Tuesday, October 12, 2021



Rosa de León Guerrero Cepeda, whose signature appears above, was a 43 year old married woman in Hagåtña who decided to register her property with the Spanish government in 1897.

When she submitted her documents to do that, she described herself as being married to a man who had already been absent "overseas" for FIFTEEN YEARS without knowing his "whereabouts."

This left her with four children to raise on her own, although typically Chamorro families had aunts and grandmothers to lend a hand. When her husband left island, her oldest child, a daughter, was just entering her teenage years but her youngest was just born, perhaps even about to be born.

From her children's last name, we know that the missing husband was named Castro, but more than that we don't know. Rosa remained Cepeda, because in the Spanish system married women kept their birth names.

Another woman filed her papers with the government stating that her husband had been "ausente de la isla," "absent from the island," for TWENTY-ONE YEARS.


These wives and mothers were, to be honest, abandoned. It would be nice to think that their far-away husbands were sending them money, but I haven't come across any document showing that and, instead, I have found a number of documents suggesting the opposite. So many women wrote that their husband was away and his "whereabouts are unknown."

In one case, two minor children got the attention of the court, because their mother had died and their father was "absent and his location is unknown." These two children already lost their father to the big world and wide open sea, and they now lost their mother to the small confines of the grave. The court had to call a council of relatives together to provide for the minors.

Some women had to file petitions with the court about house and property ownership, which sometimes were in their absentee husbands' names. Writing wills, paying debts, property boundary disputes, providing for minor children when the mother died....all of these were left to the woman and/or the court.

The biggest legal complication was the inability of the woman to marry a new husband. Since there was no proof of death for the current but absent husband, neither the Church nor the government wanted a bigamous marriage, and divorce was not permitted at the time. So, some women just had a new man live in the house without the benefit of marriage.


We cannot be certain why Rosa's husband, Mr Castro, left Guam and, from all appearances, never returned. But a good guess would be to serve on the whaling ships or some other kind of commercial ocean vessel.

In another case, it is very clear that the absentee husband left on a whaling ship.

María Rivera Gogue, born on Guam, married José Barcinas, also from Guam. In 1898, María, living in Luta (Rota), filed a petition with the court for legal recognition of her land ownership.


She wrote in her petition,

"That my mentioned husband is found absent from this province for nine years, his whereabouts being unknown. That he left on one of the whaling ships that arrived at this port and since then no word from him at all has been had."

At least for some years, the Spanish Government on Guam made whaling captains sign promises to bring these Chamorro whalers back to Guam after a specific time, but this promise was routinely ignored and the Spanish Government had no way of enforcing its fulfillment anyway.

The thing is, many, if not most, of the numerous Chamorro men who left Guam to sail the seas, numbering in the hundreds, were bachelors. Some were as young as fourteen. So most of them left behind parents and siblings, not wives and children.

But Rosa's and María's situation reminds us that some of these Chamorro seafarers were married and did leave behind wives and children, without communication or financial support. In the Guam Census of 1897 there are many single mothers named and identified as "married," not "widowed," but their husbands' names are nowhere to be found. The government documents of the time show us the reason why, for at least many of them. Their husbands simply got on a ship and never came back.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021




Two things about Tutuhan or Triangle Park that I remember as a child : the pine trees and the rock.

Having grown up in Sinajaña and then lived most of my adult life in Agaña Heights, I have passed this park almost every day for the major part of my life. 

As a child in the 1960s, though, this triangular patch of land looked much different than it does today. It looked larger, as a matter of fact. There were no man-made structures like we have today; no parking lot or walkways; no fence or decorative wall. It was just a large, wide open, triangular piece of land punctuated with tall Norfolk pine trees that we, as kids, just called Christmas trees, even in July. They stood out because they were the only trees (that I recall) in that place, most numerous at the top of the triangle.

But there was also this rock, at the bottom tip of the triangle, at the fork of the road where the one road from Hagåtña splits into two, with one road going up to Sinajaña and the other road going up to Agaña Heights. You couldn't help but notice the rock as you moved up the hill on either side, whether going to one village or the other.  It seemed off. What was a rock doing sticking out of the ground all by itself at the bottom of a large, grassy triangle that didn't have so much as a bump, except for this one rock?


There had always been two "roads" leading up San Ramón Hill; one going to Sinajaña and the other to what we now call Agaña Heights but, before the war, was known by the various little areas that now make up the village.

But after the war the populations of both villages soared with former Hagåtña residents unable to return to their war-devastated city. The roads up to Sinajaña and Agaña Heights would have to be widened and paved; a far different thing from the narrow dirt roads before the war.

But the terrain wasn't easy and the people in charge decided they needed to blow up some land to level the area and make road-building easier. And so they did. But they forgot one thing.


The designers and builders were not locals, and they couldn't know that people claimed there was a taotaomo'na trail going up San Ramón Hill. When they blew up the area, they wrecked the taotaomo'na trail. The ancestral spirits were furious. First, no one asked their permission and, second, their trail was destroyed.

One solitary rock was left over from the explosion, and for some reason it was never removed. It still lies at the tip of Tutuhan Park.


Today, hardly anyone knows the story of the taotaomo'na trail blown up by road builders.

