Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Anthony Zablan playing the ukulele in 1901

The Zablans (Sablans) of Hawaii are descendants of two Chamorros named Sablan who moved to Hawaii in the 1800s.  Usually, Chamorros went to Hawaii (and other places) as crew members of the whaling ships that stopped by Guam.  So many young Chamorro men were joining the whaling ships that the government tried to prevent them from leaving the island.  Most never came back to Guam, but some did, bringing with them a little proficiency in English, experiences of the wider world and sometimes ideas that did not jive with the Spanish Catholic environment of the island.

For Spaniards living in the south of Spain, and for Spanish-speakers in all of Latin America and the Philippines and Marianas, Z and S have the same sound : S.  Zablan and Sablan sound the same, so much so that at times the same person would spell his name Zablan or Sablan depending on the mood of the day.

JOAQUIN PANGELINAN ZABLAN was born around 1843 on Guam and died in Hawaii in 1932.  Arriving in Hawaii in 1869 aboard the Daniel Webster, he married twice during his lifetime.  His first wife was Hawaiian, Ane Keaweamahi, who died in 1887.  With her, he had five children.  He had ten more with his second wife, a Portuguese woman named Maria Botelho.

Joaquin was a rancher on the Big Island, in Halawa (Kolawa district). He also ran a store for a time there.

In 1892, Joaquin is listed as an auctioneer in Lahaina on the island of Maui.

SILVESTRE CASTRO ZABLAN.  He was in Hawaii by 1873, where he appears in some documents. He was involved in business and was a member of the Good Templars, a fraternal organization which Catholics, at the time, were forbidden to join.

JOSE PEREZ.  Took the name Joseph when he moved to Hawaii, which he did in 1870.  Became a carpenter in Hamakua on the Big Island and married a Hawaiian named Leleo.

NICOLAS PEREZ.  Arrived from Guam in 1876.

BEN PANGELINAN.  Arrived in Hawaii in 1860.  Became a storekeeper in North Kohala on the Big Island.  He married a Portuguese named Margarita.

IGNACIO AFLAGUE.  He worked as a clerk and salesman for various enterprises and may have been Deputy Registrar General in North Kohala (Big Island).  His wife was Portuguese, Mary de Rego Souza.

BASILIO GUERRERO.  Born around 1840 on Guam.  Married in Hawaii to a woman from Singapore named Nicolasa.

Two brothers, JOSE and LUIS CASTRO (Kaban) changed their last name to Custino.  They became Protestant, perhaps the first Chamorro Protestants, and returned to Guam right after the Americans took possession, in order to establish a Protestant congregation in their birthplace.  Eventually they returned to Hawaii, where the Custino family survives in its several branches.

His father Joaquin was a Chamorro from Guam who moved to Hawaii in 1869.

Chamorros were often listed in the Hawaiian records as being Spaniards and even Caucasians!  One very early Chamorro settler in Hawaii was simply known as John Paniolo, paniolo meaning "cowboy" but coming from the word español, which the Hawaiians pronounced paniolo.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Eståba na mañuñugon si Fulåno gi chalan annai ha li'e na esta kumekehokkok i gasolina.  "Gaddai gas este i karetå-ho," ilek-ña si Fulåno.  "Para måno hit på'go," mamaisen i pasahero, annai ha sugon i karetå-ña si Fulåno guato gi gas station.  "Para bai na' gimen i karetå-ho gas," ilek-ña si Fulåno.

Fulano was driving on the road when he noticed he was almost out of gas.  "My car uses up a lot of gas," Fulano said.  "Where are we going now," the passenger asked, when Fulano drove the car into the gas station.  "I'm going to make my car drink gas," said Fulano.

En Guam, se dice, "Voy a dar de beber al coche," cuando le falta gasolina.

Monday, November 28, 2011



These announcements by Father Lee in Tinian in the early 1960s reflect the pace of life in that small and quiet community.  The people depending on many goods coming from the supply ship, so when it came, whenever it came, that was the priority.  So on this occasion, Father Lee dispensed the men working to unload the supplies from Sunday Mass obligation when the ship came on a Sunday.  Others, probably mainly the women, would cook to feed the loading crews.  The community also depended heavily on sports to fill in the hours of TV-less nights and weekends.

Hu dispepensa todo i taotao "loading ship" på'go na oga'an ginen i obligasion Sånta Misa, kon todo i taotao kusina yanggen mañåtsaga siha.  Yanggen siña, debe de u fan hosme Misa durånte i semåna.  Malago' yo' hu sangåne i taotao MDC sen dangkulo Si Yu'us Ma'åse' pot i che'cho'-miyo nigap gi plåsan basketball.  Debåtde ha' todo i che'cho'-ñiha, sa' para i Gima'yu'us yan i famagu'on-ta.

