Saturday, December 31, 2011


From Saipan, we get our one and only traditional Chamorro New Year's song.

Ta fan magof todos / mientras man lålå'la' hit
ta nå'e mit gråsias / i muna' fanhuyong hit.
Esta måtto i nuebo / na såkkan ni para hita
ta propone de nuebo / umarekla i ha'ani-ta.
Ta fan magof todos...

(Let us all rejoice while we are still living
let's give a thousand thanks to the one who created us.
The New Year has come already to us,
let us propose once again to reform our lives.)

Jesus Yu'us-måme / gi nuebo na såkkan
gai'ase' nu hame / apåtta i daño.
Nå'e nu i deskånso / i man gaige esta gi naftan
ya an guåha sea kåso måtai na såkkan.

(Jesus, our God, in the New Year
have mercy on us, remove what is harmful.
Give rest to those already in the grave
and on those who may die this year.)

Ta fan magof todos...

Fan adesea de nuebo / ginen i korason-miyo
felis na åño nuebo / todo i ha'ånen-miyo.

(Wish each other once again from your hearts
a Happy New Year all your lives.)

Ta fan magof todos...


The Saipan song is based on two different European songs blended together.

Saipan's Catholic missionaries from 1907 to 1919 were German Capuchin friars, who more than likely had a hand in composing Ta Fan Magof Todos, basing the first part of the song on a German one they knew so well.

The German song is called Freut Euch des Lebens, which can be translated "Enjoy Life." This song goes all the way back to the 1790s! It's a song about enjoying the goodness of life while we still have it. As one line of the German song goes, to "pluck the rose before it wilts."

The short part concerning praying for the dead comes from a Russian hymn going back to the 1830s which was picked up by British hymnologists and given English lyrics and the title God, the Omnipotent.

Si Yu'us ma'åse' to Guam's premier hymnologist


for finding these originals.


Juan : Jose, håftaimano masangån-ña "fish doctor" gi fino' Englis?

Jose : Mediko para guihan, nai.

Juan : Åhe', lache ennao.

Jose : Pues håfa nai?

Juan : Fishishan.

Friday, December 30, 2011


Yup, we use the Spanish phrase (after all, we use a Western calendar introduced to us by the Spaniards)  :


Or we could localize it even more and say BIBA AÑO NUEBO, which the Spaniards don't normally say.  Just once in a while; as ¡Viva Año Nuevo!


I was reminded recently just how overlooked an important little letter is in our language.  It is the Ñ.

It is called the enñe and makes the nye sound.  You may be one of those who call it "the n with the little curly thing on top."  The "curly thing" is officially called the tilde.  We got it from the Spanish.

The other day I went to a parish to tape their ma nginge' Niño activities.  This parish also has a youth leader who is godfather (nino) to so many people that his godchildren are organized as a group.  When I got down from the car, I saw a young man and asked him if he's part of the Niño Group.  He said "yes."  So I asked what time they planned on heading out with the Niño.  He looked puzzeled.  He said they weren't going out.  I said, "You don't bring the Niño to the homes on Christmas?"  He laughed.  He thought I had said Nino (godfather) and not Niño (Child Jesus).  The young man was indeed a member of Nino's group, but not the Niño Group.

Time and time again I see Agaña, Sinajaña and Yoña spelled Agana, Sinajana and Yona.  Then we laugh or correct newcomers who ask directions to A - ga - na, not Agaña.  I know some members of the Muña family who always put in the ~.  It is needed in other names like Muñoz, Mangloña and Dueñas.

In writing, it makes a big difference.  There's the island Dåno (Cocos Island) and there's dåño (to injure).  There's puno' (to kill) and puño (fist).  Låna (oil) and laña' (expletive).

Finally, pot fabot, there's a big difference between

THE NINO (Godfather) and THE NIÑO (Christ Child)

That's the Niño on the left
That's Kevin, who is Nino to many godchildren, on the right



Just some techas I know who have years of experience leading prayers and devotions in the community.

Annie has been a techa since at least the 1970s.  She is asked here and there to lead devotions in private homes, like this one, which prays the Nobenan Niño each year.  The elderly lady in the bluish dress sitting in the very front is 97 years old!  She lost her husband at the tail end of the Japanese occupation.

Tan Lourdes

Tan Lourdes is a retired techa now, but, back in the day, she was a techa All-Star.  She lead the rosary and devotions before Mass DAILY (seven days a week) and was one of the singers (kantora) during Mass.