But in the 1950s, enough car accidents happened in the area to cause some people, who did know the story, to wonder. Were car accidents happening in an area where taotaomo'na were angry at what happened?

These are just three stories of car accidents on San Ramón Hill and they're all from the 1950s.  There were other stories, as well., and they weren't always about two cars colliding either.

One lady skidded and her car spun around, and now, facing the opposite direction, rolled backwards, hitting an embankment in the process. 

A woman was going downhill and when she made a turn, the passenger door opened and two children riding with her tumbled out of the car.

A third lady was driving down the hill when the gas pedal jammed, stuck to the floor. She felt she had no choice but to veer to the right, off the road and into a gully. 

Strange occurrences, indeed, and only God knows what really happened, but in the 1950s and 60s, older people who knew the hill's reputation tried to drive past the rock as quickly as possible.


In 1981, a stolen pickup truck was crashed into the rock, seen on the right.
Courtesy of the taotaomo'na???

Wednesday, September 22, 2021



This song was recorded more than twenty years ago by the Singing Bus Drivers of the Department of Public Works.


I puti’on kahulo’ åntes de hu maigo’.
(The star rises before I sleep.)

I pilan sumåhe gi uriya. (1)
(The moon nearby wanes.)

Ya bai hu sodda’ i kayon ya hu dalalake. (2)
(I will find the path and I will follow it.)

Osodda’ si nene ni hu guaiya. (3) (4)
(Go to find the baby whom I love.)

Ya i kamå-ña gaige gi fi’on bentåna.
(And her bed lies by the window.)

Na ini’inan i pilan hålom.
(Where the moon shines in.)

Ini’inan i pilan mampos triste.
(The shining of the moon is so sad.)

Ha na’ fåtto piniti-ho.
(It brings my sorrow to me.)

Ya desde ayo na momento nai hu hasso
(And from that moment is when I remembered)

fina’tinås-ña si nene nu guåho. (5)
(what baby did to me.)


(1) Uriya literally means either the edge of something or the immediate vicinity of something . It is borrowed from the Spanish orilla which means the edge or outer limit of something (the edge of a table, the banks of a river, the rim of a cup, the hem of a garment). From there Chamorros broadened the meaning to include the immediate vicinity or surroundings of a thing because the edges of things are in the vicinity of the thing, just not at the center.

(2) Sodda'. Because the recording is from many years ago and probably a copy of many copies, the audio quality is rough at times and the words not entirely clear. So there is a possibility that the singer is saying SOTTA instead of SODDA'. Sotta means "to let go of." In this case, the song says the singer will leave the road (the path of life he is on) and follow the star which will lead him to the one he loves.

(3) Osodda'. I am not 100% positive this is what the singer is saying and he has passed away so I cannot ask him. But I can think of no other word that comes close to what I am hearing him sing and it does make sense, though it is the first time I have heard this word used, if in fact it is the word he is singing. Sodda' many of us know means "to find." When we attach an O or an E in front of a word, it can mean "to be in search of." To OPÅNGLAO is "to go in search of land crab." So OSODDA' would mean "to go in search of finding something."

(4) Nene literally means "baby" but it's also a term of endearment, just as we say in English, "Baby darling."

(5) Fina'tinas literally means "something made" but here it means what someone did, because our actions are what we make happen. The Chamorro term for "Act of Contrition" is Fina'tinas Sinetsot.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


It certainly looks like a turtle, but no one called it that till modern times.

People in the recent past looked at the island and called it Turtle Rock. In Chamorro, that would be Åcho' Haggan, or maybe Isletan Haggan (Turtle Islet). There is only one reference to Turtle Rock in the Pacific Daily News in the 1970s, and none in the 1950s and 60s. We'd have to check the prewar Guam Recorder and other prewar literature to see if there was anything called Turtle Rock, but I'm skeptical. So it seems the name "Turtle Rock" became standard only after the war.

So what did the Chamorros call this island or rock?


Two older people, one from Hågat and the other from Sumay, told me that, in Chamorro, the rock is called Nihi.

Perhaps, then, Åcho’ Nihi (Nihi Rock) or Isletan Nihi (Nihi Islet). I have no idea if Nihi is the same as the Chamorro word nihi which means “let’s.” Or, if the name Nihi comes from another source.

But Nihi is what these two elders, both just recently deceased, heard their parents and elders call it before the war. They were Art Toves from Hågat and Marian Babauta from Sumay (Santa Rita). U såga gi minahgong. Thank God I asked them before they passed, because other Hågat and Sumay people, even around their age, couldn’t remember the Chamorro name, but they did.

Both were born before the war; Art in 1928 so he was a teenager when the war broke out, and Marian in 1935, but being from those two villages they saw Turtle Rock every day and their parents, elders and fellow villagers would have mentioned the island in their youth using the local name.


Just to complicate things, for two hundred years, possibly more, old maps said that Turtle Rock was called NEYE ISLAND.

We have maps above from 1814 by the Frenchman de Freycinet, and two US Navy maps from 1902 and 1913 that all call Turtle Rock Neye Island.

But when I asked Art Toves and Marian Babauta if they had ever heard of a Neye Island, I might as well have been talking Ancient Greek to them. Neye Island was totally unknown to them.

