Monday, March 1, 2021



Early 1800s Guam

As someone once told me, "Almost anything can be made booze, if it has sugar."

So our ancestors learned the art of making åguayente (from Spanish aguardiente or "burning water"), also known as agi.

Corn, tuba, sugar cane, among other things, could all be used to make it. 

But alcohol can be dangerous, especially since not all alcohol are created the same. Methanol is a bad one, when it comes to human consumption. It can kill you.

People didn't have the ability in those days to use laboratory methods to analyze moonshine. People only guessed from actually drinking it what proof it had. If it was too strong, or if methanol was produced sometimes by natural microbes that got in, the agi could be deadly.

And so one elderly man told me that his grandfather died that way. His grandfather was a great agi drinker and maker. He made it clandestinely before the war and a little after the war. But one time, his last time, he made it too strong. Perhaps he was used to it being that strong after all those years. But he died some hours after drinking.

"Sinengge i san halom-ña," the grandson told me. "His insides were burned up."

There were no autopsies performed in the late 1940s when the grandfather died so there's no telling what he truly died from. But he had the telltale signs of methanol poisoning. Beginning with headache, dizziness, confusion, abdominal pain  and leading to, hours later, loss of movement and vision and finally death.

Methanol poisoning from homemade liquor happens frequently all over Asia.

And yet.....

According to the same older man whose grandfather died, probably of agi toxicity, when gasoline became hard to find in the final days of the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese sometimes used local åguayente, if it were higher in alcohol content, to fuel their trucks, if you care to believe him.

One man's poison was another man's propellant.

Monday, February 22, 2021



What was supposed to be a two or three day journey, five hours each way, from Ulithi to Fais, only fifty miles away, ended up being a frightful 53-day lost at sea ordeal, 37 days of them without food.

And Guam served as the hub for the rescue efforts to get the lost sailors back home.

On April 11, 1963, six sailors set sail in a 36-foot traditional outrigger canoe from Fassarai, one of the atolls in Ulithi in Yap State. Their destination was Fais, another atoll some fifty miles to the east. People grew tobacco in Fais and the six sailors leaving Fassarai wanted to trade for tobacco.

The group was lead by Pedro Yamalmai, 34 years old. Three others were from Fassarai : Luis Yoloreg, 45; Pablo Hasgur, 60 and, the oldest in the group, Marcher Yayulfar, 65. There was also Joseph Yormar, aged 62, from another Ulithi atoll called Mogmog. Finally there was Johanes Yguy, aged 42, from Satawal which is not part of Ulithi but it is in Yap State and the two languages and cultures of Ulithi and Satawal have similarities

After ten days at sea and not sighting Fais, they realized they had miss the small atoll and turned back. After some time retracing their route, they saw Fais in the distance, but strong currents overpowered them and pushed the canoe past Fais and towards the west. They tried to sail for Palau, or some other island within the Trust Territory, but when they didn't see any land for days, and with their food and water running low, they decided to head west for the Philippines.

It took them over a month to find the Philippines, some 850 miles from Ulithi, and by day 16 they had no food or water left. They had brought on a lot, but they didn't expect to need two months' worth of supplies for what should have been several days at sea. They still had 37 days to go before finding land. They must have been able to collect some rain water, and eaten some fish straight from the ocean.

Finally, their canoe arrived at Samar, one of the large Philippine islands. They were all in decent shape. No one's life was in peril.

It was not the first time, by the way, that people from western Micronesia ended up on Samar's coast. Mother Nature plays a role, with the trade winds and ocean currents naturally guiding vessels westward from Micronesia. Leyte and Mindanao can also be landing spots for Micronesian canoes lost at sea. This has been going on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. 


Guam entered the rescue scene right away.

Given our geographic location and availability of government and military resources, search planes from Guam went out for 10 days looking for the lost canoe, but with no luck.

When the Ulithi sailors made landfall in Samar, the US Embassy in Manila was contacted. The American officials knew the next step : send them first to Guam.

Imagine these six island sailors who began their voyage in a traditional canoe ended it by flying on a Pan Am jet plane from Manila to Guam. But that's what they did, landing on Guam on June 7, 1963.

Joseph Yormar was the only one who needed medical attention, having injured a foot. He went straight to Naval Hospital. The others went back to Ulithi after a few days on Guam.



Although the six sailors made it to Guam, their canoe didn't.

That canoe weighed a ton. That's 2000 pounds.

So it wasn't something that could just go on the next flight.

It took a while, perhaps longer than the Ulithians wanted, but the Trust Territory Government and the Commander of Naval Forces Marianas put their heads together and got the canoe to Guam by March of 1964, on board a US Coast Guard cutter. From Guam the canoe was sent to Ulithi.

The canoe was vital to the livelihood of the Ulithian sailors. Without it, they could not go from place to place to trade goods.

Monday, February 15, 2021




Just as there is no one way to be Chamorro today, Chamorros had differences among themselves 200 years ago.

These differences can be seen among the Chamorro young men who left the island, most of them permanently, starting in the 1820s, to join the whaling ships that stopped at Apra Harbor. Others also joined merchant ships. 

There's a difference right there. There were many young Chamorro men who would never be interested in leaving island; and there were many others who couldn't wait to leave.

When these Chamorro seamen eventually settled permanently in their chosen lands, they all followed different paths. Some were unable to read or write, and so they could only hold low-paying jobs, while others were more prosperous, a few becoming property owners, businessmen or clerks. Some got married, some never did. Some even ended up in prison.

Today I want to look at one Chamorro seaman whose story is not typical. He wasn't the only one of his kind, but his path in life was not the usual one for the Chamorro settler abroad in that era. He got into retail business, and did some business on the side it seems. Officially he identified himself as a "salesman." But the little we know about him, from newspapers and government documents, shows us a glimpse of a man who was frequently in court for financial and legal issues.  When he couldn't pay back loans, he  lost some assets to pay them back.


I can't say more, because we don't have the documents to tell us the full story. But RAMÓN REYES, better known as RAYMOND REYES in Hawaii, where he settled in 1870, was not the usual Chamorro immigrant who did manual labor or farming as many of them did in Hawaii, or California or wherever else they settled.

REYES made some money. He lost some, too. But he certainly was, as we say, "in the game." He was known in the Honolulu community, and appeared quite a lot in the newspaper and in court.

Take a look at this piece of evidence. Imagine you're a young Chamorro man and you left Guam around 1870, and just thirteen years later you have made enough money and acquired a home to throw a luau party in Honolulu interesting enough to make it in a local newspaper.


This was not a simple meal. Even the road, and not just the house, was decorated and illuminated. There was not just food, but also dancing and musicians. This meant money. Reyes was very unlike most of his Chamorro countrymen in Hawaii and elsewhere; hidden and unnoticed.

How did Reyes make his money? As he called himself in many records, he was a salesman, and it's clear that he was a salesman for the JT Waterhouse Store in Honolulu as early as 1880, just ten years after coming to Hawaii. Waterhouse was an importer and merchant. By 1895, a newspaper called Reyes the "head salesman." 

The fact that Reyes was a salesman for a commercial business in Hawaii in the 1880s tells us a few things. First, that he had command of enough English to be a salesman, dealing with customers and suppliers in that melting pot of Hawaii. In later censuses, Reyes states he can read, write and speak English, and that he could also speak Hawaiian.  And from what you can see from the language of the newspaper notices he posted, his level of English qualified him to be a salesman or clerk, and to do his own business dealings on the side. 