I am dispensing all the "loading ship" people this morning from the obligation (of attending) Holy Mass, including the kitchen crew if they are unable (to attend Mass).  If they can, they must attend Mass during the week.  I would like to tell the MDC people thanks very much for your work yesterday on the basketball court.  All their work is free, because it's for the Church and our children.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adelbert von Chamisso

As mentioned earlier, Chamisso was part of the Kotzebue expedition that visited Guam in 1817.  Chamisso wrote a list of Chamorro words which was later published.  Chamisso wrote in German, and spelled these Chamorro words in the way it would sound to his ear, and an ear influenced by the German language.  So, the Chamorro Y sound (Yigo, Yu'us) he spelled DJ - the way Germans would spell that sound.  Our CH sound he spelled TJ.  Just think of the word "champagne."  We say it with an SH sound because, in French, CH is our SH sound.

Keep in mind that people hear a sound, then have to think of how to represent that sound with letters.  Believe it or not, people don't always hear exactly the sound somebody speaks.  We make those errors even when two people are speaking the same language; imagine when one is hearing an unfamiliar language.  So, "mistakes" are bound to happen, in the sense that the speller did not hear the spoken sound accurately.  Secondly, we, the reader, are "hearing" written sounds the way we are accustomed to interpreting the letters, so that adds to the puzzle.

Most of the words Chamisso listed are completely identical to the words we use today :

Addau (atdao) : sun
Amku (åmko') : old
Dankulu (dångkulo) : big
Dikiki (dikkike') : small
Guafi (guåfe) : fire
Tjodha (chotda) : banana

Some of the words have changed in meaning over the years :

"Sahadjan" is almost positively sahyan, which today means any type of mode of transportation, but in Chamisso's time it meant only a "boat" or a "ship."  Sahyan, by the way, is hardly ever used in Guam but in Saipan I heard it frequently when speaking about a car.

Poksai today means "to raise" as in to raise a child, or animals or even to grow a beard!  But in Chamisso's time it meant "to suck."  I suppose one can see how raising a child, or a young mammal, includes nursing at the breast.

Some of the words we no longer use at all, but take us back perhaps to the original Chamorro word.

For example, for "milk," everybody now borrows the Spanish word leche.  But Chamisso says the Chamorro word for "milk" is tschugususu (chugo' susu) or "juice from the teet."

Chamisso says that the Chamorro word for "tree" is uddunhadju.  Today, we say trongko, which is borrowed from the Spanish word troncoUddunhadju seems to be a combination of uddu (unkown meaning) and hadju or håyo (wood).

"North, south, east and west" in Chamorro are timi, seplun, manuu, faniipan respectively, which are not used anymore in Chamorro.  It makes for a great discussion, if these words really indicated compass points.  Our terms san lago, san lichan, san haya and san kattan refer to directions towards, away from and to either side of the sea (not true compass points).

Chamisso confirms what earlier explorers said, that chamorro referred to the chiefs or nobles.

Finally, keep in mind that Chamisso, like all of us, could have made mistakes in hearing, remembering what he heard, and writing it down.  Even the printers could have made typos.

Friday, November 25, 2011

You know you're from the 60s when your dad tells you and your siblings to stop everything they're doing and get in the car, with no further explanation.  In twenty minutes, your dad stops by the road in Apra Heights or, after another twenty minutes, near Mount Lamlam, to do what?  To view the grass fires that often came in the dry season - January to May, more or less.

I think he would hear about the fires on the radio and off we went!  In the 1960s on Guam, when we had one TV channel, which didn't last all day and night either, watching grass fires for some people like my dad was something to do.  Can you spell "bored?"


Rejecting everything Spanish in Chamorro culture - words, customs, religion - is much in fashion nowadays among some Chamorro culture revivalists.  But we all took off from work yesterday and feasted without so much as a peep about the holiday being thoroughly American - from Abraham Lincoln who, in 1863, was the first to proclaim a national holiday called Thanksgiving, to the Plymouth Colony pilgrims upon whom the tradition rests.  Interestingly, the "Americans" who started thanksgiving day practices (there were many such days, at different times of the year depending on the colony) were actually English settlers who displaced the native Americans.  But we observe their traditions on Guam, where the indigenous people struggle to maintain their place in their native land.

Think of other things we accept as "normal," but which are notions and practices unknown to our ancestors but which we have grown up with since 1898.