Obviously, then, the name Neye was known only to non-Chamorro map makers who copied older maps. The oldest of the bunch, from 1814, was done by Frenchmen, who spelled Chamorro names the way it sounded to their French ears. You can see that they spelled Sumay Soumaye, and Haputo is spelled Apoutou. The small W-looking letter is an old form of OU, which in French sounds like English OO. Bonjour sounds like BON - ZHOOR.

Could Neye be a French rendering of Nihi? Who knows? And if an older Spanish map called it Nihi, it would have been spelled NIJI, with a J.  The reason for this is because, in Spanish, the H in Nihi would have been silent. When we say "hi" in Spanish we say "Hola!" but it sounds like "Ola!" The H is never voiced. But, in Spanish, a J before a vowel sounds like a voiced H. Think of José and Juan.

I can just imagine someone seeing NIJI and mistakenly writing down NEYE. And on and on the mistake is continued in newer maps, made by people who didn't even live here.

I'd be looking for even older maps to see what they call Turtle Rock.


Funny I should say that because there is an older map, from 1676, that calls a rock or a small island off the coast of either Hågat or the Orote Peninsula FUÑA.

What if Fuña is Nihi (Turtle Rock)?

It's possible, and we shouldn't be surprised if later on people stopped calling it Fuña and called it Nihi instead. The names of places don't always stay the same over the many years. That happens all over the world.

Was Fuña the same islet as Nihi (Turtle Rock)? Like many things in Guam or Marianas history, it's hard to say. It's always good to have hard evidence for the things we say are true, and many times hard evidence has disappeared through the passage of time.


During World War II, the Japanese suspected that the Americans might land at Hågat's beaches, as well as at other spots. They used Turtle Rock as a natural blockage of the view of the artillery the Japanese had on the shore behind the Rock. The Americans were irritated that they couldn't see the position of those Japanese guns firing at them, flying above Turtle Rock and landing on the Americans. There were a few Japanese guns on Turtle Rock itself, too.

All along these waters are many remnants of wartime armaments and machinery dumped into the ocean when the war was over.

Today, divers go out to Turtle Rock where they, amusingly, find turtles to play with.

But, if you venture out to Nihi Island, just remember that turtles are not the only critters in the ocean. Just west of Turtle Rock is the Shark Pit. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021



Someone asked me the other day how to say BONE MARROW in Chamorro.

The surprising thing is that the person is in her 70s; her first language is Chamorro (her parents didn't speak much English, only Chamorro) and she was born and raised in Saipan back when the Chamorro language dominated the land. English was spoken only in offices and schools.

But how often does the topic of BONE MARROW come up in conversation? Not much. Even though many of us like to suck out the bone marrow in our kåddo (stews).

Surprise, surprise. The Chamorro word for BONE MARROW is the same Chamorro word for BRAIN.


How did that happen?


To understand this, one has to go back to the Spanish word TUÉTANO, because Chamorro TÍTANOS comes from the Spanish word.

In Spanish, the tuétano means the marrow of the bone, or the inner part of a root or plant stem.

So, in the picture above you can see the marrow of bones, called tuétano. But these here below are also tuétano :

So we can note that some things all these tuétano have in common are :

  • they are the interior part of something
  • which are encased (surrounded on all sides)
  • and are fleshy, or pulpy, and can be softer than the exterior which encases them

So a brain has all those characteristics.

A brain is something soft and squishy, inside a skull, which encases the brain.

So perhaps that explains why our ancestors used the same word for brain and bone marrow, borrowing the Spanish word and changing its pronunciation.


In case one wanted to be extra clear that one is speaking about bone marrow and not the brain, one can say títanos i te'lang, or títanos to'lang, which means "marrow of the bone," to be very clear.


Many times when our ancestors borrowed Spanish words, they only used the plural form, even when it was a single item.

For example, "shoe" in Chamorro is sapåtos, whether it be one shoe or two. But, in Spanish, zapatos means "two or more shoes." One shoe is zapato; no -S.

It's the same for "onion." In Chamorro, it's seboyas whether it be one or a hundred onions. But, in Spanish, it's cebolla for one onion and cebollas for two or more onions.

And that's why, in Chamorro, it's títanos, with a final -S, even though the brain is one; no one has two brains. The original Spanish is tuétano for one, and tuétanos for two or more.


Our word for both brain and bone marrow is borrowed from Spanish.

Did our ancestors not have a word for them?

We can be pretty sure they knew these two things existed.

Maybe they did have a word for them, or maybe not. We need evidence to be able to answer this.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


 Alguien me preguntó el otro día cómo se dice MÉDULA ÓSEA en chamorro.

 Lo sorprendente es que la persona tiene más de 70 años; su primer idioma es el chamorro (sus padres no hablaban mucho inglés, solo chamorro) y nació y se crió en Saipán cuando el idioma chamorro dominaba la isla. El inglés se hablaba solo en las oficinas y las escuelas.

Pero, ¿con qué frecuencia surge el tema de la MÉDULA ÓSEA en una conversación? Pocas veces. Aunque a muchos de nosotros nos gusta sorber la médula ósea en nuestro kåddo (caldo).

Sorpresa. La palabra chamorra para médula ósea es la misma palabra que para cerebro.


¿Cómo ocurrió eso?

Para entender esto hay que ir a la palabra española TUÉTANO, porque la palabra chamorra TÍTANOS proviene del español.