All of this puts Reyes in a category different from many of his fellow Chamorro immigrants. The fact that Reyes was a salesman for Waterhouse just ten years after coming to Hawaii makes me wonder if he had picked up enough English on Guam (as some did), speaking to British and American whalers or learning from the English-speaking settlers on Guam, or if he was just a fast learner once he left Guam.

People were casual about spelling and names in those days

Here's a newspaper notice from 1889 showing that Reyes owned a house and lot which he put up for sale. Knowing his future financial difficulties, I wonder if he had to sell these to cover debts. Maybe not. But the fact that Reyes owned a house and lot, and wasn't just renting, again puts him at a different level from many of his fellow Chamorro immigrants who were living in rented bachelor pads and boarding houses.


At some point, Reyes married a Hawaiian woman named Kapeka. The marriage ended in 1884 when Reyes filed for divorce on the grounds of his wife's adultery. The divorce was granted. There was certainly a daughter born of this marriage named Esther, born in 1882. There seems to have also been a son, but I can't track him down.


And then, in 1888, Reyes' life became intertwined with the lives of five fatherless minors, the children of the deceased Andre Machado, a Portuguese settler in Hawaii. Machado had married a woman named Kulea from the Marshall Islands, according to the 1900 Census. Kulea was still living when Machado died, but the case was brought to court which determined that an administrator of the deceased father's estate be appointed. Reyes was not the first administrator appointed but he was given the position in 1888. He was now responsible for managing the Machado's assets in the interest of the minor children who would, upon reaching adulthood, inherit their share.

The oldest of the five children, Maria, also known as Mary, was not a minor when Reyes became administrator. She turned 18 that same year Reyes became administrator. It was also the same year Reyes married the same Maria Machado. Perhaps that's why Reyes became administrator of the Machado estate. Reyes' children from his first wife Kapeka, did not live with him.

Many Chamorros in Hawaii married Portuguese women, and Chamorros in California married Mexican women, because of the Marianas' Spanish heritage of 200 years.

Maria stuck by Reyes through the ups and downs of their life together till he died in 1909.  They had several children. The oldest, a daughter named Annie, married Fred Owen. The youngest, another daughter name Rosalie (in some documents Rosaline), married Thomas Beckley and then Joseph Keanu. So their descendants all have the Chamorro blood of Ramón Reyes.

daughter of the Chamorro Ramón Reyes

The one son, Valentine Reyes, seems to never have married or have children. He seems to have spent quite a bit of time as a seaman and we lose all trace of him in the end.

Financial Troubles up to the End


The story of Reyes reading his own death notice in 1895 in a Honolulu newspaper is not only humorous; it also shows how well he was known in the community because the newspaper that erroneously reported his death wrote not only that he had died, but also included the circumstances of his death, all of it mistaken. The newspaper said Reyes was "Spanish" and well-liked by the kama'aina (people of the land). In reality, Reyes hadn't died and lived for another fourteen years.


Doubtless Reyes heard that his native island of Guam had been taken by the US in 1898. But was he now, by virtue of being a Guam native, a US citizen? It seemed so to the Hawaii judge, but to be safe Reyes went through the normal naturalization process and was made a naturalized US citizen in 1900.

His people on Guam wouldn't acquire that till 1950.

What a life Reyes had! He was born in 1839. He came to Hawaii around 1870 but before that he could have been on a whaling ship or living elsewhere, for all we know.

He made good for himself as a salesman for a store in Honolulu, but had his share of life's troubles.

He laid down his earthly burdens and passed away in 1909 according to the death certificate. He was buried at the King Street Catholic Cemetery. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021



We don't hear it too often nowadays, but in the past an expression used now and then was TELEFON HALAIHAI.

It meant "word of mouth," news that spreads from person to person, not what can be read in the newspaper or heard on radio or TV. And today, by phone or internet.

Since people use telephones to communicate one-on-one, the word TELEFON was used.

HALAIHAI refers to the vines that grow especially on beaches. In English, they're known as Morning Glories.

Just as the halaihai is connected by these vines and just as they spread all over, news that is spread all over by people communicating with each when they connect is called the telefon halaihai.

and the

The English counterpart to the halaihai is the GRAPEVINE.

There is the famous song "I Heard it through the Grapevine" sung by Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye and others.

The expression "grapevine," like telefon halaihai, means news that is spread by word of mouth.

The origin of the expression comes from the observation that telephone wires reminded people of grapevines.


There's an area of Saipan called Halaihai. If you go to the famous Lourdes shrine in As Teo, just keep heading east.


Monday, February 1, 2021



For some Chamorros, the heart-breaking brutality of war hit them right in the face in the first two hours of Japanese rule on Guam.

Six members of the Limtiaco family by blood lost their lives all at the same time, killed by the Japanese on the very first day of Japanese rule, and all they were doing was fleeing to the relative safety of the ranch lands of Yigo. Many families lost one member in wartime, but imagine six.

Three more people connected to the Limtiacos by marriage perished in the very same incident.

It's a wonder the Limtiaco clan doesn't talk much about this tragedy. Perhaps it's best not to bring up this painful memory.

Five other people, not related or connected to the Limtiacos but who were from the same village, were murdered in the very same massacre. Seventeen civilians were attacked, fourteen died, two were wounded but survived and one escaped without injury.


From the moment the Japanese began the aerial bombardment of Guam on December 8, continuing on the 9th, the people living in municipal communities fled to the rural parts of the island. They believed they would be safer from bullets and bombs that way. Half the island lived in Hagåtña and most of them fled to their ranch lands in central and northern Guam. People in the south generally fled for their ranch lands or mountain valleys. 

Hagåtña's streets were congested with every sort of vehicle transporting people out of the city. Even the priests used their cars to load people up all day and night on the 8th and 9th to get them to safety. People with cars didn't help just their own families, many transported whoever they found in need.

A branch of the Limtiaco family had been in the auto business for many years already. Santiago Aflague Limtiaco of Asan was one of the earliest civilians to buy a car on Guam, purchasing one in 1916 from Atkins Kroll. He turned it into a business, hiring himself out to whoever needed transportation. His brothers followed suit, many of them being identified in censuses as chauffeurs or garage owners. The Limtiacos began in Asan, but in time some of them moved to Piti, besides the few in the family who moved to Hagåtña and Sumay.

So the Limtiacos were also occupied those first two days of the war shuttling people from Piti and Asan to the ranch lands of the north, using the family and family business cars. Time was critical, so they drove all hours of the day and night.


Sadly, the last group of Limtiacos in Piti and Asan began their ill-fated trip north right at the same time the Japanese were landing their troops at Apotguan Beach, better known nowadays as Dungca's Beach. Seventeen people from Piti and Asan, two-thirds of them Limtiacos by blood or connected by marriage to the Limtiacos, piled into a jitney owned by the Limtiacos and headed for Hagåtña with Yigo as their final destination. The other third of the passengers were from two other families in Piti.

There are conflicting stories about who was the driver. Tony Palomo wrote in a newspaper story that Juan Limtiaco Blas was the driver. But Gregorio Aflague San Nicolas' daughter Daidai, who was 8 years old at the time, says her father, who was married to a Limtiaco, was the driver. Daidai also says that the jitney belonged to her grandfather, Santiago Aflague Limtiaco.

