It was because of a science project in 8th grade that I first came to know something more about the suruhåno and suruhåna (folk doctors) of our islands.
I chose for my topic traditional Chamorro medicine, made up mainly of herbs, flowers and roots, and put together by the suruhåno. So I asked an aunt to take me around to a few suruhåna to learn more about this art.
It was then that I learned, "We must choose our suruhåna carefully."
"What does that mean?" I asked. My aunt replied, "Some suruhåno have ga'chong. You can also say these suruhåno are gai' taotao. These are spirit friends who tell the suruhåno information that ordinarily cannot be known, or who give the suruhåna powers ordinary people do not have."
"Like what, for example?" I asked further.
"A suruhåno with a ga'chong could tell the person what he did exactly, and where, to anger the taotaomo'na (ancient spirits). That way the suruhåno can tell the person exactly where to go back and apologize to the taotaomo'na."
"Or, the ga'chong can give the suruhåno the power to heal, or catch an unusually large quantity of fish, or find a medicinal herb in the jungle hard to find."
BUT THERE IS A PRICE
"What is that?" I asked.
"That suruhåno has to give up God."
"Oh my!" I said with some fear.
"That is why," my aunt said, "we have to chose our suruhåno carefully."
And so I heard for the first time that there were some suruhåno who never went to church. If they couldn't avoid going to church, let's say because it was the funeral of a close relative or friend, the suruhåno with a ga'chong just stayed outside the church door, looking in. He would never enter the church door.
In fact, it was said that there was this one suruhåno who, even if he attempted to put one foot inside the church, an invisible force blocked him from entering.
"Not all suruhåno are gai' taotao or gai' ga'chong," my aunt said. "And even some who have a spirit friend still go to church. But some who have a ga'chong, who have a spirit who tells them secrets and gives them power, some do not go to church. Because it's the devil's knowledge and power."
IMPRESSIVE, BUT FROM THE DEVIL
One man admitted this when he went to see a suruhåno because of a swollen foot. He thought it might be gout, but he never had gout before. Still, he went to a western clinic and got tested. His uric acid was fine. The pills he was given did nothing to alleviate the swelling and the pain. So, he decided to "go Chamorro" and "go suruhåno."
A certain suruhåno was recommended, one the suffering man had never met nor heard of. In fact, he had never gone to a suruhåno before. He met the suruhåno, who told him,
"Five Saturdays ago you parked at the back of Guam Memorial Hospital to visit someone in the hospital. You parked there because you couldn't find any other parking. As you parked, you felt the need to urinate. There was no one around. The sun was setting and it was getting dark. There were coral rocks in front of you, covered with tångantångan and other bushes. You thought you could easily pee there and no one would ever know. Nobody saw you, but the taotaomo'na were right there. You were urinating on their territory, and you didn't even ask permission. So they punished you with the swollen foot you have now."
The man's jaw hit the floor. How could this elderly suruhåno know this? Every detail was completely true! Other people are impressed by the suruhåno's identification of the ailment and the speedy cure of it.
But others would say, "They have knowledge and power, but from the devil. In the end, they get you into worse problems than the problems they cure."
TWEED OF ALL PEOPLE
If you needed more evidence, would you take it from an American Navy radioman who hid in Guam's jungles, avoiding capture by the Japanese, all due to the help he got from Chamorros, many of whom were punished and even killed?
If a man ever needed super human powers, it was George Tweed, often just an inch away from death at the hands of the Japanese.
And one Chamorro woman, probably having a crush on Tweed, was ever-ready to suggest a super human solution.
The story comes from Tweed himself, so take it for what it's worth. It is probably based on fact, but whether the story was embellished for the sake of book sales or not is anybody's guess.
The Chamorro lady of 19 was worried for Tweed. He needed to stay safe from the Japanese. Her uncle knew a man who had a ga'chong. The ga'chong gave this man the power to carry heavier loads and swim farther than other men.
These spirits, she said, were very powerful and could protect Tweed. The spirits could even hide Tweed so that the Japanese would never find him. Was she implying he could receive the power to suddenly become invisible to Japanese search parties? Stand right there and not be seen?
What must he do, Tweed asked? She replied, "Give up God and pray to the devil!"
This was a Chamorro girl speaking, certainly baptized Catholic. And yet this is what she told Tweed, according to him. Tweed declined her suggestion.
Even after almost 300 years of Catholic influence, not every Chamorro gave up old beliefs in spirits. Some even turned to demons, so it was said.
Contrary to what some think, the Spaniards did not make our Chamorro ancestors into little Spaniards. And not all of them became or remained genuine Christians.
Ga'chong in Chamorro means "companion." It does not really mean a friend, although many people think it does. But a friend can and does accompany his or her friends at times, so then the ga'chong is also an åbbok, amigo or amiga (friend). When you see someone eating chicken but nothing else, you can ask the person eating, "Håfa ga'chong-ña i na'-mo månnok?" "What is the companion to your chicken?" Companion; not friend.
Taotao can mean "person" or "people." A suruhåno who is gai' taotao has the spirit of a person long-dead assisting him.