En español, el tuétano significa la médula del hueso, o la parte interna de una raíz o tallo de una planta.

En las imágenes se puede ver la médula ósea, llamada tuétano. Pero también el tuétano de unas plantas:

Entonces podemos notar que estos tuétanos tienen algo en común:

-son la parte interior de al

-que están encerrados (rodeados por todos lados)

-y son carnosos o pulposos, y pueden ser más suaves que el exterior que los envuelve

Entonces, un cerebro tiene todas esas características.

Un cerebro es algo blando, dentro de un cráneo, que encierra el cerebro.

Tal vez eso explique por qué nuestros antepasados usaron la misma palabra para cerebro y médula ósea, tomando prestada la palabra del español y cambiando su pronunciación.


En caso de que uno quisiera aclarar que se está hablando de la médula ósea y no del cerebro, se puede decir títanos i te'lang, o títanos to'lang, que significa específicamente "médula del hueso".


Muchas veces, cuando nuestros antepasados tomaban prestadas palabras del español, solo usaban la forma plural, incluso cuando era un solo elemento.

Por ejemplo, "zapato" en chamorro es sapåtos, ya sea un zapato o dos. Pero, en español, zapatos significa "dos o más zapatos". Un zapato es zapato; sin -S.

Es lo mismo para "cebolla". En chamorro, son seboyas, ya sean una o cien cebollas. Pero, en español, es cebolla por una cebolla y cebollas por dos o más cebollas.

Y por eso, en chamorro, es títanos, con una -S final, aunque el cerebro sea uno; nadie tiene dos cerebros. El español original es tuétano para uno y tuétanos para dos o más.


Nuestra palabra para cerebro y médula ósea está tomada del español.

¿Nuestros antepasados no tenían una palabra para ellos?

Podemos estar bastante seguros de que sabían que existían estas dos cosas.

Quizás tenían una palabra para ellas, o quizás no. Pero necesitamos pruebas para poder responder a esto,

Tuesday, August 31, 2021



Tan Båcha' (u såga gi minahgong), pictured above, was a good friend of my nånan biha (grandma) and my grandma's sisters, the aunties who raised me.

She was born in 1909 so she grew up at a time when the Chamorro language dominated the island. English could be heard in far fewer places on Guam in the 1910s and 20s than in the 1950s. Tan Båcha' could speak basic English, but she was one of those older Chamorro people who would stick to Chamorro if she knew you were Chamorro, no matter how poor your Chamorro was.

That's my point in this blog post.

There was a kind of Chamorro in the past, and some probably remain to this day, who will speak only Chamorro to you, another Chamorro, even though your grasp of Chamorro isn't strong.

That's your problem, so to speak! LOL

Her sister, Auntie Kita (María Salas) was two years older than Auntie Båcha', and was the same way. Even though my Chamorro was at best the knowledge of 50 words, which I could hardly string into a sentence, in my teens and 20s, Auntie Båcha' and Auntie Kita would only speak Chamorro to me. It was my problem to figure it out, remember how they spoke, remember words I didn't know and go find out what they meant.

These two sisters weren't the only man biha (older ladies) to do that to me. Tan Ebe' (Nieves San Nicolás) from Sinajaña would look at me, a white-faced tanores (altar boy) in church and tell me to go do something (turn on a light, open a door) and only in Chamorro. Na' fañila' i kandet. Baba i petta. It was my problem to figure it out, and in so doing learn how to say those things in what was supposed to be my language. Auntie Ebe' could have said those same things to me in English, but she chose not to.

My face was white, but she only spoke Chamorro to me

Even though I had a white face, Auntie Ebe' knew who I was and more importantly who my family was. She considered me Chamorro, because my mother and grandmother and all my maternal side were Chamorro. Therefore, she would only speak Chamorro to me even though I could hardly reply to her in Chamorro. 

There was another white face in church, our pastor from New York, but she treated the two white faces, his and mine, differently. When she had to say something to him, she would say it haltingly in what little English she knew. Both the New York priest and this young kid from Sinajaña (me) had about as much Chamorro language between them, but she laid her Chamorro on me, and not on him.

This rose to a whole new level when I went to Saipan in the 1990s, and would stay for short periods in Luta and Tinian. There. a whole segment of the older population had almost no grasp of English, except for some words, and could only speak to you in Chamorro. If a non-Chamorro speaker came to the door, a child or grandchild would have to come along and act as interpreter. To a lesser extent, this also happened in Malesso' and Humåtak on Guam, where I was also stationed for a time in the 1990s.

But in Saipan I met more than a few middle-aged Chamorros who spoke English but who, when they found out I was Chamorro, immediately switched to Chamorro, even if I was only beginning to improve my Chamorro. These people could have continued speaking English to me, but they switched to Chamorro when they asked me, "Kao Chamorro hao?" and I responded "Hunggan." They didn't ask me next how good were my Chamorro speaking skills. They just switched to Chamorro and it was my problem if I couldn't catch every word.

Not only was this a way to learn Chamorro, it was a better way for them to communicate with me. They were much more open, more telling, more expressive when speaking their mother tongue.

If there had been more Auntie Båcha's and Auntie Ebe's, we might have more Chamorros speaking Chamorro today. My own nånan biha spoke mainly English to me. She was a teacher and school principal under the US Naval Government most of her early life before the war, so that could have been a factor.