Once past Hagåtña, the plan was to take the road that followed the shore into Trinchera, now known as East Agaña. The next place would be Apotguan, and from there the road went north to Yigo.  The problem was the Japanese were going to be on the exact, same road at the exact, same time! And the Japanese were not going to bother to check IDs before shooting. They were in attack mode. Shoot anything that moves.

of the Limtiacos on December 10

Couldn't the Limtiacos have known they were heading towards danger? No, they couldn't.

The Japanese landing around 4AM that morning was done without bombs or artillery. There was no one to shoot at. The American Marines and Navy men were not there, and neither were any local defense force. The Japanese had zero opposition when they landed at Apotguan. Only the light of flares shot into the sky to provide some illumination for the Japanese wading ashore alerted the Americans that something was going on in Apotguan. But this information was not made public; it was sent to the Governor. It was all happening "in the moment." There was no way to tell the people, most of whom had deserted the city by that time anyway. There was no radio station on Guam, broadcasting the latest local news.

So when the Limtiaco jitney made it past Hagåtña and were in Trinchera on the quiet road heading north, they had no idea that 400 trigger-happy Japanese soldiers were moving in their direction. As we all know from driving through East Agaña, Marine Corps Drive is hemmed in on one side by the bay and on the other side by steep cliffs. There is not much of an escape route.


Out of the blue, the Japanese opened fire when they heard or faintly saw an approaching vehicle. Juan Limtiaco Blas, yelled, "I've been hit!" The tires of the car were punctured with bullets, making a hasty U turn impossible, with the driver hit and eventually dead.

Gregorio Aflague San Nicolás, around 32 years old, was able to jump out as soon as he heard the gun fire. Without getting hit at all, he dashed for the cliffs and, with the adrenalin running, scaled the steep walls of the cliff till he reached the top, around the place where Jerry Calvo's home is at the Calvo Compound in Maite. He was the only one to escape without harm. He hid in the Maite area for two days before learning it was safe to come out, eating corn he found growing in the location. According to his daughter, who was 8 years old at the time, the family began saying the rosary for the dead when he didn't turn up in those 2 days or so.

Everyone else were either shot or stabbed by bayonet or both. The oldest was Nicolasa Camacho Santos Sablan, aged 51 or so. She was from the Tibutsio clan of Piti and married a Sablan. She was holding a statue of San Vicente Ferrer on her lap as she rode on the jitney. The youngest to die were around 14 years old; Joaquín Limtiaco San Nicolás and Rosa Barcinas Yamanaka.

The massacre was tinged with a note of bitter irony. The only victims who were not Limtiacos by blood or connected to the Limtiacos by marriage were half-Japanese, half-Chamorro residents of Piti brought along by the Limtiacos; the Matsumiya siblings and Rosa Yamanaka. The Japanese had killed their own; individuals who would have been treated a cut above the others during Japanese Rule by the very Japanese who killed them.


Vicente Aflague Limtiaco, the leader of the group, was bayoneted but didn't die. The same for Joaquín Santos Sablan, who was seriously injured but not dead. Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás, Vicente's sister, was stabbed eight times by Japanese bayonets, from her head to her torso. She played dead, restraining her breathing, when Japanese soldiers inspected the bodies.

The three survivors were perhaps helped by the fact that the Japanese didn't have the freedom to linger. Their mission was to take over Hagåtña, the capital city, so off they went, leaving the three wounded wherever they were lying.

By 6AM, only two hours after landing ashore, the Japanese were in control of Hagåtña, as Governor McMillin signed the letter of surrender. Local Japanese residents were quickly identified to help with interpreting and telling various people what the Japanese wanted done. Some of the half-Japanese, half-Chamorro sons of these Japanese residents were also called to lend a hand with Japanese organizing efforts.

As the victims in Trinchera lay on one of the main roads in and out of Hagåtña, it was only a matter of time when automobiles would pass once the fighting was over. A half-Japanese Chamorro, Joaquín Torres Shimizu, sent on an errand by the Japanese that he couldn't get out of, drove by and promised Magdalena to alert people to come help her and the survivors. 

Then a truck passed by. In it was a Japanese soldier who, according to Magdalena's daughter, was ready to kill the three survivors, but the driver, a half-Japanese, half-Chamorro named Félix Flores Sakai, convinced the soldier not to do it. This truck took the three survivors to the hospital where they were treated. Unfortunately, Joaquín Santos Sablan did not last long, dying some days later as a result of his injuries sustained in the attack. His death was merely postponed for a period after the massacre and he truly died at the hands of the Japanese.

Gregorio Aflague San Nicolás, who escaped with his life in the massacre, eventually did die during the Japanese Occupation, in 1943, according to some.  His daughter told me that he was already sick from exposure to the sun and rain, and the Japanese came to their ranch in Yigo looking for him and beat him up so that he died as a result. So, in the end, only two people in the group attacked by the Japanese in Trinchera lived beyond the war to tell the story, Vicente Aflague Limtiaco and his sister Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás, except that, like most who went through the war, bitter memories were best left unspoken rather than retold. No book was written by them nor interviews published. Stories were told only at select times to select people.

Vicente would have to deal with some physical effects for the rest of his life, on account of the multiple stabs he suffered from the bayonet. That didn't stop him from serving the Piti community as Commissioner (today's Mayor) for sixteen years (1957-1973). The public cemetery at Tiguac is named after him. Magdalena passed away in 1976; Vicente in 1984.

I wonder what Vicente and Magdalena felt, and what images flashed in their minds, when they would journey on Marine Corps Drive in Trinchera (East Agaña) where, in an instant, bullets and bayonets tried to take away their lives, and did take away the lives of loved ones. Physical scars heal, but the emotional ones may have hurt all the way till their deaths.

Brother and sister Vicente Aflague Limtiaco and Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás


Had it been feasible to identify the actual Japanese soldiers who shot or bayoneted the Chamorros at Trinchera, it's possible they could have been tried for war crimes. But many Japanese soldiers who committed atrocities could never have been brought to justice, not only because many could not be identified, but also because many never lived long enough to face trial. Few Japanese surrendered at the end of war; most died in battle, even committing suicide rather than be captured.

The Japanese soldiers at Trinchera killed unarmed, non-combatant civilians, among them teenagers and a woman in her fifties. Those Japanese soldiers were not responding to enemy shooting. They were the first and the only ones to shoot. Even if they argued that they could not know, in the darkness of the early morning hours, that the approaching jitney was filled with harmless civilians, they cannot argue that once they started bayoneting their victims they didn't know.

Burying the Chamorro war dead was not high on the list of priorities for the Japanese. Local people, including the priests, had to take the initiative to get clearance from the Japanese to bury the dead, including the victims at Trinchera. Digging graves for the rapidly decaying bodies was exhausting work. Father Calvo, soaked with perspiration, told Bishop Olano he had to leave the burying to some other priests already helping. I cannot find any reliable source telling us where the bodies were buried, but my sense is that they were buried right in that area. Normal burial customs (at the cemetery) were disrupted in those destabilizing first days of war. Even Gregorio's daughter Daidai thinks her relatives were buried just in that area.

One source, probably relying on Dorothea SN Furukawa, Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás' daughter, says the massacre happened in the general area of the Mobil Station in East Agaña (Trinchera). Daidai Taitano, daughter of Gregorio San Nicolás, says her father climbed the cliff below Jerry Calvo's Maite home. So these two bits of information help us get closer to pinpointing the area of the massacre and the probable burial spot.


