Tuesday, May 18, 2021



It used to be a very common practice. But, today, even many devout Catholics in the Marianas don't do it.

And that is to make the sign of the cross whenever you pass


Like the lady in this video, who makes the sign of the cross inside a car, passing something, but something we cannot tell from the video.


The reason we were told to make the sign of the cross, or bless ourselves, when passing a Catholic Church is because "Jesus is there." What was specifically meant was that the True Body and Blood of Jesus, under the appearance of bread and wine, are in a Catholic Church, housed in the Tabernacle.

Ordinary bread and wine are consecrated by a priest, who has been empowered by a bishop, whose bishop's powers go all the way back 2000 years to the Last Supper where Jesus told His 12 Apostles, "Do this in memory of me." Once the priest consecrates the bread and wine at Mass, they are no longer bread and wine but rather the True Body and Blood of Jesus. "This is my Body, this is the cup of my Blood," Jesus said at the Last Supper.

When Mass is over and there are leftover Hosts, they are put in the Tabernacle. So, on account of this, we bless ourselves when passing a Catholic Church. As other Christian churches don't have this, we don't bless ourselves when passing those churches.


We bless ourselves when passing a cemetery on account of the people buried there. We pray for their souls, and we cross ourselves when we begin and end prayers.


When a hearse passes by, we bless ourselves as we pray for the deceased in that hearse. In the old days, if one were walking on the road when a funeral procession passed by, you stopped what you were doing till the procession finished passing by. If you were a man wearing a hat, you took off your hat.


In olden times, there were many large crosses planted all over the islands. One would make the sign of the cross when passing these or other noticeable religious images outdoors.


Many people blessed themselves when feeling a tremor, or when making a promise, or when talking about the sick or someone in need of something, or when an ambulance passes by (to pray for the patient), before entering the jungle, to ward off evil and when afraid.


To "make the sign of the cross" in Chamorro is gumina'an i Tata, from the first words of the prayer "Gi na'an i Tata," "In the name of the Father."

It ends with the thumb up to the nose because the full sign of the cross was accompanied by a cross made by crossing the thumb with the index finger. One wasn't kissing one's thumb; one was kissing the cross made by the crossing of the thumb and index finger, which made a cross.

Originally, this was the proper way to form the fingers of the right hand when signing yourself with the Cross. But, over time, people got lazy and lost the original way. I'll post on the traditional Sign of the Cross in a future blog post.

Sunday, May 9, 2021



A song for all our mothers, living and deceased, sung by the late Frank "Bokonggo" Pangelinan.



Nånan-måme deskånsa.
(Rest, mother.)
Båsta fan para på’go.
(Please stop for now.)
Sa’ på’go na ha’åne
(Because this day)
Ha’ånen i man nåna.
(Is Mother's Day.)

Sen espesiåt hao na nåna
(You are a very special mother)
Guine nai na familia.
(In this family)
Kada måtto este na dia
(Each time this day comes)
Hågo i mås takkilo’.
(You are the highest.)

Un hoggue ya un totktok ham gi pecho-mo.
(You carried and hugged us at your breast.)
Maså’pet hao pot hame.
(You suffered for us.)
Un poksai ham todos gi dos kanai-mo.
(You raised all of us with your two hands.)
Un guaiya ham gi korason-mo.
(You loved us from the heart.)

Nånan-måme hago ha’ solo
(Mother you're the only one)
Yan mames kulan hao raina.
(And sweet, you are like a queen.)
Hågo ha’ na flores gi halom hatdin
(You are the only flower in the garden)
Sen paopao yan bonita.
(Most fragrant and beautiful.)

Ya si Yu’us un nina’e
(And may God give you)
Bulan gråsia gi lina’lå’-mo
(Abundant graces in your life.)
Ya i regalu-mo ginen hame
(And your gift from us)
Man gaige ham gi uriyå-mo.
(Is we are at your side.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021



One hundred years ago, this is what the road going down San Ramón Hill into Hagåtña looked like, in the photo to the left. Just kaskåho (gravel), no dividing line and no posted speed limit, neither for automobile nor karetan guaka (cattle-driven carriage).

Gravel roads are not as common today as in the past, and one of the problems with gravel roads is you basically deal with only two conditions. DUST when it's dry season, and MUD when it's rainy season.

The rain also often washes away part of the road, sometimes leaving deep barångka (potholes) that can send your car to ICU.