People can say, "But we should do this now! Speak only Chamorro to other Chamorros!"

I'm all for it, with two caveats or cautions.

First, I would hope that it would be people who DO speak Chamorro speaking Chamorro to other Chamorros. It's sad but true that today, on Guam, there are many who at times speak incorrect Chamorro but think they're just fine. Sadly they can pass on their errors to those who know even less and won't know they're learning erroneous Chamorro. And as this effect ripples over time, we will find ourselves in a deeper hole I'm afraid. 

My advice to those who have some grasp of Chamorro is to, first of all, not be over-confident and to triple check what they have to say in Chamorro with a first-language speaker, meaning someone who learned Chamorro in childhood in their family environment (while we still have them!). Someone truly fluent, and not someone who guesses and "thinks" they're right. A language is passed down from the community that speaks it; books encapsulate only a part of the language. Books and videos cannot stop you and say, "Sorry, that was a mistake," or, "That's not how it's said."

Second, promoting the Chamorro language by speaking only Chamorro to other Chamorros will work only if it's done long enough and with people who want to learn. If a non-Chamorro speaker is "forced" to hear Chamorro once or twice a month, little will be gained. If a non-Chamorro speaker could care less, or think it's just too hard to learn, and the Chamorro goes in one ear and out the other, little again will be gained. Sure, a non-Chamorro speaker will have to learn a Chamorro word now and then if they hear it often enough, but they'll probably never learn to speak the language if they could care less or think it's just too hard for them to even try.

But, it could be, and probably there will be, cases where someone begins to learn to speak their language because people like Tan Båcha' came along and refused to speak English to someone they identified as Chamorro. Ta li'e'.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021


Courtesy of Mayor Hofmann


Growing up in Sinajaña, I've always heard of Senator Gibson Drive.

It's one of the village's main streets, taking you down to Hagåtña or out to Route 4 to Ordot and beyond. When Route 4 to Hagåtña is blocked or slow for some reason, Senator Gibson Drive is an alternative route.

But who was Senator Gibson? I always paid attention to elections since the 1970s, and never heard of anyone named Gibson running for the Legislature. 

Since the street was in Sinajaña, I thought there was a Senator named Gibson who was from Sinajaña, but I never heard of any Gibson family in Sinajaña.

Well, here's the story.


Ernest Willard Gibson, Sr was a US Senator from Vermont. He represented that state in the US Senate from 1933 till his death in 1940.

He was Republican, but a progressive one and backed many efforts to fund Guam projects and extend civil rights on the island, such as representative, civilian government and US citizenship for Guam's people.

So it was at Gibson's doors that BJ Bordallo and Francisco B. León Guerrero knocked when the two Guam spokesmen went to Washington, DC in 1937 lobbying for US citizenship. Gibson introduced a bill but it died in the face of Navy opposition.

Still, the Guam politicians considered Gibson a friend of Guam and showed their appreciation in the usual Chamorro ways; sending him an ifit wood cane with the Guam seal on the handle; a lamp with a shade made from transparent sea shell fetched at a depth of 1500 feet; a machete with accompanying sheath.

But the highest gift bestowed on Gibson by Guam's politicians in the Guam Congress was to have the island's only highway named in his honor in 1938.

That highway was perhaps Guam's longest stretch of road, starting in the capital city of Hagåtña, passing through Sinajaña, Ordot, Chalan Pago, Yoña, Talofofo, Inalåhan, Malesso' and ending in Humåtak. That is one long road, now called Route 4. No wonder they called it a highway, although it was just a two-lane road.

It was the first time a Guam road was called a highway.

We moderns think of wide, paved roads with four or more lanes and higher speed limits when we hear the word "highway." But the older meaning of highway was the main road from one town to another. Guam in 1938 didn't have modern highways. The older meaning was meant in "Senator Gibson Highway."

If you look at the pre-war map, you can see how the highway leaves Hagåtña and goes through Sinajaña, just a small, one-street village at the time.



After the war, what was known before as Senator Gibson Highway became Route 4. Only the Sinajaña portion of the highway was still called Senator Gibson, but often times Road or Drive. This remnant of the prewar highway was residential and could not be a modern highway, with high speed limits.

In 1978, Senator Antonio M. Palomo introduced a bill, later passed into law, renaming Senator Gibson Drive Pale' Kieran Hickey Drive in honor of the Sinajaña pastor who built Saint Jude Church.

And yet, though many people do call it Pale' Kieran Drive, other people to this day still call the street Senator Gibson Drive. Old habits die hard.

FROM 2001

Twenty-three years AFTER the name of the street was changed, some people were still calling it Senator Gibson Drive.

Only the tail end of old Senator Gibson Drive, which ends in a cul-de-sac, retains the Vermont Senators' name, called Senator Gibson Court up to this day. At least the half-dozen families who live on Senator Gibson Court will know why their street is so-named, if they read this blog.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021



Tough guy Hollywood actor Lee Marvin performed in over 50 movies from the 1950s till the 1980s, often playing villains, criminals and Western gunmen. Besides many other awards, he won an Oscar for the 1965 Western comedy film, Cat Ballou. He also had a career in television.