For many years we have been honoring, and rightly so, the memory of innocent victims in the massacres at Tinta and Faha in Malesso', and more recently at Chagui'an and Fena. Perhaps a memorial can be erected at Trinchera Beach to honor the memory of the seventeen unarmed civilians attacked by the Japanese on the first day of Japanese Rule.

Even the Japanese themselves, with the encouragement of Father Oscar Luján Calvo, built a memorial to the Chamorros who died in the Japanese bombardment and invasion of Guam. The monument disappeared during the destruction that accompanied the American invasion of 1944. Gregorio's daughter Daidai says there was some marker put in Trinchera after the war to commemorate the massacre but that, over time, the marker was worn down, probably from the natural elements, and disappeared.


I will give the names of the seventeen in two different ways, depending on what information is desired. First, just a list of names in alphabetical order, with their ages :


Blas, Ana Limtiaco (19)
Blas, Juan Limtiaco (22) - the driver
Limtiaco, Rosa Aflague (35)
Matsumiya, Jesús Mendiola (25)
Matsumiya, José Mendiola (23)
Matsumiya, Josefina Mendiola (24)
Matsumiya, Tomás Mendiola (19)
Sablan, Joaquín Santos (15) - died some time after the massacre but due to his wounds
Sablan, Nicolasa Camacho Santos (51)
Sablan, Vicente Santos (23)
San Nicolás, Joaquín Limtiaco (14)
San Nicolás, José Limtiaco (15)
San Nicolás, María Limtiaco (19)
Yamanaka, Rosa Barcinas (14)


Limtiaco, Vicente Aflague (27) - head of the group
San Nicolás, Magdalena Aflague Limtiaco (29)


San Nicolás, Gregorio Aflague (32) 


Half of the seventeen people in the Trinchera Massacre were Limtiacos by blood and another four were connected to the Limtiacos through marriage.


Three were siblings :

Vicente Aflague Limtiaco, the coordinator of the trip to Yigo that ended in massacre.
Magdalena Aflague Limtiaco, married to Antonio Flores San Nicolás.
Rosa Aflague Limtiaco, who never married.


Magdalena's two children :

María Limtiaco San Nicolás
Joaquín Limtiaco San Nicolás

Then there were nieces and nephews, children of Limtiaco siblings who were not traveling with the group that morning :

The children of Joaquina Aflague Limtiaco, married to José Blas :

Juan Limtiaco Blas
Ana Limtiaco Blas

The son of María Aflague Limtiaco, married to Vicente Flores San Nicolás :

José Limtiaco San Nicolás


The Sablans were the in-laws of Vicente Limtiaco, who had married Martina Santos Sablan. Nicolasa was Martina's mother, so Vicente's mother-in-law, and Vicente and Joaquín Sablan were Martina's brothers, and thus Vicente's brothers-in-law.

Gregorio Aflague San Nicolás was married to the Limtiacos' niece, Matilde, daughter of their brother Santiago Aflague Limtiaco and his wife Ana Flores San Nicolás. Gregorio was thus, Chamorro-style, their nephew-in-law.


The Limtiacos, as I mentioned, started in Asan but some family members moved elsewhere, including Piti just a mile away. The two villages being neighbors, there was some fluidity in movement between relatives in both places. For example, there are some Limtiacos who lived in Piti who are included in the memorial to the war dead from Asan. But, according to the 1940 Guam Census, just a year before the war, here are the residences of the seventeen people involved in the Trinchera Massacre :

PITI (14 people)

Vicente Aflague Limtiaco, Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás, José Limtiaco San Nicolás, María Limtiaco San Nicolás, Joaquín Limtiaco San Nicolás, Gregorio Aflague San Nicolás, Nicolasa Santos Sablan, Joaquín Santos Sablan, Vicente Santos Sablan, José Mendiola Matsumiya, Jesús Mendiola Matsumiya, Tomás Mendiola Matsumiya, Josefina Mendiola Matsumiya and Rosa Barcinas Yamanaka.

ASAN (3 people)

Rosa Aflague Limtiaco, Juan Limtiaco Blas, Ana Limtiaco Blas

Tuesday, January 26, 2021



So I learned a new Chamorro word today and I wanted to share it with you.

In English it's called the shrimp's antennae. Even then I'm sure people come up with their own word(s) for it, even calling it a "thingy" if we ever have to talk about it at all!

But I was so happy to hear an older man call it the BÅTBAS UHANG. The shrimp's beard!

Sure enough, I found the expression in some older Chamorro dictionaries.

But what pleases me is how our elders looked at something and came up with words that describe the thing just as it is, as they saw it. We find it in many other words and phrases we use for things that other languages see differently. Just one example would be "sleeping water" for a water puddle.

The word BÅTBAS (beard) is used in combination with other words, too, for other things. But I'll save those for future blog posts.

By the way, we aren't the only ones who describe shrimp antennae using facial hair.

In Filipino it is called the SHRIMP'S MUSTACHE. Bigote ng hipon.

Both bigote (used in both Filipino and Chamorro) and båtbas (barba) are borrowed from Spanish.

Monday, January 18, 2021



Humålom si Pedro gi sagan chumocho ya ha sodda' i amigu-ña as Kiko'
(Pedro went into the restaurant and found his friend Kiko')

na esta monhåyan chumocho sa' tåya' esta nengkanno' gi na'yan siha.
(who was done eating as there was no more food on the dishes.)

"Håfa Kiko' na un lalasa i tiyån-mo?" mamaisen si Pedro.
("Hey Kiko' why are you rubbing your tummy?" asked Pedro.)

Man oppe si Kiko', "Ai amigo, puti håspok!"
(Kiko' answered, "Man buddy it hurts to be full!")

Ilek-ña si Pedro, "Pues guåho puti sa' ñålang yo'!"
(Pedro said, "Well I'm in pain 'cause I'm hungry!")

Ilek-ña si Kiko', "Puti-ña håspok!"
(Kiko' said, "It hurts worse to be full!")

Ineppe gue' as Pedro, "Lache hao amigo. Sa' masea puti an håspok, lao sige adumiddide' mumågong.
(Pedro answered him, "You're wrong buddy. Because even if you hurt to be full, little by little

Lao an ñålang hao, mås luma'atdet puti-ña para mo'na!"
(it keeps getting better. But when you're hungry, it gets worse as time goes on!")

Wednesday, January 13, 2021



When I was a kid I would hear, now and then, that there aren't any real Chamorros left.

Many years later, I met people from the south of Guam. And later, people from Luta. And eventually started doing their family trees.

And then I laughed at what I had heard earlier. No real Chamorros left.

Take for example my friend Maria Espinosa Quinata from Malesso' and for many year now living in Santa Rita. That's her in the picture above.

When I did her family tree just on her father's side, all her family names on that side are indigenous with the exception of two.

Since Malesso's baptismal records go all the way back to 1835, I was able to trace Maria's family tree that far back.

Here are all the names on her father's side going back to the 1830s :


Those are the indigenous Chamorro names. The only two names that are not Chamorro are


Half of the Chamorro names are based on words so old we don't use them anymore and so we're not sure what they mean.

Namasi is easy to see, because we still use the word na'mase', which means "pitiful." Chargualaf is really chatgualaf, which means "to hunt by moonlight badly." Thanks to a Spanish writer in the late 1600s, we know that an obsolete Chamorro word for "flag, emblem, symbol" is babao, so Babauta is babao-ta, "our flag, emblem or symbol."