But the paved road after the war didn't guarantee total safety. Just in the ten years of the 1950s, there were a dozen or more news reports about cars losing their brakes and rushing down the hill; cars stalling on their way up the hill and falling back down the hill in reverse; the gas pedal getting stuck to the floor, sending the car into race mode!



Some people mistakenly say that Government House is on San Ramón Hill. But what is commonly understood as San Ramón Hill is the hill right above what used to be the barrio (district) of San Ramón, which is where today's court buildings are, as well as the Guam Law Library, some offices and private residences.


The bottom of San Ramón Hill was the scene of a murder in old Guam, something that was rare back then. In 1900, a man was shot in the back three times by someone known to him. The story can be read at :


Tuesday, April 27, 2021



Guam was so devoutly Catholic in the 1800s that a political prisoner may have been liberated from captivity partly on account of it.

In 1872, there was an uprising against the Spaniards in Cavite in the Philippines which was quickly squashed. But many were arrested, even executed, while others were banished to the Marianas. One of these was Antonio María Regidor, a Spaniard by race but born in the Philippines and a supporter of Philippine causes and eventually of Philippine independence.

The escape of Regidor and one other from imprisonment on Guam is a long, convoluted story that leaves as many questions as it does answers. But one writer thinks that the escape to a waiting ship in Apra Harbor to take them away was made easier by the ringing of the Angelus bell.

In the old days, when you heard the Angelus bell at 6AM, 12 noon and 6PM, you dropped whatever you were doing and said the Angelus. The writer's suggestion is that while guards and officials were standing attentively in prayer for the Angelus, Regidor, or the ship he was on, was quietly slipping out of Spanish hands.

Regidor, disguised as a priest, made it to the ship in the early morning hours and sailed away, finding his freedom from Spanish prison. He was eventually pardoned.

The Angelus story conflicts with official records and other evidence still housed in the Philippine National Archives about Regidor's escape. It seems Regidor and his companion escaped from their cells by 4AM, long before the Angelus. The ship he managed to get on, which was American, sailed out of Apra between 10 and 11AM, long before the noon Angelus.

So much for the Angelus explanation. But it does make for a colorful anecdote and, even if the anecdote is not true at all, it does point to a general truth of which we can be certain, that the Angelus bell did stop normal activities three times a day for a minute or two in the old days.

In Catholic Ireland, national TV plays the Angelus bell!

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Guam era un lugar tan devotamente católico en el siglo XIX que un prisionero político pudo haber escapado del cautiverio en parte gracias a eso.

En 1872, hubo un levantamiento contra los españoles en Cavite, Filipinas, que fue rápidamente sofocado. Pero muchos fueron arrestados, incluso ejecutados, mientras que otros fueron desterrados a las Marianas. Uno de ellos fue Antonio Regidor, de sangre española pero nacido en Filipinas y partidario de las causas filipinas y eventualmente de la independencia filipina.

La fuga de Antonio Regidor y otros, del encarcelamiento en Guam, es una historia larga y compleja que deja muchos interrogantes. Pero alguien escribió que la fuga a un barco que los esperaba en el puerto de Apra se hizo más sencilla gracias al sonido de la campana del Ángelus.

Antiguamente, cuando se escuchaba la campana del Ángelus a las 6 de la mañana, a las 12 del mediodía y a las 6 de la tarde, se dejaba lo que se estaba haciendo y se rezaba. La sugerencia del escritor es que mientras los guardias y oficiales estaban parados atentos en oración por el Ángelus, Antonio Regidor se escapaba en barco silenciosamente de las manos de los españoles.

Antonio Regidor, disfrazado de sacerdote, llegó al barco en las primeras horas de la mañana y zarpó, encontrando su libertad de la prisión. Finalmente fue indultado.

La historia del Ángelus entra en conflicto con los registros oficiales y otras pruebas que aún se encuentran en los Archivos Nacionales de Filipinas sobre la fuga de Antonio Regidor. Parece que Regidor y su compañero escaparon de sus celdas a las 4 de la mañana, mucho antes del Ángelus. El barco en el que logró subir, que era estadounidense, zarpó de Apra entre las 10 y las 11 de la mañana, mucho antes del mediodía del Ángelus.

Hasta aquí la explicación del Ángelus. Es una anécdota colorida e, incluso si la anécdota no es cierta, sí apunta a una verdad general de la que podemos estar seguros, que en Guam durante aquellos tiempos, la campana del Ángelus detenía las actividades normales de la gente tres veces al día durante un minuto o dos.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021



One of the noble traits of the traditional culture of the past, still practiced by many, is the great care we had for each other, especially in the family.