But he also played soldier, even disguised as a German one in The Dirty Dozen, and for war movies Marvin could draw on real life military experience. Marvin served as a US Marine in World War II, actually fighting in the Battle of Saipan and getting wounded in it.

In 1942, Lee Marvin enlisted in the Marines and was placed in the 4th Marine Division. By early 1944, Marvin had already seen combat in the Marshall Islands. But he had a funny feeling about his next battle, that over Saipan which was set to begin in June. He sensed he would be carried out of battle lying on a stretcher.

And Lee Marvin's Objective

Mount Tapochao, 1500 feet high and even taller than Guam's Mount Lamlam, was Saipan's highest point and militarily valuable. The Americans had to capture it, and Marvin was his company's point man, whose job it is to be the first out front and scout the area.

Sure enough, as Marvin walked forward, Japanese bullets tore apart his sciatic nerve, which runs from the hip down to the leg. Then Marvin's foot was shot by a sniper. Marvin lay on Saipan's ground, an easy target, except that, according to him, another American soldier coming up the high ground was also hit and fell on top of Marvin, as dead as can be. This fallen soldier's body shielded Marvin from further wounds. Marvin screamed till he nearly lost his voice for someone to take him to safety.

In another account, Marvin says he somehow dragged himself to the beach, where he was rescued. 


What is remarkable is that only six Marines in his company of 247 men were not killed or wounded. Marvin had cheated death, but he was seriously wounded, and was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds on Saipan.

It took 13 months for Marvin to recover from his wounds, and the war was only a few more months away from ending. He was given a medical discharge and received disability payments.

That night after being rescued from the battle, Marvin lay on a hospital bed on a ship outside Saipan. "I felt ashamed," Marvin said, because there he was safe and comfortable while "all the guys were still fighting it out." He said he felt like "a coward and a heel."



In 1967, Marvin was asked to star in a World War II movie called Hell in the Pacific. The movie's production team decided to film it on Palau, then a part of the Trust Territory headquartered in Saipan. Needing the permission of the Trust Territory government to film on Palau, Marvin and some of the movie's production team flew to Saipan.

Marvin and the movie's director went around Saipan seeing if they could find a filming location there as well. Tony Benavente and Manuel "Kiyu" Villagómez were some of the local residents who accompanied them throughout their time on Saipan.

Marvin was very nervous about going back to the place where he was wounded and could have lost his life. After the war, he said he would get vivid nightmares now and then about his battle experience on Saipan. Now he was going to the very source of the nightmares. After the meeting with the government officials, when Marvin and the others went around the island, Marvin said he came upon the actual site where he was shot, and claimed the tree he hid under was still there!

He was uneasy about sleeping that night, but he actually slept peacefully. When he awoke, he felt that he had healed his psychological scars from the war. "That was one of the greatest personal triumphs of my life," he said.


Tuesday, August 10, 2021




Perhaps he was the first Chamorro showman.

By that I mean more than a singer, musician or dancer. I mean someone who puts on an entire production. To the extent of creating a full showman's persona, complete with a stage name. Duke Navarro.

In the US, he was a member of the Actors Guild, TV and Radio Guild, Showman and Show Folks of America and Dancing Masters of America. He said he appeared in ten movies, but I can't find a record of which ones, so maybe he was an uncredited extra. But the record does show he was very active chairing stage shows and the entertainment portion of various California social events.

He was born Jesús Pascual Blas Manibusan in Hagåtña in 1917, the son of Benigno Camacho Manibusan and Joaquina Cruz Blas.

Manibusan was showing his flair for entertaining as early as 1937 when he was working for the Pan Am hotel on Midway Island. He wrote a poem playfully praising the Pan Am boss on Midway.

By 1940, Manibusan was back on Guam, living with the priest of Sumay, along with the priest's house boy and cook, styling himself an "artist" as his occupation.

Right after the American return to Guam after the war, Manibusan was on the stage, performing with other Chamorro entertainers for the American troops. Some of those he performed with were Joaquín Arriola, later an attorney, and the Ploke sisters.

By 1954, Manibusan had adopted his stage name, Duke Navarro, and was organizing stage shows in the San Francisco Bay Area where he now lived. 

After many years in the US, where he was regularly performing as well as staging shows, he returned to Guam in 1965. He continued his entertainment activities, performing here and there, as well as trying to beef up local talent, such as for the Allen Sekt TV show. He died in 1970. U såga gi minahgong. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021



Most people don't even think twice about the name AGAFA GUMAS. It's just a name, and of a place that is somewhat out of the way for most people. It's way up north. So north it's even past Yigo Church.

Some people think the name sounds funny. As if trying to be Chamorro but not quite getting there.

The fact is, AGAFA GUMAS is not a Chamorro name, and it's not the local name for that location. There was no name Agafa Gumas until 1946, and in fact it was Agafo, not Agafa at first.

According to a military wife living in Agafo Gumas in 1946, Colonel Douglas Pamplin, who lived two houses down from her in Agafo Gumas, was the one who came up with the name. Agafo stands for Army Garrison Force and Gumas is an American corruption of the Chamorro word guma' which means house or houses. We do not add an S to Chamorro words to make them plural.

Army GArrison FOrce

So, if the military wife's story is accurate, Agafo Gumas was Pamplin's attempt to say, in Chamorro, AGAFO HOUSES, or maybe HOUSING. 