If you understand how Spaniards spelled Chamorro names the way their ears heard it, you can understand how Terlaje is really tatlahe, meaning "no son" or "no man." That got me thinking that Taijeron is really taihilon. Hulon is an old Chamorro word for "leader, ruler, judge." The tai changes hulon to hilon. So, "no leader, no ruler." The Spaniards often put an R where an L ought to be. Think of Inalåhan and Malesso' (Inarajan and Merizo).

But Eguiguan and Nasayof remain doubtful, or even unknown. Not only have the words died out; even the family names have died out.

As for Espinosa, that is a well-known Spanish family name, and has been in Guam since the early 1700s. But we don't know what specific country the founder of the Espinosa clan on Guam came from.

As for San Nicolás, that name was given now and then by some Spanish priests to illegitimate babies, in honor of the Augustinian saint who was the patron of those priests. So, San Nicolás is Spanish but it doesn't mean the baby's father was Spanish. The baby's biological father could have been Chamorro, but the baby was given a saint's name in Spanish.

So, when I look at Maria, she has all the features of the Chamorro as described by many European visitors 200 years ago. Strong and big boned. All that Eguiguan, Nasayof, Chargualaf, Namasi and Babauta blood. And her mother's side Tedpahogo and Gofigan, more indigenous names.


We have to keep in mind the history of people's movement and settlement in the 1700s.

The foreign soldiers (Mexican, Filipino, the Spanish officers) lived in Hagåtña. This is where we find the Cruzes, Santoses, Pangelinans, Mendiolas and Camachos; a mix of those three ethnicities, from Mexico, the Philippines and Spain. Soldiers from abroad who didn't bring wives with them married Chamorro women, and the children of foreign soldiers took on Chamorro blood, language and culture.

The outlying satellite villages of Hagåtña (Aniguak, Asan, Tepungan, Apotguan, Mongmong, Sinajaña and Pago) were mostly Chamorro. There we find names like Ungacta, Materne, Gumataotao, Angoco, Terlaje, Maañao, Megofña, Taimanglo, Quidachay, Tedtaotao, Quichocho, Atoigue.

The southern villages were likewise mostly Chamorro with few foreigners. There we find names like Topasña, Aquiningoc, Nededog, Aguon, Afaisen, Naputi and Mantanoña.

Luta, as well, had few foreigners so the Ayuyu, Hocog, Songsong and Taisacan are strong there.

Although Maria most likely has Mexican, Spanish and Filipino additions, she is neither Mexican, Spanish or Filipino, just as a Filipino with a Chinese grandmother is not Chinese, just as a Spaniard with a French great grandmother is not French. People have additional strains of blood, but their predominant racial profile remains, and their ethnic identity is more than a matter of mathematics.

After all, Barack Obama's mother was Caucasian, but he is considered America's First Black President.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Cuando yo era niño a veces escuchaba que ya no había chamorros auténticos.

Muchos años después, conocí a gente del sur de Guam y luego, gente de Rota que comenzaron a hacer sus árboles genealógicos.

Así que me reí de lo que había escuchado en el pasado: que ya no quedaba ningún chamorro real.

Tomemos por ejemplo a mi amiga María Espinosa Quinata, originaria de Merizo que desde hace muchos años vive en Santa Rita. La podemos ver en la imagen de arriba.

Cuando hice su árbol genealógico solo por el lado de su padre, todos los apellidos de ese lado son indígenas, con la excepción de dos.

Dado que los registros bautismales de Merizo se remontan a 1835, pude rastrear el árbol genealógico de María hasta tan atrás.

Aquí están todos los apellidos del lado de su padre que se remontan a la década de 1830:


Ésos son apellidos indígenas chamorros. Los dos únicos apellidos que no son indígenas son


La mitad de esos apellidos indígenas se basan en palabras tan antiguas que ya no las usamos, por lo que no estamos seguros de lo que significan.

“Namasi” es fácil de comprender, porque todavía usamos la palabra na'mase ', que significa "lamentable". “Chargualaf” es realmente chatgualaf, que significa "cazar mal a la luz de la luna". Gracias a un escritor español de finales del siglo XVII, sabemos que una palabra chamorra obsoleta para "bandera, emblema, símbolo" es babao, por lo que “Babauta” es babao-ta, "nuestra bandera, emblema o símbolo".

Si entendemos cómo los españoles deletreaban los apellidos chamorros en la forma en que los escuchaban sus oídos, podemos comprender cómo “Terlaje” es realmente tatlahe, que significa "ningún hijo" o "ningún hombre". Eso me hizo pensar que “Taijeron” es realmente taihilon. Hulon es una antigua palabra chamorra para "jefe, líder, gobernante, juez". El tai cambia de hulon a hilon, “ningún jefe”. Los españoles a menudo ponen una R donde debería estar una L. Pensemos en Inalåhan y Malesso' (Inaraján y Merizo).

Pero Eguiguan y Nasayof siguen siendo dudosos, o incluso desconocidos. No solo se han extinguido las palabras; incluso los apellidos han desaparecido.

En cuanto a Espinosa, es un apellido español muy conocido y ha estado en Guam desde principios del siglo XVIII. Pero no sabemos de qué país específico vino el fundador del clan Espinosa en Guam.

En cuanto a San Nicolás, ese apellido fue dado a veces por algunos sacerdotes españoles a los hijos naturales, en honor al santo agustino que era el patrón de esos sacerdotes. Entonces, San Nicolás es un apellido español, pero eso no significa que el padre del bebé fuera español. El padre biológico del bebé podría haber sido chamorro, pero el bebé recibió el nombre de un santo en español.

Entonces, cuando observo a María, tiene todas las características del indígena chamorro tal y como lo describieron muchos visitantes europeos hace 200 años. Fuerte y de huesos grandes. Toda esa sangre de Eguiguan, Nasayof, Chargualaf, Namasi y Babauta. Y del lado de su madre, Tedpahogo y Gofigan, que son más apellidos indígenas.

Debemos tener en cuenta la historia del movimiento y asentamiento de personas en el siglo XVIII.

Los soldados extranjeros (mexicanos, filipinos, oficiales españoles) vivían en Agaña. Aquí es donde encontramos a los Cruz, Santos, Pangelinan, Mendiola y Camacho; una mezcla de esas tres etnias, de México, Filipinas y España. Los soldados del exterior que no traían esposas se casaron con mujeres chamorras y los hijos de los soldados extranjeros adquirieron la sangre, la lengua y la cultura chamorras.

Los pueblos satélites periféricos de Agaña (Aniguak, Asam Tepungan, Apotguan, Mongmong, Sinajaña y Pago) eran en su mayoría de población indígena chamorra. Allí encontramos apellidos como Ungacta, Materne, Gumataotao, Angoco, Terlaje, Maañao, Megofña, Taimanglo, Quidachay, Tedtaotao, Quichocho, Atoigue.

Los pueblos del sur de Guam también eran en su mayoría indígenas chamorros con pocos extranjeros. Allí encontramos apellidos como Topasña, Aquiningoc, Nededog, Aguon, Afaisen, Naputi y Mantanoña.

Rota también tenía pocos extranjeros, por lo que los Ayuyu, Hocog, Songsong y Taisacan son comunes allí.

Aunque lo más probable es que María tenga adiciones mexicanas, españolas y filipinas, no es mexicana, española o filipina, al igual que un filipino con una abuela china no es chino, al igual que un español con una bisabuela francesa no es francés. Las personas tienen cepas de sangre adicionales, pero su perfil racial predominante permanece y su identidad étnica es más que una cuestión de matemáticas.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021


A song recorded by the Saipan musical group Rematau.