No grandmother needed to be put in a senior home, nor care givers hired for her, because the family members themselves took care of her.

No grandchild needed to be sent to a daycare, since grandma or grand aunt was home all day to care for the children.

This care for family members extended beyond death. With most being Catholic, most Chamorro families pray for their dead, believing that our prayers help the souls of our departed while being cleansed in Purgatory.

Just as we pray a novena (a period of nine days, from the Latin word novem meaning the number "nine") to celebrate a saint's feast and ask for blessings from heaven, we also pray a novena of rosaries for the deceased. But not just one; traditionally there were two sets of rosaries to be prayed for the dead.


The first set of rosaries is when the general public comes and prays. It is called the LISÅYON LINAHYAN, meaning, the Rosary of the Assembly. Linahyan can mean "crowd, multitude, congregation, assembly." Everyone and anyone can come and join this rosary.

RIGHT AWAY. It begins, in most cases, on the day of death. If the person dies way past sunset, it will begin the following day. Not only was the rosary begun as soon as possible, burial also happened quickly in the old days. Before the war, there was no place to hold the body in cold storage, so burial had to happen quickly, usually within 24 hours.

NOON AND EVENING. In the old days, two rosaries were prayed during these first nine days. The first was at noon. Anyone could attend it, but typically most people waited till the second rosary, which was prayed at night, often at 8PM in the old days. So the noon rosary was a smaller affair, involving mainly the family members and older friends of the deceased who didn't have work or farm obligations.

PRIVATE HOME. The rosary was prayed at a private residence, typically the home where the deceased lived. Sometimes the rosary was held in another home, but within the family, when, for example, the deceased's house was not suitable to hold a rosary either because of problems with the house, or lack of outdoor space for the crowds or remoteness of location.

Because of the large numbers of people, most attendees sat outside, and a tent or canopy was sometimes opened over them. Long before we had folding chairs, wooden benches were more available in the old days and many times people just stood.

REFRESHMENTS. Unlike modern times when full meals were often served every night, in the prewar days refreshments were simple. It was often as simple as one kind of breadstuff (broas, buñuelos, roskete) but there was always mamå'un passed around (pugua', pupulu, åfok, amåska or betel nut, pepper leaf, lime chalk and chewing tobacco). Pastries were touch and go but mamå'un was always offered.

FINAKPO'. The end of the nine nights of public rosary was celebrated with a big meal. Before the war, this is when the pig was slaughtered, or even a cow depending on the family.


But a second set of nine nights of rosary was prayed for the deceased immediately after the first nine nights. But, this time, it was only for the "immediate" family, "immediate" in the Chamorro sense, not American sense. The "immediate" family in our own culture means siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, in-laws. That could be 50 people right there.

This second set of rosaries was called the LISÅYON GUMA' or LISÅYON HALOM GUMA'. This means the House Rosary or Rosary Inside the House, making a distinction between the rosary to which the LINAHYAN (Multitude) was invited and the rosary to which only those inside the home (Halom Guma') came.

It couldn't be called the Lisåyon Familia (Family Rosary) because, in Chamorro mentality, "family" means anyone even distantly related. Now we're back to 400 people at the rosary.

Halom Guma' showed that this rosary was meant for family members more closely linked to the deceased, the ones living in the same home as the deceased. But, a sibling or close cousin living in another home wasn't excluded, either.


Rosary for the dead is not disappearing, but it certainly is changing and in some cases is disappearing.

The second set of rosaries, the Lisåyon Guma', is definitely not practiced by a growing number of families. The first nine nights was enough for them, they feel.

The noon rosary has also fallen into disuse in many families.

The majority of families now have the rosary at church, rather than their homes. This lightens the burden for the family in some ways, but it involves an additional cost (paying the church for power usage) and it passes on some difficulties to the parish (tying up use of the church, wear and tear of the building, trash issues).

Since most families use the church and have the deceased remembered at the Mass right before or after the rosary, some families decided to skip the rosary altogether and just have a "rosary" of Masses, that is, nine nights of Masses for the deceased.

Another big change is language. It's getting harder to find a techa (prayer leader) to lead in Chamorro, and many families don't want it in Chamorro anymore.

In the 1970s and 80s, even the poorest of families tried their best to put on a good meal for nine nights. Today, even the wealthiest of families skip refreshments altogether, without even water or iced tea.

