.
(5) Fr Gallus is using a judgment here, calling the wild actions of the mother "pagan" or "unchristian." Christian grief is supposed to be tempered by hope in the resurrection. Those who do not believe in the resurrection from the dead through Christ's resurrection (the pagans) can go overboard all they want, but the Christian can't. But there is something cultural, not theological, going on here Fr Gallus may not have been attuned to.'
(6) The shock is that the Chamorro musicians were playing a totally non-religious German folk song at a funeral. Here are some of the words of that song :