For many years, Tan Lourdes would go to a dozen or more homes each day in December to lead the Nobenan Niño.  Her daughter, who accompanied her, enjoyed eating a little at the different houses and seeing the variety of food each had.  From the start of the Nobena Season, Tan Lourdes basically spent the whole day leading the nobena in other people's homes.  Only when Christmas was over was she able to get to know her own house all over again.

There's a special place in heaven for many a Chamorro techa.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


At four o'clock in the morning, while it was still dark, everyone was awoken by the ringing of the alarm bell.  The Korincho (Perez) house was on fire.  The fire was quickly put out, but how much of the house was damaged was not reported.  What they did find out was that apparently a mouse had taken the burning wick of a lamp up to the thatched roof and set it ablaze.  Tailaye na chåka!


Building a belen is an old Chamorro custom adopted from the Spaniards.  In English, it's called a creche or nativity scene, but we call it a belen because Belen is Spanish and Chamorro for Bethlehem.  Properly speaking, a belen is supposed to look like Bethlehem, with houses, roads, trees, wells, streams, carts, animals, townspeople and whatever else you can obtain.  Typically, though, most people were satisfied with, and could afford, to buy a niño, a statue of Mary and Joseph, an angel usually placed at the entrance, a cow and a donkey, shepherds and others.

The belen usually had to be finished by December 16 or 17, depending on when the family began their nobena.

The belen was often indoors, but some families erected their belen outside in the carport because the inside of the house was too small to accommodate the number of people attending the nobena.

A typical Chamorro belen.
With the Niño

Without the Niño

Some people don't believe in placing the niño in the belen until Christmas day, since "Jesus isn't born yet."  Others don't put out the statues of the three kings (Tres Reyes) until January 6, the traditional day of the Three Kings.

A belen where the scene takes place in a cave (liyang) rather than a house.

This family has collected a wide variety of belens, only some of which are seen here.  Can you count how many separate sets are in this picture?


While many families could not afford to buy many statues or build a town resembling Bethlehem, there was one thing we Chamorros always took pride in - the lumutLumut is the moss collected in dark, dank places with a lot of tree coverage and coral rocks.  The lumut simulated the verdant grass covering the ground in and around the belen.  The more lumut there was, the better.  While in northern countries the smell of pine in the house announced the arrival of Christmas time, in the Marianas, the musty smell of lumut told everyone in the house that it was time for Christmas.


The tradition is that Saint Francis of Assisi, while ministering as a deacon at Christmas Mass, was inspired to set up a replica of the nativity scene.  From the Franciscan friars, the custom of setting up the nativity scene spread throughout the Catholic world.
In Spain, the belen can also be called the portal, the pesebre or the nacimiento.  In many cases, the belen really does replicate the entire town of Bethlehem, with flowing water and moving animals.
The belen is a BIG deal in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries.  They even form associations who are responsible for erecting the belen in a church or a town. 
People who are skilled at putting up a belen are called beleneros (belenera, for a woman).  People who study the belen in a serious, academic way (belenismo) are called belenistas.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Saipan, the Niño is considered incomplete without a gown.  I remember buying a few more niños for our parish, and the people wouldn't even think of using them until gowns were sewed for them.

In Guam, gowns are not sewn for the Niño.

But they both use


  • In Saipan, people will not leave the house until the Niño comes.  If a team misses a house, that house will usually call the church to complain or to remind them.
  • When the Niño comes to the house, people don't stand at the door and fan nginge'.  The head of the house takes the Niño in hand (including the crib) and places it on an altar or table inside the house.  The family kneels and says prayers, then fan nginge'.
  • If a party is going on at the house when the Niño arrives, the music and noisy talk stop until the Niño leaves.
  • Caroling has to be a part of every Niño team.
  • People are very generous.  I knew of some parishes that paid the year's insurance premium just from the donations collected from the ma nginge' Niño.
  • One can safely say that the entire island is visited by the Niño.


When you ask someone to turn on or turn off the AIR CON.

To me, it makes perfect sense to shorten "air conditioner" to "air con."  But, in the mainland, people look at me as if I were from Mars when I say it.  For them, it's the AC.  I found one person born and raised in California who didn't think "air con" was a weird word, and he was Filipino by blood.

Sometimes I call it the "air con dåkdåk," something I learned from somebody else.  Dåkdåk is an actual word and it means "to knock,"  so linguistically it doesn't fit.  Still, it sounds funny.  And Lord knows we all need a reason to smile day to day.

(Cassia Alata)

Tåke' Biha is not to be ingested internally, but is for external use only.  Pounded or boiled, it is used as a remedy for fungal infections of the skin and ringworms.  I wonder if a local entrepreneur could market it as a treatment for athlete's foot.