There are many factors involved in these changes. Some people say they have too many rosaries to go to. Some nights, one family has to vacate the church immediately so that another family can start theirs. Some pastors try to get two families to have one rosary for both deceased. They usually are not successful in convincing them. Families are getting smaller over the years, and the burden of feeding 200 people every night falls on fewer family members now, compared to the bigger families of the past. And there are more reasons why our rosaries for the dead are not what they used to be in many cases.

I predict we will see more of these changes in the years to come, till only a small number of more traditionally-rooted families practice most of the old customs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021


Manuel, age 16, was at the kitchen sink when he casually asked his grandmother :

Manuel : Nåna, håfa "sponge" gi fino' Chamorro?
Manuel : Grandma, what is "sponge" in Chamorro?

Nåna : Espongha.
Nåna : Espongha.

Manuel : Ti "saosao mañopchop?"
Manuel : It isn't "sucking wipes?"

Nåna threw her slipper at Manuel.

But to use Manuel's remark as a learning tool, let's look closer.

ESPONGHA is borrowed from Spanish, where the word for "sponge" is ESPONJA.



The first sponges were from the sea. People figured out that these marine animals (yes, animals - not plants) were absorbent and could be used to apply oils or perfume on human skin. From there, the human imagination put the marine sponge to many other uses. Famously, a Roman soldier dipped a sponge in vinegar and lifted it up for Jesus to drink while He was hanging on the cross.

Obviously our ancestors, being so at home in the ocean, knew about marine sponges. Whether they used them for anything, or whether there was a word for them, I don't know. But in the last 100 years or more, our people just call sea sponges espongha, and there isn't any regular use of them.

In time, people were able to make sponges from different material and, when these were first sold in the Marianas, our people called them espongha.


But espongha can also be used to mean "to puff up, to be fluffy." Even in Spanish that can be a meaning. And, common sense will tell you the reason just by looking at a fluffy cake like the SPONGE CAKE.

No one calls sponge cake kek espongha in Chamorro, but one could call it that.

What our mañaina (elders) did say, as evidenced in older dictionaries, is na' espongha when they wanted someone to fluff up something like, let's say, a cake or bread.


Manuel's invented phrase saosao mañopchop is not without logic.

Saosao means "to wipe" or the wipe itself.

Mañopchop comes from chopchop, which means "to suck."

To suck means to absorb, to take into. The guy in the picture is sucking on a straw and is taking in the drink. He is absorbing the drink through the straw he is sucking on.

A sponge absorbs the liquid it is wiping up.

So one could say saosao mañopchop, but nobody does. Only Manuel thought that one up. And grandma's slipper put a quick end to it.


Many readers ask me to always put an audio clip so they will learn how to say the word. Here it is :

Monday, April 5, 2021


We all know it as Camel Rock.

It only looks (vaguely) like a camel if you look at it from a certain angle. Otherwise, it just looks like a flat rock, with jagged edges. lying on the reef.

It was only called Camel Rock during American times. Our own people call it GA'PAN and sometimes GA'PANG. Some might call it Åcho' Ga'pan (Ga'pan Rock) and others might call it Isletan Ga'pan (Ga'pan Islet, or very small island).

Since the name  "Camel Rock" has become so common, there are older people who even call it Åcho' Kameyo which is "Camel Rock" in Chamorro, but Ga'pan is the actual Chamorro name.

I wasn't sure about the accurate pronunciation of Ga'pan till recently. The maps and documents just spell it Gapan and sometimes Gapang, but is there a glota in the way it is pronounced but just doesn't show in the old spelling? Is one A really an Å, which sounds different, like the two vowels in HÅGAT? Since the maps don't indicate any of these, the best thing is to hear the name pronounced by older residents of the area.  It took me some time, but I found someone very active in the community, who knows fishermen who know the area, and he's always heard the fishermen and man åmko' (elders) say Ga'pan, with the glota and the two As being the same kind of A that sounds like the A in "cat" and not like the A in "far."

OLD MAPS (1819 and 1900) SHOWING GA'PAN

We have no camels in the Marianas, but many Chamorros in the old days would have had some idea about them and how they looked because camels are often featured among the different statues in the belén or nativity scene. Not every Chamorro family had belén in their homes in the old days, but even those who didn't have them would have seen camel statues in those families that did have them or even in pictures. At the very least, a priest could have explained what a camel was, since camels are part of the Christmas story, especially with the Three Kings which Chamorros celebrated joyfully.