Mames korason
(Sweet heart)
yanggen konfotme hao
(if you agree)
na un guaiya yo'
(to love me)
sa' hågo ha' i guinifi-ho.
(because you alone are my dream.)
Triste yan mahålang
(Sad and longing)
ya bai hu padese
(and I will suffer)
yan i putin korason-ho
(and the pain of my heart)
nene aksepta yo'.
(baby accept me.)

Matå-mo sen asut,
(Your eyes are so blue,)
fasu-mo sen freska
(your face so fresh)
lao i guinaiya-mo nene
(but your love baby)
ti para guåho.
(is not for me.)
Sångan i magåhet
(Tell the truth)
kao esta guaha otro
(if there is already someone else)
ya bai fan aligao lokkue'
(and I too shall search)
para i lina'lå'-ho.
(for someone for my life.)

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)

Una canción grabada por el grupo musical de Saipán, Rematau.

Mames korason
(Dulce corazón)
yanggen konfotme hao
(si estás conforme)
na un guaiya yo '
(para amarme)
sa' hågo ha' i guinifi-ho.
(porque solo tú eres mi sueño)

Triste yan mahålang
(Triste y anhelante)
ya bai hu padese
(y voy a padecer)
yan i putin korason-ho
(y el dolor de mi corazón)
nene aksepta yo '.
(nena acéptame)
Matå-mo sen asut,
(Tus ojos son tan azules)
fasu-mo sen freska
(tu cara tan fresca)
lao i guinaiya-mo nene
(pero tu amor, nena)
ti para guåho.
(no es para mí.)
Sångan i magåhet
(Di la verdad)
kao esta guaha otro
(si ya hay otro más)
ya bai fan aligao lokkue '
(y yo también buscaré)
para i lina'lå'-ho.
(a alguien para mi vida)

Tuesday, December 29, 2020



If Luís Atao Cruz of Piti was not the first guy on Guam to get a speeding ticket, he was one of the first. That's why I put "first" in quotation marks in the title.

Records of the time are not complete, so there could have been others before him, but Cruz's traffic violation in November of 1917 is the first such case I've come across in Guam's court records.

That night on November 27, at around 7:15, a patrolman noticed Cruz driving above the speed limit on the road through Asan. The patrolman signaled Cruz to pull over and Cruz ignored it.

In court, Cruz plead guilty. For all this, Cruz had to pay $55 in fines and fees, spend twenty days behind bars and lose his driver's license, at least for a time. He was only 19 years old then so after a while he got his license back. Cruz passed away in 1973 and is buried in Togcha. May he rest in peace.

Automobiles were new, of course, to the island. But people were buying cars that early, including the Limtiacos of Asan who soon got into the transportation business chauffering passengers. 

Perhaps it took a while for ideas such as speed limits to settle in people's minds. The lack of significant traffic and the lateness of the hour in a small village (thus fewer people on the road) could have made speeding a natural temptation.

And yet I imagine the speed limit was low, by our standards. Ten miles per hour? Twenty? Cars back then could rarely go more than 30 mph. Then the condition of the road (not paved with asphalt) would have prevented higher speeds anyway. In November, it would have been dark already by 7PM. So I'm picturing the scene like an old movie. Dark, quiet; and a lone policeman seeing the one car on a dirt road sputtering along and the policeman yelling, "Pull over."

Many of us, yours truly included, have been pulled over by the police for going over the speed limit. We can all commiserate with Luís who may hold the title of first traffic violation in Guam's history. Maybe the first, but only of thousands of speeding tickets that came after him.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Tal vez Luís Atao Cruz, originario de Piti, no fuera el primer hombre en Guam en recibir una multa por exceso de velocidad, pero al menos fue uno de los primeros. Es por ello que puse en el título "primera" entre comillas.

Los registros del tiempo no están completos, por lo que podrían haberse producido otros antes que él, pero la infracción de tránsito de Cruz en noviembre de 1917 es el primer caso de este tipo que he encontrado en los registros judiciales de Guam.

Esa noche del 27 de noviembre, alrededor de las 7:15 pm, un patrullero notó que Cruz conducía por encima del límite de velocidad en la carretera que atraviesa Asan. El patrullero le indicó a Cruz que se detuviera y Cruz lo ignoró.

En la corte, Cruz fue declarado culpable. Por todo esto, Cruz tuvo que pagar $ 55 en multas y tarifas, pasar veinte días tras las rejas y perder su licencia de conducir, al menos por un tiempo. Entonces solo tenía 19 años, así que después de una temporada recuperó su licencia. Cruz, en paz descanse, falleció en 1973 y está enterrado en Togcha.

Los automóviles eran una novedad en la isla. Pero la gente adquirió coches muy pronto, incluidos los Limtiaco de Asan que pronto se metieron en el negocio del transporte como choferes de pasajeros.

Quizás fue necesario un tiempo para que ideas como los límites de velocidad se asentaran en la mente de las personas. La falta de tráfico significativo y el retraso de la hora en un pueblo pequeño (por lo tanto, menos gente en la carretera) podrían haber hecho que el exceso de velocidad fuera una tentación natural.

Y, sin embargo, imagino que el límite de velocidad era bajo, según nuestros estándares. ¿Diez millas por hora? ¿veinte? Los autos en esa época rara vez podrían ir a más de treinta millas por hora. En aquel entonces, las condiciones de la carretera (no pavimentada con asfalto) habrían impedido de todos mods, velocidades más altas. En noviembre, ya habría oscurecido a las 7 p.m. Así que me imagino la escena como en una película vieja. Oscuro, tranquilo y un policía solitario que ve el único automóvil en un camino de tierra que pasa y el policía grita: "Deténgase".

Muchos de nosotros hemos sido detenidos por la policía por superar el límite de velocidad. Todos podemos compadecernos de Luís, que puede que ostente el título de la primera infracción de tráfico en la historia de Guam. Quizás la primera de las miles de multas por exceso de velocidad que le siguieron.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020



In case you haven't noticed, there are no maple trees in the Marianas.

So why do we eat buñelos dågo at Christmas time with maple syrup?

The dågo has been around since before the Spaniards. The buñuelos was taught to our people by either the Spaniards, or by Mexican or Filipino soldiers who came with them.

But maple syrup only came around after World War II, at least for the majority of people.

Well, long before Western maple syrup graced our store shelves, we had our own syrup called ATNIBAT.

It was made with something we grew right here in our islands - either SUGARCANE (TUPU) or COCONUT SAP (TUBA).

The juice of the sugarcane was boiled until it became a syrup. That was the FIRST METHOD.

The SECOND METHOD was to use the brown sugar made from the juices and, when boiled with water, the sugar made a perfectly fine syrup.

The THIRD METHOD of making syrup was to boil sweet tuba, made from coconut sap.

The Spanish word for it is ALMÍBAR, but we pronounce it ATNIBAT.

You may think it's OK, we'll always have maple syrup. But, you may need syrup right away with no time to run to the store. Or, God forbid, some worldwide situation delays cargo ships from bringing manufactured goods to the island.

As long as you have brown sugar, you can make your own atnibat or syrup, just like we did 100 years ago. 

Here's how easy it is to do :

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


En caso de que no nos hayamos dado cuenta, no hay maple en las Islas Marianas.

Entonces, ¿por qué tomamos “buñuelos dågo” en Navidad acompañados de sirope de maple?