I just find it curious that some reject everything from one outside influence, and live in practice the influences of another outside source, all the while claiming to reject everything external.

De momento, entre muchos nacionalistas chamorros, es muy de moda rechazar todo lo español que se encuentra en la cultura e idioma de las Marianas, mientras ellos mismos creen en ideas y guardan costumbres norteamericanas.  Muy curioso para mí.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


On November 24, 1817 a Russian scientific expedition arrived on Guam.  The Rurik was commanded by Otto von Kotzbue.  Scientists and artists were on board to investigate and record what they found in the South Seas.  From them, we have much information about life on Guam almost 200 years ago.

By then, Humåtak was no longer the port of call for ships coming to Guam.  Ships now anchored in Apra Harbor, called back then by its full name, San Luis de Apra.  Orote also had a fuller name, San Carlos de Orote.  Cabras Island was still called Apapa, its Chamorro name (cabras means "she-goats" in Spanish).

Robert Wilson, an Englishman, was pilot of the port, which meant he was responsible for guiding ships into the harbor, which was so shallow in many areas as to be dangerous.  The Spaniards had already built a fort, Santa Cruz, on a shallow platform in the harbor.  Wilson's position in the Spanish administration shows that the whalers had already been established on Guam, some of them leaving the seas to settle and marry on Guam.  Wilson married a Chamorro woman; one of his daughters married into the Castro (Siket) family.  They carry his blood to this day.

The Rurik brought to Guam men like Chamisso and Choris whose writings and sketches provide us with a glimpse of Guam in the 1800s.  Chamisso also wrote down a fairly long list of authentic Chamorro words, including the pre-Spanish counting system.  His lexicon (word list) shows that the Chamorro language we speak today is very much the same as the Chamorro spoken almost 200 years ago, with some differences, of course.


November, 1905.  Jose sat in class, third grade, listening to Mrs. Vandercutt, wife of the navy quartermaster who cured her boredom by teaching in Agaña's schools.

"Children, there's no school tomorrow because we must celebrate Thanksgiving."

"What is Thanksgiving, teacher?" Jose asked.

"We eat turkey and mashed potatoes and give thanks to God for being good to the pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock," said Mrs. Vandercutt.

"What's a turkey?" a mystified Jose asked.

"It's like a big chicken," she said, caught off-guard by the question.

"OK," said Jose.

The next day, Jose took his family took his puzzled mom, dad and siblings on pilgrimage to Inarajan, Merizo, Umatac, Sumay and Agat churches, finished at Camel Rock, made kåddu of the biggest chicken they could find on their ranch and mashed a pot of boiled kamuti.

"Jose, håfa bidåda-ta?"  asked Jose's mom.

"Fana'an assimilation ma å'ålok," said Jose.

"Ai, gråsias a Dios na umeskuekuela hao, Jose!" said mama.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Esta guiya yo' na måtto! / Håfa tatatmanu'ao nene?
Kao pareho ha' yan åntes / annai guåho'ao mumantiene?

Here  I am; I have come! How are you, darling?
Are you the same as before, when it was I who held you?

Ei na inande'!  What a flirt!  And no lack of self-confidence! 

He means to say, "Surely, darling, you regret my absence; you long for my embrace.  Needless to say you are worse off now than before, when we were together.  But cheer up -  I have returned!"

Words had to be shortened to fit them into the melody.  Hao becomes 'ao.

Pareho = from the Spanish parejo, which means "even, uniform, neutral, fair."  From the Latin par, meaning "equal," as we say in English, "to be on par with someone."

Mantiene = from the Spanish mantener, which, you won't be surprised, sounds very much like the English maintain, meaning "maintain, hold, keep."  In all those forms, the word comes from two Latin words "manus" or "hand" and "tenere" or "to hold."  A tenet is a belief you hold on to, and comes from the Latin tenere, as well as almost all words ending in -tain (obtain, retain, sustain, contain, etc) and words such as tenant (someone holding a place) or tenor (someone capable of holding the voice) and tenacious (someone who strongly holds onto something).  Maintain/mantener mean "to hold in one's hand."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

PÅKKAKA' : to keep silence, to be quiet

How many times did our mañaina yell at us kids, "Famåkkaka'!"

If you ask one or two people to be quiet, it's "Påkkaka'!"

Three or more and it's "Famåkkaka'!"  Fan+påkkaka' = famåkkaka'.  The N+P combination is changed to an M.