Still, our people did not call it Camel Rock, nor did they think of camels when they looked at the rock. It was always Ga'pan or Ga'pang. Calling it Camel Rock was an American idea.


If you wanted to know how the rock got there in the first place, I would reply by asking "Which legend do you want to hear?"

There is more than one legend, and they differ a lot but also contain a few details common to all versions of the story.

Let me start with the oldest one I have found so far.

FROM 1927

I'll summarize the legend as published in the Guam Recorder in 1927. No author and no source is stated. 

The people of Hagåtña were tired of being raided or invaded by warriors of other villages, who would attack Hagåtña sailing their canoes through the opening in the Hagåtña reef.

Maps as old as 1819 and during the war show the break in the reef in front of Hagåtña. Today, thanks to dredging by man and machine, the channel has been deepened and widened.


So the chiefly class of Hagåtña decided that everybody, young and old, would solve the problem by collecting rocks and dumping them at the break in the reef to seal it up. Enemy canoes would no longer be able to come in, so they thought.

The problem was the rocks they collected and dumped were small, so when the tide changed, the rocks were washed out to sea. The break in the channel remained open.

Obviously they realized they needed a bigger rock, one big enough that the flow of water when the tide changed couldn't move. But they didn't know of any rock big enough in the Hagåtña area. But the maga'låhe (chief) of Orote was a friend of the maga'låhe of Hagåtña and said they could find one in Orote. So, off some men of Hagåtña went in their canoes to Orote, where they found a nice big rock and loaded it onto one of their canoes and headed back to Hagåtña.

Now the problem was Asan. The people of Asan had a grudge against the people of Hagåtña who raided their village from time to time. When the maga'låhe and people of Asan saw the Hagåtña canoes passing by and one loaded with a huge rock, they knew what it was for and that it would prevent them from attacking Hagåtña by sea. The time to act was now. So the Asan warriors got in their canoes and attacked the Hagåtña canoes, whose men hadn't planned to fight when they made their voyage to Orote. Lacking the proper weapons for battle, the Hagåtña men easily succumbed to the Asan attack.

The Asan warriors decided to break up the Hagåtña canoe just enough so that the big rock it was carrying would submerge it. And so it happened, and all that was left on the reef outside Asan Point was the rock from Orote the men of Hagåtña intended to bring to their village.


Justo Quitugua Chargualaf was a life-long Asan resident, who was interviewed in 1961 at the age of 86 years. That means he could have heard the legend of Ga'pan as a child in the 1880s, which would predate the 1927 Guam Recorder article. But, since we don't know how old Justo was when he heard the story about Ga'pan, I'll have to place him after the Guam Recorder story to be safe.

In his version, it was the people of Piti and Hagåtña who were at odds. In Spanish times, the people of Piti actually lived in Tepungan, a little closer to Asan. It was a taotaomo'na of Piti (or Tepungan) who decided to block the Hagåtña channel with a big rock so he got one from Apapa' or Cabras Island. He did it at night, as taotaomo'na generally are not active during the day. But, before he could reach Hagåtña with the big rock, the sun started to rise so he threw the rock down on the reef outside Asan Point.


In another version, seen in print more recently, two boys, only four years old, from the Aguada clan, were sent to get the rock from Orote for the same purpose, of sealing the Hagåtña channel to prevent enemy attack. The detail that the two boys were only four years old means that Chamorros were so strong back then that even two children that young could fetch a huge rock. Their clan had a rule never to be out past a certain time at night. So, on their way back to Hagåtña, they saw a twinkling star which they mistakenly believed meant that the sun was soon to rise and they would break their curfew. So they dropped the huge rock on the reef at Asan Point to hurry back home in time.

On account of them being tricked by the twinkling star, the story is sometimes called Dinagi Laolao, which means "The Lie of Quivering," meaning the quivering or twinkling star.


In yet another version, the two men who fetched the rock were sons of Chief Gådao of Inalåhan. He sent them for the same mission, to seal up Hagåtña's opening in the reef. He told them to get the job done and return home before sunrise. They saw the twinkling star and, fearing sunrise, ditched the rock on the reef at Asan Point and beat a hasty return to Inalåhan.

There are a few more versions, some of them even giving the names of the two boys, or the name of their father. 

But, as you can see, the versions are wildly different in many ways, but let's see how all versions say the same thing in some respects.