El “dågo” en Guam es un producto originario pre-hispánico. La preparación de “buñuelos” fue enseñada a nuestro pueblo por los españoles, o por los soldados mexicanos o filipinos que los acompañaban.

Pero el sirope de maple solo apareció en Guam después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, al menos para la mayoría de la gente.

Pues bien, mucho antes de que el sirope de maple adornara los estantes de nuestras tiendas, elaborábamos nuestro propio sirope llamado “ATNIBAT”.

Se hacía con algo que cultivamos aquí en nuestras islas, ya fuese caña de azúcar (TUPU) o savia de coco (TUBA).

Se hervía el jugo de la caña de azúcar hasta que se convertía en almíbar. Ése era el primer método.

El segundo método era utilizar el azúcar moreno. Cuando se hervía con agua, el azúcar moreno formaba un almíbar perfectamente fino.

El tercer método de hacer almíbar era hervir tuba dulce, hecha de savia de coco.

La palabra en español es “ALMÍBAR”, pero la pronunciamos en chamorro, “ATNIBAT”.

Podemos pensar que siempre tendremos sirope de maple en las tiendas. Pero es posible que en alguna ocasión necesitemos sirope de inmediato sin tiempo para ir a comprarlo. O, Dios no lo quiera, alguna situación mundial retrase a los buques de carga de traer productos manufacturados a la isla.

Siempre que tengamos azúcar moreno, podemos hacer nuestro propio “atnibat” o sirope, tal como lo hacíamos hace 100 años.

Así de fácil es prepararlo:

Antes de que el comercio moderno llevara el sirope de maple a las Marianas, nuestra gente hacía su propio sirope usando azúcar moreno de caña o savia de coco, ambos cultivados aquí en casa. Este sirope se llama ATNIBAT. A continuación, os indicamos cómo prepararlo con azúcar moreno.

Usemos dos medidas iguales de agua y azúcar. Para una persona, 1/4 de una taza es suficiente. Llevar a ebullición y revolver. Esperemos hasta que tenga la consistencia que se desea, luego retiremos del fuego y aguardemos a que enfríe.

Me gusta el almíbar no demasiado espeso, todavía un poco líquido, ya que los “buñuelos” lo absorberán mejor y resultarán más empapados.

A veces el almíbar se pega a los lados de la taza, pero está lo suficientemente líquido como para que los “buñuelos” lo absorban completamente. 


Tuesday, December 15, 2020



A hundred and twenty-two years of political separation between Guam and the Northern Marianas help explain why, for many Chamorros from Guam, islands like Anatåhan and Agrigan are "far away" places that have about as much relevance to them as do Nepal and Suriname.

It's an unfortunate consequence of this political separation because we are connected to those islands in many other ways, not the least of which is found in some of our great grandparents or great great grandparents.

When all the Marianas were one political unit during Spanish times, some of our Guam great grandparents were born, not only in the Northern Marianas, but in the smaller, northern Northern Mariana islands like Pagan and Agrigan and the others.


Take, for example, a Sumay man named Luís Castro Sablán. When he testified in court in 1917, we were still using the Spanish naming method where the father's surname comes first, then the mother's. So in this court record he is known as Luís Sablán Castro. He is 29 years old in 1917, so born around 1888. 

He was born in Agrigan. Why?

In 1888, all the Marianas were one political unit. Going from Guam to Luta or Saipan was like going from Malesso' to Yigo. We were all one "nation," as it were. All the islands had priests from the same Order, lead by the priest of Hagåtña. All the islands had civil officials taking orders from the Governor in Hagåtña. Prior to these recent colonial structures, we were, of course, one race of people for thousands of years.

Vicente Díaz Sablán, Luís' father, was a Guam Chamorro from Sumay who moved up and down the Northern Marianas in the 1880s and 1890s. His many children were either born on Guam, Saipan, Pagan and Agrigan. And his moves weren't one time events. He had a child in Guam, then Saipan, then Agrigan, then back to Guam, then back to Saipan, then Pagan, then Saipan again. He even stayed in Saipan up to German times, but by the early 1900s he and his children were back on Guam.

There were only two reasons why Guam people moved up and down the northern islands. It was either because they had a government position or because they wanted to make money. I'm not speaking about permanent settlers; I'm speaking about those who actively, frequently moved "up and down" the islands, often changing places. The Spanish Government sent teachers and local officials to the northern islands now and then. The northern islands were also places where people hoped to make money from copra (dried coconut meat) which was in high demand by Japanese and Western buyers to be used in making soap, cosmetics, food and other products.

With Vicente, it seems both government and business played a role. Vicente's father, Luís Guzmán Sablán, was alcalde (mayor) of Agrigan for some time during the Spanish era. 

But we also know, from court records, that Vicente's older brother Pedro was working in Agrigan in the 1890s on John Turner Harrison's copra plantation. Harrison was married to a Portusach, and his wife's family was always involved in commercial enterprises, including copra production in the northern islands.


Assuming Vicente and his family moved back to Guam in the early 1900s, Luís would have been just in his teens. But he would have been able to tell stories about Saipan, and maybe Pagan, where his sister was born when he was old enough to form memories, and share tales about riding in boats up and down the northern islands. He could have told us about the Germans in Saipan, and about the Carolinians who not only lived in Saipan and worked in the northern islands on the copra plantations but who were also often in charge of the sailing crafts up and down the Marianas.

Luís married a woman older than he, who already had a daughter. His wife's name was Ascensión (sometimes rendered Asunción) Cruz and her daughter was Rosalía. Luís and Ascensión did not have children of their own. Ascensión died before Luís, and Luís lived alone till he died in 1936. His grave is still there in Sumay Cemetery. It affirms he was born in 1888.

So, in the 1920s and 30s, these conversations with a Guam man about life in the northern islands could have been had and, had he had children of his own and passed down these stories, these stories could be with us still today.


People say that oral history is not always reliable and indeed that is truly the case. We get facts wrong about what happened last week. Imagine when "information" is passed down about what happened 100 years ago.

But official records can also be unreliable. Official records are made by humans and, as the saying goes, to err is human.

A clerk could hear the wrong thing and write it down. A clerk could be distracted and write the wrong thing down. A typist could miss a key and not notice it. A clerk could take the person's word for it, and boom the "fact" becomes legal once it's entered into the official record.

Take, for example, the 1920 Census of Guam. That's an official record. Yet it contains errors.

I'll type out what it says, much too small, in the snippet from the 1920 Census above.

SABLAN, LUIS C. Head. Male. Chamorro. 32 (years). Married. Then it says he was born on Guam. Wrong! Just three years before this Census, he was saying in court under oath he was born in Agrigan.

The 1930 Census got it right.

The writing is hard to read, but it says :

SABLAN, LUIS C. Head. Male. Chamorro. 41 (years). Widower. But it gets his birth place right. Agrigan.

Perhaps the Census taker in 1920 didn't even ask Luís where he was born, taking for granted he was born on Guam. But, in 1930, the Census taker asked the question and Luís, over forty years later, knew and said he was born in Agrigan.

Luís died in 1936 so it's no surprise we have no photos of him. He also had no children of his own, so there aren't descendants who might have a photo. But I did know Luís' nephew Jesús, the son of his brother Joaquín. Jesús was 9 years old when his Agrigan-born uncle died. I wonder if Jesús ever talked with his uncle Luís and heard his stories. In those days, children were seen, not heard. Elders were not so forthcoming about family history. So it's not very likely but still possible.