The problem is, from a Chamorro standpoint, gumas is not a Chamorro word. A house or two or a thousand houses, in Chamorro, are still just guma'. No S.

But, lest we be too hard on Pamplin, look at all the younger generations of Chamorros on Guam who say things like

MAN ÅMKOS, when it should be MAN ÅMKO'

CHE'LUS, when it should be MAÑE'LU

SAINAS, when it should be MAÑAINA

Americanization has made its mark!

So the area was Army housing in the military heyday at the end of World War II and right after it. The military wife talks about jeeps and jeeps and more jeeps. The area was surrounded by roads leading to military bases, and military traffic was endless on those roads. Trucks and bulldozers made noise all day, as well as other machinery used in construction. Guam was being built into a fortress.

There was a mess hall and an Officers Club.


As early as 1949, it was being called Agafa Gumas instead of Agafo Gumas. A newspaper article about the wedding of a military couple whose reception was at the Officers Club there called it Agafa, not Agafo, Gumas.

It was just easier to say, I imagine. Keep it all the same vowel.

Language is in the mouths of the speaker, and not all mouths were created equal.

There are even those who call it AGAFU Gumas, with a U.



At some point, the Army didn't need housing in Guam anymore and the land in Agafa Gumas was turned over to the Department of the Interior.

They, in turn, handed it over to the Government of Guam. In 1966, the Department of Land Management made the former military lots at Agafa Gumas available for lease or purchase, and local residents began moving into the area. In time a Catholic chapel (Santa Bernadita) was built by the people and recently a new concrete church there has become a parish church.


As the Agafa Gumas community kept expanding, and as people wondered more and more about the name, people began to think about dropping the name Agafa Gumas. A growing community was looking for an identity, and name, they could be more comfortable with.

First of all, the Army Garrison Force is there no more and hasn't been for a long time. Second, it's not the actual, Chamorro name for the area. Third, it's not a Chamorro name for anything. Fourth, the name actually uses a Chamorro word badly (gumas).

So some people say the Chamorro name for Agafa Gumas is Machananao. In fact, they named the public school right next to the Santa Bernadita Church Machananao Elementary School, and underneath the school name the location - Machananao.

But other people wonder, "Is it Machananao? Or Machanao?" And other people wonder, "Isn't Machanao/Machananao in another place?" Pre-war maps of Guam seem to indicate that Machanao/Machananao was further north of Agafa Gumas.

So, we'll have to investigate more and write another blog post just on Machananao/Machanao.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021



Francisco Martínez Santos, the son of Juan Borja Santos and Josefa Concepción Martínez was born in 1900.

Sometime during World War I (1917-1918 for the US), Santos started working for an American Navy dentist, Dr William S Thompson. In the 1920 Guam Census, Santos is described as being a dentist. In the record, the first entry states "App Dentist," the "App" probably meaning "apprentice." But then someone crossed out the "App," leaving "Dentist" by itself.

So impressed was Dr Thompson with Santos that when Thompson returned to the US in 1920, he brought Santos over in 1924 to continue learning dentistry under his tutelage at his dental clinic in Newman, California, not far from Modesto.

Santos returned to Guam and continued working as a dentist out of his home in Aniguak. After the war, when Hagåtña was destroyed and people moved elsewhere, Santos lived in Sinajaña, and practiced out of his home, where the photo at the top was taken

Long before the war he married the former Josephine Untalan Day and had one daughter, Juanita, who married David Ulloa. The little girl in the photo at the top has to be Juanita, as she was their only child and was born in 1938, making her around 7 years old in 1945 after the war, as the girl in the picture seems to be.

For weeks the Americans bombed and strafed Guam before they landed ashore. Many Chamorros were injured, and some died, as a result. Josephine's mother Juana was one of them, getting hit in the legs from American bullets. Santos used his dental tools to take out the bullets from her injured leg.

who trained Santos in dentistry

Like many Chamorro professionals and businessmen, Santos never refused to help a person in need of his services, even if they couldn't pay immediately.

According to the family, he was a jovial man who loved to play solitaire. When Juanita was being courted by her future husband David, the two would sit in the house chatting on the couch while Santos sat off to the side at a table by himself playing solitaire. That was "dating" in the strict days of the past.

When Urban Renewal got going in Sinajaña and new streets were laid out, many lots were lost to residents, to be given new lots in exchange. Even though Santos was given another lot in Sinajaña when his original one, where his house stood, was to be taken over by Urban Renewal, Santos moved his residence and dental practice to Tamuning. He passed away in 1970. U såga gi minahgong. Rest in peace.

Courtesy of Ed Ulloa

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


in 1918

Chamorros have been moving to California for a long, long time. Since Spanish times in the 1800s.

Although Antonio Mendiola may not have actually been a whaler, because whaling had died down very much by the time Antonio came along, I use the term BAYINERO (whaler) to describe all those young Chamorro men, some still teenagers, who began to leave Guam by the dozens in the 1800s because of the whaling ships.

The whaling ships were most numerous in the early 1800s, and by the 1870s they dropped in number. Still, young Chamorro men kept joining merchant and commercial ships that happened to stop on Guam. Antonio Mendiola was one of them.

Antonio ended up in California, where we have some documents telling us a little about who he was.