1. The mission was to seal up the break in the reef at Hagåtña.

2. That would be accomplished by taking a big rock from somewhere else to Hagåtña to put in the break and seal it up.

3. The mission was not successful and the rock was dropped on the reef outside Asan Point.

Because the job was not accomplished, some people say that ga'pan means "unfinished work," but I cannot substantiate that from older dictionaries. The word doesn't appear even in the 1865 Chamorro dictionary.

So these three points are the heart of the story that appear in all the versions. But then the different versions of the legend add to the skeleton of the story in the different ways you see here. Who knows what newspaper article or book of legends in the future will add even more new elements to the story. And of course there may be old versions of the legend not passed down to us, or hidden somewhere on a piece of paper at MARC.

Ga'pan is a better name for this rock because it doesn't always look like a camel, but it always looks like a Ga'pan to me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021



Guam has been ruled mainly by two foreign powers, Spain and the United States. Both nations have used Guam as a place of exile. Just as the French had Devil's Island and the Russians had Siberia, there was also Guam.

Guam's remoteness was an asset to Spain and the US when they wanted to make trouble makers "disappear." Send them to Guam! And, in the case of Spain, send them to the Marianas!

Spanish political agitators, and Filipino criminals and revolutionaries were sent here by Spain, and the US also used Guam to house Filipino rebels such as Mabini and many more.

But, in 1919, an American senator came up with another reason to use Guam as a place of exile. Guam, he said, should be an island prison for radical American Communists wanting to overthrow the government.


In 1917, the Bolshevik faction of Russian Communists took over the Russian government through force of arms. The Soviet Union was born. It was the first nation to be ruled by Communists.

In 1919, an American Communist party was founded and still exists today. Many Americans feared them, and the loss of democratic and religious freedom.

Although the Bill of Rights protected Americans and their right to hold  whatever political ideas they wanted, it was against the law to aim for the violent overthrow of the government and this is where the anti-Communists searched for targets.

But, besides putting these Communists in jail, exile was also an option. Exile got trouble makers out of the way, so they could make less trouble.

Senator Duncan Fletcher, a Democrat from Florida, introduced a bill in the US Senate to make Guam a place of exile for American Communist radicals.

Guam was far away and the entire island was ruled by a Naval commander. The island was tropical, with no concern for winter heating, and mother nature gave up her gifts of fish and fruits without effort. After a month of good behavior, a Communist prisoner may even be allowed to roam the island freely, and still cause no harm to the United States.

Some went so far as to say that, since the Communists believed they could create a perfect human society, they could first do it on Guam and, if they succeeded, then maybe others would believe them, as well.


None of the proponents of this idea seemed to have cared at all that they didn't ask an important group of people what they thought of the idea; the people of Guam who had lived here for thousands of years.

When they even mentioned the existence of Chamorros (or Guamese, Guamians or Guamites), they said "Too bad." Someone has to pay the price for isolating the reds, let Guam be the sacrificial goat. "I have more interest in the people of the United States," said one American Senator, "than in the people of Guam."

Some would argue that sentiment is still rife in Washington, DC. For that politician just quoted, the United States was one thing, and Guam was something else.

But others, to be fair, asked, "Why pick on Guam? And the Chamorros?" The Chamorros of Guam were too nice, they said, to be troubled, corrupted or harassed by such unseemly people as Communists.

Fletcher's bill went nowhere and the Chamorros of Guam needn't be bothered by red Americans. They had enough to deal with with red, white and blue Americans.

Florida Senator Duncan O. Fletcher

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Guam ha sido gobernado principalmente por dos potencias, España y Estados Unidos. Ambas naciones han utilizado a Guam como lugar de exilio. Así como los franceses tenían la Isla del Diablo y los rusos tenían Siberia, España y EE.UU. tenían a Guam.

La lejanía de Guam fue una ventaja para España y Estados Unidos cuando querían hacer que los alborotadores "desaparecieran". ¡Enviadlos a Guam! gritaban los americanos. Y, en el caso de España, ¡A las Marianas con ellos!

Los agitadores políticos españoles y los criminales y revolucionarios filipinos fueron enviados aquí por España. Y Estados Unidos también usó Guam para albergar a rebeldes filipinos como Mabini y muchos más.

Pero, en 1919, a un senador estadounidense se le ocurrió otra idea para usar Guam como lugar de exilio. Guam, dijo, debería ser una prisión para los comunistas estadounidenses radicales que deseaban derrocar al gobierno democrático.