The main thing to learn from Luís Sablán's story is that, for us Chamorros from Guam, Agrigan, Pagan and the other northern islands are well connected to our own story, and not as distant to us as Nepal and Suriname might be to us.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Ciento veintidós años de separación política entre Guam y las Marianas del Norte nos ayudan a explicar por qué, para muchos chamorros de Guam, islas como Anatahan y Agrigan son lugares tan "lejanos" que tienen para ellos tanta relevancia como Nepal o Surinam.

Es una consecuencia lamentable de esa separación política pues estamos conectados con esas islas de muchas formas, una de las cuales se encuentra en algunos de nuestros bisabuelos o tatarabuelos.

Cuando durante la época española, todas las Islas Marianas eran una unidad política, algunos de nuestros bisabuelos de Guam nacieron, no solo en las Marianas del Norte, sino en las islas más pequeñas del norte de las Marianas del Norte como Pagan, Agrigan y otras.

Tomemos, por ejemplo, a un hombre de Sumay llamado Luís Castro Sablán. Cuando testificó ante el tribunal en 1917, todavía estábamos usando el método de apellidos en español donde el apellido del padre va primero, luego el de la madre. Por eso en este expediente judicial se le conoce como Luís Sablán Castro. Tiene 29 años en 1917, por lo que nació alrededor de 1888.

Nació en Agrigan. ¿Por qué?

En 1888, todas las Marianas eran una unidad política. Ir de Guam a Rota o Saipán era como ir de Merizo a Yigo. Todos éramos, por así decirlo, una "nación". Todas las islas tenían sacerdotes de la misma orden religiosa, dirigidos por el sacerdote de Agaña. Todas las islas tenían funcionarios civiles que recibían órdenes del gobernador en Agaña. Antes de estas estructuras coloniales recientes, fuimos además, por supuesto, una misma etnia durante miles de años.

Vicente Díaz Sablán, el padre de Luís, era un chamorro de Guam, concretamente de Sumay que se trasladó a varios lugares a lo largo de las Marianas del Norte en las décadas de 1880 y 1890. Sus muchos hijos nacieron en Guam, Saipán, Pagan y Agrigan. Y sus mudanzas no fueron eventos únicos de él. Tuvo un hijo en Guam, luego en Saipán, luego en Agrigan, luego de regreso a Guam, luego de regreso a Saipán, luego a Pagan, luego de nuevo a Saipán. Incluso se quedó en Saipán hasta la época alemana, pero a principios del siglo XX, él y sus hijos ya estaban de regreso en Guam.

Solo había dos razones por las que la gente de Guam se trasladaba a diferentes lugares a lo largo de las islas del norte. Era porque tenían un cargo en el gobierno o porque querían ganar dinero. No hablo de colonos permanentes, me refiero a los que se trasladaban con frecuencia "arriba y abajo" a lo largo de las islas, a menudo cambiando de lugar. El gobierno español enviaba maestros y funcionarios locales a las islas del norte de vez en cuando. Las islas del norte también eran destinos donde la gente esperaba ganar dinero con la copra (carne de coco seca) que era muy demandada por los compradores japoneses y occidentales para ser utilizada en la fabricación de jabón, cosméticos, alimentos y otros productos.

En el caso de Vicente, parece que tanto el gobierno como las empresas desempeñaron un papel relevante para que él se mudara a las islas del norte. El padre de Vicente, Luís Guzmán Sablán, fue alcalde de Agrigan algún tiempo durante la época española.

Pero también sabemos, por los registros judiciales, que el hermano mayor de Vicente, Pedro, estuvo trabajando en Agrigan en la década de 1890 en la plantación de copra de John Turner Harrison. Harrison estaba casado con una Portusach y la familia de su esposa siempre estuvo involucrada en empresas comerciales, incluida la producción de copra en las islas del norte.

Suponiendo que Vicente y su familia se mudaron de regreso a Guam a principios de la década de 1900, Luís habría sido apenas un adolescente. Pero habría podido contar historias sobre Saipán, y tal vez Pagan, donde nació su hermana cuando él tenía la edad suficiente para formar recuerdos, y compartir historias sobre viajes en bote por las islas del norte. Podría habernos hablado de los alemanes en Saipán y de los carolinos que no solo vivían en Saipán y trabajaban en las islas del norte en las plantaciones de copra, sino que también estaban a menudo a cargo de las embarcaciones a vela en las Marianas.

Luís se casó con una mujer mayor que él, que ya tenía una hija. El nombre de su esposa era Ascensión (a veces traducido como Asunción) Cruz y su hija era Rosalía. Luís y Ascensión no tuvieron hijos propios. Ascensión murió antes que Luís, y Luís vivió solo hasta que murió en 1936. Su tumba todavía está en el cementerio de Sumay. Dice que nació en 1888.

Entonces, en las décadas de 1920 y 1930, estas conversaciones con un hombre de Guam sobre la vida en las islas del norte podrían haberse producido y, si hubiera tenido hijos propios y hubiera transmitido estas historias, estas historias podrían estar con nosotros todavía hoy.


La gente dice que la historia oral no siempre es confiable y, de hecho, ése es realmente el caso. Nos equivocamos en los hechos sobre lo que sucedió la semana pasada. Imagínese cuando se transmite "información" sobre lo que sucedió hace 100 años. Pero los registros oficiales también pueden ser poco fiables. Los registros oficiales son hechos por humanos y, como dice el refrán, errar es humano. Un empleado podría oír algo incorrecto y escribirlo. Un empleado podría distraerse y escribir algo incorrecto. Un mecanógrafo podría perder una tecla y no darse cuenta. Un empleado podría creer en la palabra de la persona, y boom, el "hecho" se vuelve legal una vez que se ingresa en el registro oficial. Tomemos, por ejemplo, el censo de 1920 de Guam. Ése es un registro oficial. Sin embargo, contiene errores. Escribiré lo que dice el fragmento del censo de 1920.

SABLAN, LUIS C. Jefe. Masculino. Chamorro. 32 (años). Casado. Luego dice que nació en Guam. ¡Incorrecto! Apenas tres años antes de este censo, estaba diciendo en la corte bajo juramento que nació en Agrigan.

El censo de 1930 lo hizo bien. La escritura es difícil de leer, pero dice: SABLAN, LUIS C. Jefe. Masculino. Chamorro. 41 (años). Viudo. Pero acierta en su lugar de nacimiento. Agrigan.

Quizás el encargado del censo de 1920 ni siquiera le preguntó a Luís dónde nació, dando por sentado que nació en Guam. Pero, en 1930, el censista hizo la pregunta y Luís, más de cuarenta años después, supo y dijo que había nacido en Agrigan.

Luís murió en 1936, por lo que no es de extrañar que no tengamos fotos de él. Tampoco tuvo hijos propios, por lo que no hay descendientes que puedan tener una foto. Pero sí conocí al sobrino de Luís, Jesús, hijo de su hermano Joaquín. Jesús tenía 9 años cuando murió su tío nacido en Agrigan. Me pregunto si Jesús alguna vez habló con su tío Luís y escuchó sus historias. En aquellos tiempos, los niños eran vistos, no escuchados. Los ancianos no eran tan comunicativos con la historia familiar. Así que no es muy probable, pero aún es posible.

Lo principal que debemos aprender de la historia de Luís Sablán es que, para nosotros, los chamorros de Guam, Agrigan, Pagan y las otras islas del norte están bien conectadas con nuestra propia historia, y no tan distantes para nosotros como lo podrían ser Nepal o Surinam.