Although his grave stone says he was born in 1886, a seaman's document from 1918 states that he was born in 1875. He began life as a cook on commercial ships in 1894. He sometimes went by the name Anton.

He settled in San Francisco, living most of the rest of his life on Mason Street, just on the outer limits of Chinatown. By 1915 he was married to a Mexican lady, Esther Figueroa. This was very common. Many Chamorro men who ended up in California married Mexican or Latina women and we shouldn't be surprised. Those Chamorro men moving to the US in the 1800s and early 1900s saw themselves as being connected to Spain. They often put as their native country "Spain" and their native language "Spanish."

Even if the Chamorro man spoke very rough or incorrect Spanish, he felt an affinity toward Spanish-speaking people. With Mexicans, he would have found some of the food familiar, since Chamorros inherited many corn-based foods from the Mexican soldiers who lived, married and died on Guam (titiyas, tamales, atule). And, of course, there was the Catholic religion that bound them both.

With Esther, who had two sons from prior relationships, Antonio had two daughters but only one of them lived to adulthood.

Antonio never lost his connection to the sea. He worked as a cook on commercial vessels and was absent in the 1930 and 1940 US Census on account of, I believe, his serving on ships out at sea. He left the US in 1943 for Australia, for example, as a worker on a commercial ship, and didn't return to San Francisco till 1944.

Antonio went by the middle name Guerrero. But was it really Guerrero? Or was it Leon Guerrero, since some people shortened Leon Guerrero that way back then? He also states in a document that he has a brother named Ben Mendiola on Guam. Was that Vicente Mendiola? Vicente Guerrero (or Leon Guerrero) Mendiola?  Or was Ben really Benjamin? These clues are a start, but may not be strong enough to tell us what Mendiola family Antonio came from.

When Antonio died in 1952, he was buried in the Italian Cemetery for San Francisco located in the little town of Colma. Although established for Italians, people from all races were buried there. U såga gi minahgong. Rest in peace.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Los chamorros se han estado mudando a California desde hace mucho tiempo, desde la época española, en el siglo XIX. Aunque Antonio Mendiola puede que en realidad no fuera ballenero, porque la caza de ballenas había disminuido mucho cuando Antonio nació, uso el término BAYINERO (ballenero) para describir a todos aquellos jóvenes chamorros, algunos todavía adolescentes, que comenzaron a salir de Guam por docenas en el siglo XIX en los barcos balleneros. 

Los barcos balleneros eran más numerosos a principios del siglo XIX, y en la década de 1870 disminuyeron en número. Aun así, los jóvenes chamorros siguieron uniéndose a los barcos mercantes y comerciales que se detuvieron en Guam. Antonio Mendiola fue uno de ellos.Antonio terminó en California, donde tenemos documentos que nos cuentan quién era él.

Aunque su lápida dice que nació en 1886, un documento de marinero de 1918 dice que nació en 1875. Comenzó su vida como cocinero en barcos comerciales en 1894. A veces se llamaba Anton.

Se instaló en San Francisco, viviendo la mayor parte del resto de su vida en Mason Street, justo en los límites exteriores de Chinatown. En 1915 estaba casado con una mujer mexicana, Esther Figueroa. Esto era muy común. Muchos hombres chamorros que terminaron en California se casaron con mujeres mexicanas o hispanas y no debería sorprendernos. Aquellos hombres chamorros que se mudaron a los Estados Unidos en el siglo XIX y principios del XX se veían a sí mismos conectados con España. A menudo ponen como su país natal "España" y su lengua materna "español".

Incluso si el hombre chamorro hablaba un español muy rudo o incorrecto, sentía afinidad por las personas de habla hispana. Con los mexicanos, habría encontrado algo de la comida familiar, ya que los chamorros heredaron muchos alimentos a base de maíz de los soldados novohispanos que vivieron, se casaron y murieron en Guam (titiyas, tamales, atule). Y, por supuesto, estaba la religión católica que los unía aambos.

Con Esther, que había tenido dos hijos de relaciones anteriores, Antonio tuvo dos hijas, pero solo una de ellas vivió hasta la edad adulta.

Antonio nunca perdió su conexión con el mar. Trabajó como cocinero en embarcaciones comerciales y estuvo ausente en el censo estadounidense de 1930 y 1940 debido, creo, a su servicio en barcos en alta mar. Dejó los EE. UU. en 1943 rumbo a Australia, tal vez, como trabajador en un barco comercial, y no regresó a San Francisco hasta 1944.

Antonio tenía el segundo apellido de Guerrero. ¿Pero era realmente Guerrero? ¿O era León-Guerrero, ya que algunas personas acortaron el León-Guerrero? También declara en un documento que tiene un hermano llamado Ben Mendiola en Guam. ¿Era Vicente Mendiola? ¿Vicente Guerrero (o León-Guerrero) Mendiola? ¿O era Ben realmente Benjamín? Estas pistas son un comienzo, pero pueden no ser lo suficientemente contundentes como para decirnos de cuál familia Mendiola procedía Antonio.

Cuando Antonio falleció en 1952, fue enterrado en el Cementerio Italiano de San Francisco ubicado en el pequeño pueblo de Colma. Aunque establecido para los italianos, personas de todas las nacionalidades fueron enterradas allí. U såga gi minahgong. Descanse en paz.