Pale' Roman has an interesting phrase : Ga'o-ko mohon na ginen hu påkkaka'.  I wish I would have kept quiet.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


This is a list of (mostly) deaths of people connected with my family, from late 1963 till late 1965, so for about 2 years.  It was written in Chamorro (except for the dates, oddly enough) by my grandmother's sister, Rita Perez Torres, who never married.  We all called her Nina, because she was godmother to a whole bunch of people.

Nina didn't speak much English.  But she could read and write Chamorro, as you can see.  She was also one hard-core Catholic.  She was the Mother Superior, really, of the family, though my grandmother was the oldest and had the power to veto Nina's decisions if necessary. 

Nina made sure that all the deaths of relatives and family friends were recorded on this paper, even the amount of ika, or funeral donation, given.

In the Chamorro way, she lists people sometimes by their better-known-as (Titires, Pedan, Aliag, Makaka) or by a second person (usually a spouse or parent) such as "Marian Petra" or "Jesusan Tomas."

The list has a few wedding dates and a birth.

Speaking little English, when Nina worked, it was in the public school cafeteria and she was home by mid afternoon.  She was the heart of the family, while the others went to their 8-5 jobs.  She cooked, cleaned and washed - and made sure everyone practiced the Catholic faith daily.  And this list shows that she thought that the deaths and other big events in people's lives were very important to remember.  She kept people's death anniversaries this way, including them in her many, daily prayers.  Makes me proud.  This is virtue.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


A long time ago, a man and I were talking, and he said that his loyalty was to the village where he grew up as a child, not the village where he actually spent most of his life as an adult. 

When I asked him why, he said, "Siempre nai sa' guihe nai ma håfot i toayå-ho!" "Certainly, because that's where they buried my towel!"

The meaning of his strange speech escaped me until sometime later someone explained that, in days past when children were born at home, with the help sometimes of a pattera or midwife, the child's placenta was wrapped up in a towel (toåya) and buried underneath the house (påpa' såtge), as most houses were built on stilts (haligi).

The man was pointing to the physical and emotional connection he had with the soil of his native village; something intimately connected with his life in the womb was buried there.  In his mind, he literally became part of the soil of his village.

I talked to Tan Esco about this and she taught me the word påres, the Chamorro word for placenta which we borrowed from the Spanish word for the same thing.  I looked it up in Påle' Roman's dictionary and he says that a more Chamorro term for it is ga'chong i patgon - the baby's companion.  It makes sense, doesn't it?  After the baby, out comes the placenta.  The baby's påres is wrapped in a toåya and buried.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Gi magåhet, fino' Españot i "påso" ya kumekeilek-ña, i man mapos siha na bidå-ña pat ma cho'guen-ña i taotao.  Pot ehemplo, siña ta ålok na i "påson Jesukristo" kumekeilek-ña todo i ha så'pet i Saina-ta, annai ma aresta gue', annai ma kastiga gue', annai ma atåne gue'.

O sino, yanggen ilek-ho na siña hu sångan este pat ennao na estoria pot si fulåno sa' gof umamigo ham yan guiya, yan ennao mina' hu tungo' i pasu-ña.

Påso is borrowed from the Spanish language and one of its meanings is the "past deeds and experienes" of a person; his or her life story.  During Lent, it was the custom to read about the sufferings of Jesus and this was called the Påson Jesukristo.

One could also say that you knew a person so well you could tell all the stories of that person's life - i pasu-ña. 

I think, therefore, that if one were to write a biography of someone in Chamorro, it could be called I Påson Antonio B. Won Pat, I Påson Felixberto C. Flores, and so on.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Sen and gof  both mean "very."  Placed before a word, sen and gof will normally change the pronunciation of that word.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


We're still in November, the month of the Holy Souls.  Many of the graves and niches still show signs of their recent annual cleaning and decorating.

These låpida in Saipan show strong attachment to Chamorro, and Spanish-influenced, wording.

"Requerdon i Familia"
Remembrance or Memorial from the Family

The Spanish word is recuerdo, and different låpida spell it recuerdo or requerdo.  Many people today would spell it rekuetdo, since we would pronounce it with a "t," not the "r."  Recuerdo means "memorial," or "souvenir," or "remembrance."

At the bottom of the låpida, it says Pas Deskanso, meaning "peace" and "rest."  The Spanish originals are paz and descanso.

"Requerdon i Asaguaña yan i Famaguon-ña"
Memorial from his Wife and Children

A good example of the blend of Spanish (recuerdo) and Chamorro (asagua and famaguon).