It is native to Mexico and is called, in fact, Akapulko in the Philippines.  Acapulco is a city in Mexico.  More than likely, the plant was brought to the Marianas and the Philippines from Mexico.  Why it is called Old Woman's Excrement (Tåke' Biha) is anybody's guess, but it points to the foreign origin of the plant, since part of its name is Spanish.  Biha is the Chamorro form of vieja, which is Spanish for "old," in the feminine.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


This is the LAST Spanish song which a good number of people on Guam still sing.  Despite not knowing much of what it says, older Chamorros absolutely love this carol because of its liveliness.  They can make out some of the words, which are the same in Chamorro : Belén, quesos, mantecas, noche.  You can tell from the video clip how much these singers enjoy the song.  I got carried away, too.


¡Pastores a Belén!
(Shepherds to Bethlehem!)
¡Corramos en tropel!
(Let us run together!)
¡Quesos, mantecas, turrones y miel
(Cheese, butter, nougat and honey)
llevad pastores a nuestro Emmanuel!
(bring, shepherds, to our Emmanuel!)
Que es hoy la noche hermosa de Israel.
(For now is the beautiful night of Israel.)

Vamos pastorcillos,
(Let's go little shepherds)
vamos a Belén.
(let's go to Bethlehem)
Que ha nacido el Niño
(for the Child has been born)
para nuestro bién.
(for our benefit)
Vamos pastorcillos,
(Let's go little shepherds)
vamos a Belén.
(let's go to Bethelehem.)
Quesos y mantecas
(Cheese and butter)
turrones y miel,
(nougat and honey)
llevaremos todos
(we will bring all of them)
para nuestro bién.
(for our benefit.)

¡Marchemos todos a Belén, a Belén!
(Let us all go to Bethlehem!)
tra la la...


Spanish Christmas Turrones
Made of sugar, honey, eggs and toasted almonds



Måtto si Señot Fred Quinene guine mågi gi Friary un puenge, sumisiha yan i asaguå-ña as Cecilia.

Despues de ma ega' i Christmas Village, ilek-ña si Fred.

Fred : Para in dingo hamyo esta, Påle', sa' depotsi ti para u huyong i asaguå-ho an puenge.

Påle' : Esta, Fred.  Maolek-ña un konne' gue' på'go tåtte gi gima'.

Fred : Påle', esta kinenne'!

Monday, December 26, 2011


Why are some Chamorros named after Jesus?
Jesus Sablan Leon Guerrero

Father Jesus Baza Dueñas

Jesus Crisostomo

The Spanish stand out as the only Europeans who take the name of Jesus as a personal, or baptismal, name.  The neighboring Portuguese often add the name of Jesus to theirs', but it comes out as Maria de Jesus, or Pedro de Jesus.  The Portuguese don't have "Jesus" as a stand-alone, personal name.  But the Spaniards have no hesitation at all giving a son the name Jesus.

Some (not all) American missionary priests after World War II had a problem with Chamorros giving the name "Jesus" to their baby boys.  Instead, they suggested naming the baby "Jesse."  Thus, we have many fathers named Jesus having sons named Jesse.

Perhaps most Chamorros named Jesus were so-named because their fathers were named Jesus, or some other male relative.  A few were named Jesus because they were born on (or close to) Christmas day, when Jesus was born.


The nickname for Jesus is Chu.  Other forms are invented based on Chu, like Chumbai.  The female form of Jesus is Jesusa.  From that we get Susa, and some women become Susan!


Besides Jesus, there are two other names that stand for Jesus.  Jesus is also called Emmanuel, and the Spanish form of that is Manuel.  Jesus is also the savior, salvador in Spanish.  Chamorros would say Manet and Satbadot.  One family is known as the Atdot family because their patriarch was named Salvador.

The female form of Manuel is Manuela, and from that we get Lela' or Lelang. 

Again, sometimes a boy was named Manuel or Salvador because they were born on, or near, Christmas day.


But the women had a third option besides Jesusa or Manuela.  It's Natividad, which means "birth" in Spanish.  From that we get Da' or Daling.  But, if you wanted an Americanized pet name, that would be Naty or Natty.  I'm going to a party today hosted by one Naty.  Yes; she was born on December 26 and named after Jesus' birth.


Chamorro verse at 42 seconds

The Carolinians of Saipan are great singers and they defy the ridiculous idea many of us believed back in the 1950s and 60s, when we stopped teaching our children Chamorro, that a child cannot learn to speak more than one language well. 