En 1917, la facción bolchevique de comunistas rusos se hizo cargo del gobierno ruso por la fuerza de las armas. Nació la Unión Soviética. Fue la primera nación gobernada por comunistas.

En 1919, se fundó un partido comunista estadounidense y todavía existe hoy. Muchos estadounidenses les temían a ellos y a la pérdida de libertad democrática y religiosa.

Aunque la Declaración de Derechos protegía a los estadounidenses y su derecho a sostener cualquier idea política, era contra la ley apuntar al derrocamiento violento del gobierno y aquí es donde los anticomunistas buscaban soluciones.

Pero, además de encarcelar a estos comunistas, el exilio también era una opción. El exilio eliminaba a los alborotadores para que no causaran problemas.

El senador Duncan Fletcher, en la foto, un demócrata de Florida, presentó un proyecto de ley en el Senado de los Estados Unidos para hacer de Guam un lugar de exilio para los radicales comunistas estadounidenses.

Guam estaba lejos y toda la isla estaba gobernada por un comandante naval. La isla era tropical, no había que preocuparse por cómo calentarse en invierno, y la madre naturaleza proporcionaba pescado y frutas en abundancia sin tener que esforzarse. Después de un mes de buen comportamiento, a un prisionero comunista se le podía permitir vagar libremente por la isla sin causar daño a los Estados Unidos.

Algunos llegaron a decir que, dado que los comunistas creían que podían crear una sociedad humana perfecta, primero podían hacerlo en Guam y, si tenían éxito, quizás otros también les seguirían.

A ninguno de los proponentes de esta idea parecía importarle en absoluto que pensaba la gente de Guam que había vivido aquí durante miles de años.

Cuando incluso mencionaron la existencia de chamorros o guameños, dijeron "Lástima". Alguien tiene que pagar el precio por aislar a los rojos, habrá que sacrificar a Guam. "Tengo más interés en la gente de los Estados Unidos", dijo un senador estadounidense, "que en la gente de Guam".

Algunos dirían que ese sentimiento todavía abunda en Washington, DC. Para ese político que acabo de citar, Estados Unidos era una cosa y Guam era otra.

Pero otros, para ser justos, preguntaron: "¿Por qué meterse con Guam? ¿Y los chamorros?" Los chamorros de Guam eran demasiado amables, decían, para ser molestados, corrompidos o acosados por personas tan indecorosas como los comunistas.

Afortunadamente, el proyecto de ley de Fletcher nunca fue aprobado.

Monday, March 15, 2021



Here is a slice of old village life that mental health professionals and others may reprove, but it happened and may even happen today.

I recently heard for the first time about what someone called the "Lonesome Stranger" of Talofofo.

That's all the writer said, so I had to do some digging. I went straight to the source; lifelong Talofofo residents.

There was once a man living in Talofofo who kept to himself. He was described as a hermit. Everyone in the village knew to leave him alone, and the man himself heightened the chance of remaining alone by living by himself most of his life, and by venturing out only in the early morning hours or after sunset. As daily Mass in the 1950s and 60s was as early as 5AM, people going to daily Mass would sometimes see him walking about.

He had family, a large one, in fact, but they respected his desire to be on his own, though, later in his life, some family members did check on him regularly to make sure he was OK. When he passed away, the family took care of his funeral.

But for many years, especially for Talofofo kids in the 1950s and 60s, the "Lonesome Stranger" was something of a mythical figure. Parents told their children not to be out of the house at night because the man might snatch them, which of course never happened.

Stories grow less and less accurate as they spread. That's because the next story teller adds his own inventions to make the story more interesting. People outside of Talofofo called him the "Lonesome Stranger." But the truth was he was no stranger at all; his large clan lived in Talofofo. Stories circulated that the "Lonesome Stranger" appeared on the road so suddenly that drivers were thrown off by the fright.  Saying that makes the story is more interesting than just a man walking the village streets minding his own business.

One man, not from Talofofo, claimed he was driving around in the early hours of the morning in the 1970s when he came upon the stop at the top of the hill overlooking Talofofo Bay. On his approach, he saw no one, but after he continued driving he looked in his rear view mirror and saw a man sitting on the guard rail. He turned back to check, and there was no one. But when he drove off again, there the man was again in his rear view mirror. He said it could have been the "Lonesome Stranger" who legend says died in that spot. But the real "Lonesome Stranger" was alive and well, and didn't pass away for another forty years.