Uncommon Symbols of Birth and Death

In this låpida, the birth and death of the person are noted with symbols.  The shell indicates his birth because the shell represents his baptism.  People were very often baptized the same day they were born.  Even if they were not born and baptized on the same day, the birth was represented by the baptism.  The priest scooped up the baptismal water using a shell - even a metallic one - or some other instrument.  The cross represents the person's death.  Though the cross is a common symbol for death, it is not usually seen on a låpida.

Notice that this particular person died on his or her birthday, November 10.  Na'masi, no?

Chamorro name for the month
A Plea to the Visitor

This låpida shows a rare example of using the Chamorro (Spanish) name for the month.  In most låpida, even the ones with no other English writing, the English names for the month are used.  Here, we see that it is Måyo, or May.  "Sept" could still be Septiembre, for September, but it isn't clear.

Secondly, we see here a very Catholic trait : asking the visitor to pray for the deceased.  "Tayuyute gue as Yuus," or "Pray for him/her to God."  You see this inscription a lot in Spanish cemeteries, and even in Spanish death announcements in the newspapers : Rogad por su eterno descano.  Pray for his/her eternal rest.  Rogad por su alma.  Pray for his/her soul.

Notice also that Chamorro words are used for "born" and "died."  Maf on the låpida is the abbreviation for mafañågo or "born," and Mat is the abbreviation for måtai or "died."

An old låpida entirely in Chamorro

You can barely make it out, but it reads from the top "Mahafot guini i tataotao - Jose M. Aguon" and at the bottom "Requerdon i Famaguonna Siha."  "Here is buried the body of Jose M. Aguon."  "Memorial from His Children."

"Here is buried..." echoes the Spanish custom of beginning the låpida with the words "Aqui yacen..."  or "Here lies..."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


False Friend : A word that looks the same in two different languages but means two different things.

In Chamorro, siempre means "surely, certainly, definitely."  But in Spanish it means "always."

If a Spaniard asks if you will be going to the market today, and you answer "Siempre," the Spaniard will think you always go to the market, and you will have thought you were telling the Spaniard that you were certainly going to the market that day.

"Always" was the original meaning of siempre in Chamorro, since we borrowed the word from the Spaniards.  Consult the older Chamorro dictionaries and you will see this.  But it doesn't take much analysis to see how "always" evolved into "certainly."  If something always happens, it is certain that it will happen.

Our mañaina used different words to say "surely, certainly, definitely."  They also used Spanish words to express these ideas.  Seguro was one.  Even today we can say seguro when we want to say "surely, definitely, certainly."

Another word for "certainly" was fiho.  We got that from the Spanish fijo, which means "definite, permanent, stable."  The meaning of fiho changed and it now means "often" in Chamorro, although one can still use the original meaning as in, "fiho na hinasso," or "unchanging thinking or mentality."

Sen magahet literally means "very true" but it can also be used to express the idea that something is certain or definite.  Sen magahet is also purely indigenous Chamorro; not an ounce of Spanish there.

We can also still say siempre when we want to say "always," although most of us will say "todo i tiempo," which is still borrowing from Spanish.

The changing meanings of siempre and fiho, which changed just within the space of a hundred years, show that languages evolve, even without outside influence.  There is no language that is fiho throughout its entire history, even if there is no colonizer who introduces changes.

Monday, November 14, 2011


There was a village where the first homes you saw upon arrival, all in a row on the same street, were the following families in order of geographical precedence :

The Påkpåk (explode) family; the Palakse (slippery) family; the Bådo (hunchback) family; the Dåkngas (bald) family; the Sabåna (mountain) family; the Båchet (blind) family and finally the Måddok (hole) family.  These were their better-known-as names.

So people used to tell others traveling to this village :

Gigon humålom hao gi ayo na songsong, gof adahe sa' siempre un hungok i papåkpåk.  Yanggen esta monhåyan hao guennao, gof adahe na un sulon sa' siempre un sodda' i palakse.  Pues an kahulo' hao, adahe na un fina'ñago nu i bado.  Pues, yanggen esta sige hao, adahe na un totpe i dakngas.  Pues siempre an sige hao mo'na, un hotde i sabåna.  Yanggen tumunok hao ginen i sabåna, adahe na un totpe i batchet.  Pues an sige hao mo'na, adahe na un poddong gi maddok!

As soon as you enter that village, be very careful because you will surely hear something explode.  When you're done there, be very careful not to slip because you will surely find something slippery.  When you get up, be careful not to be frightened by the hunchback.  Then, when you keep going, be careful not to bump into the bald person.  Then surely as you keep going forward, you will climb the mountain.  When you come down from the mountain, be careful not to bump into the blind person.  Then when you keep going forward, be careful not to fall into the hole!