The "Lonesome Stranger" was harmless, but parents used his idiosyncrasies to scare the children into good behavior.

He would go around the village with a sack, collecting bottles and cans. Your trash might go missing, too, as he would go through your garbage can waiting by the road side for pick up and bring them back to his hide-away to sort them. 

Kids might have called him names or thrown rocks at him, but villagers tell me this wouldn't have been often and if adults had been around the kids would have been scolded. Generally, he was left alone. If he saw someone coming his way, he'd make a detour if possible. If you passed him, he wouldn't look at you.

Several villages in the 1950s, 60s and 70s had their own version of the "Lonesome Stranger." In all cases, they did no harm and no harm was done to them, except for the occasional tease from children (as children can be till taught better). Children at first have that kind of reaction to the odd or different. The older the children got, they lost their fear of these special people and saw them as fellow human beings who just had their own way, and then blended into the scene.

Rest in peace, "Lonesome Stranger."

Monday, March 8, 2021




If you plant nappa',
nappa' will sprout.

The other day I was sharing with an older man how this young man in his twenties is still a child in thinking and behavior. His whole day is spent on computer games, and his evenings are spent playing music and drinking with friends. No thought is given to furthering his education or finding a job to develop skills, earn a living and contribute to society.

But, his father is the same way. If it weren't for the fact that the father is very talented in one thing that brings in money without much effort on his part, since he's so good in it, the family would be penniless.

The older man replied to me with the above proverb. If you plant nappa', you get nappa'. Nappa' will grow.

The son was "planted" by the father (and mother). As the father, so the son. The Bible says, "You reap what you sow." The apple doesn't fall far the tree, and many other sayings like that from all over the world, in their own manner of speaking.


Nappa' is the Chinese cabbage.

But the word nappa' is borrowed from Japanese nappa, which refers to the leaves of vegetables in general, especially those used for food.

The fact that Chamorros use a Japanese word for it, when Japanese influence in the Marianas did not start till around 1900, suggests that the cabbage is not old in the Marianas. Safford (1905) states that cabbage didn't grow on Guam, but does say that Japanese merchants were bringing in plant seeds from Japan by the time he was on Guam (1899-1900). So, more than likely, nappa' began to be grown in the Marianas thanks to Japanese infuence in the 1900s and so even the name is taken from Japanese.

So, at least from the early 1900s, nappa' has been grown in the Marianas and the saying came about. If you plant nappa', nappa' will sprout. Train a child a certain way, he or she will grow up that way.

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.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Como alguien me dijo una vez, "Casi de cualquier cosa se puede hacer alcohol, si tiene azúcar".

Así que nuestros antepasados aprendieron el arte de hacer åguayente (del español “aguardiente” o “agua ardiente”), también conocido como agi.

El maíz, la tuba de coco, la caña de azúcar, entre otros productos, podían usarse para elaborarla.

Pero el alcohol puede ser peligroso, especialmente porque no todos los alcoholes son iguales. El metanol es malo en lo que respecta al consumo humano. Puede matarte.

En los tiempos de antes, la gente no tenía la capacidad de utilizar métodos de laboratorio para analizar el destilado. Solo lo reconocían probándolo. Si era demasiado fuerte, o si el metanol era producido por microbios naturales, el agi podía ser mortal.

Así es que, un anciano me contó que su abuelo había muerto en esas circunstancias. Su abuelo era un gran bebedor y productor de agi. La hacía clandestinamente antes de la guerra y también un tiempo después. Pero la última vez, la hizo demasiado fuerte. Quizás estaba acostumbrado a que fuera tan fuerte después de todos esos años. Pero murió unas horas después de beber.

"Sinengge i san halom-ña", me dijo el nieto. "Sus entrañas estaban quemadas".

No se realizaban autopsias a fines de la década de 1940 cuando murió el abuelo, por lo que no se sabe de qué murió exactamente. Pero tenía los signos reveladores de intoxicación por metanol. Comenzando con dolor de cabeza, mareos, confusión, dolor abdominal y llevándolo, horas más tarde, a la pérdida de movimiento y visión y finalmente a la muerte.

La intoxicación por metanol de licor casero ocurre con frecuencia en toda Asia.

Según el mismo anciano cuyo abuelo murió probablemente por toxicidad del agi, cuando la gasolina era escasa durante la ocupación japonesa de Guam, siempre que tuviese un alto contenido en alcohol, se usaba åguayente local para repostar los camiones.

El veneno de un hombre era el propulsor de otro.

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.