This Carolinian lady sings the same song in four languages!  Including Chamorro, and the lyrics are :

Humånao hao gi batkon aire ti hu despide hao;
koronå-mo ginen guåho ti un chule'.
Tumohge yo' gi kanton plåsa
tumekkon, tumåtanges
sa' ni ke ni un dingo yo' guihe na ha'åne.

The following verse is sung in English so you'll figure out the meaning.  Then she ends the song in Tagalog.  The first verse was in Carolinian.

Interesting Words

Båtkon aire : literally, "air ship."  By the time airplanes came around the Spaniards had gone, otherwise we might be saying eroplåno (from the Spanish aeroplano), or abion (from the Spanish word avión).  So, the Chamorros took two words and made up their own word for airplane.  Just the same, both båtko and aire are borrowed from the Spanish barco and aire.

Korona : means "crown."  Jesus' "crown of thorns" is koronan låktos.  But the Saipan Chamorros also use this word to describe the floral garland used to crown the head, called mwarmwar in Carolinian.

Plåsa : On Guam, we think of the Plaza de España when we hear the word plåsa.  But plåsa means any cleared, flat land used in a public way, and a runway pretty much fits that description.  Even a baseball field could be called the plåsan bola, or a basketball court the plåsan basketbot.  When I lived in Saipan, when I needed a ride to the airport, I would say, "Konne' yo' fan para i plåsan batkon aire."
A Chamorro wearing a korona (mwarmwar)
Former Saipan Mayor Juan Borja Tudela

Sunday, December 25, 2011



Pandereta means tambourine in Spanish. Panderetas is the plural and was adopted into Chamorro.

This song is one of the more familiar ones but it should only be sung on Christmas Day or after, because the whole point of the song is that the Old Testament promise of a Savior is fulfilled only when He is born on Christmas.

That is why play the tambourine and make merry to express our joy that the Savior has finally come.


Dåndan i panderetas / na' fan palångpang
todo i profesia / esta monhåyan.
(Play the tambourines / make a noise with them
all the prophecies / have been fulfilled.)

Popble i patgon-ta / gi liyang Belen
ngåsan i ason-ña / kulan gå'ga' gue'.
(Our child is poor / in the cave of Bethelehm
he lies on straw / as if he were an animal.)

Popble i patgon-ta / nina' fotgon gue'
nu i lago' nåna / sa' tinangse gue'.
(Our child is poor / he is wet
from the tears of a mother / who cries for him.)

Hunggan, esta monhåyan!
(Yes, they are fulfilled!)

There is another verse, not found in the original, that goes :

Nihi ya ta fan magof / minagof ni dopble!
Todo i profesia / monhåyan ma kumple!
(Let us be merry / twice the merry!)
(All the prophecies / have been fulfilled!)


Go to the 1 minute mark to hear the Spanish original

Toquen las panderetas / ruido y más ruido!
Porque las profecías / ya se han cumplido!
(Play the tambourines / noise and more noise!
Because the prophecies / have now been fulfilled!)

Sí, sí, ya se han cumplido!
(Yes, yes, they are now fulfilled!)


The Ma Nginge' Niño Team
Donation Box - Niño - Bell


According to one elderly Chamorro priest, now deceased, the custom of taking the Niño Jesus from house to house started with Pale' Román, who was the pastor of Santa Cruz Church in Hagåtña (located near the Santa Cruz Bank of Guam).  He needed to raise funds for church renovations.  So he sent out teams of people to bring the Niño to the homes to venerate and to sing carols.  The custom grew after the war and spread to all the parishes, including the Northern Marianas.

Kampåna (Bells)
They are cheerful, and advise the homes from a distance that the Niño is near


Continuing this custom today is full of challenges.

  • In many villages, there are more non-Catholics who refuse the Niño teams at the door.  Some apartment owners inform the parish in advance not to send their Niño team to that apartment building.
  • Some parishes are huge in land area and population.  Covering all the homes in that parish would require a hundred or more volunteers.
  • It is getting harder to find people willing to give up their Christmas (and other days) to walk in the sun and/or rain, face barking dogs and (sometimes) barking people.
  • The smaller and/or southern villages might have a better chance of keeping the custom alive. 

Ma Nginge' Niño in Mangilao

In Toto, an improvisation.  Carolers stay in the pick-up truck while several teams visit the homes.

By the way, the carolers are singing Sen Bonito.  Here are the words of the refrain caught on the video clip :

Sen bonito O Maria / i patgon-mo as Jesus
(How very beautiful, O Mary / is your child Jesus)
i matå-ña ha na' annok / na guiya i Lahen Yu'us.
(His face shows / that He is the Son of God.)

Here is the Spanish original of that song :

Compare the refrain in Spanish with the refrain in Chamorro :

Ay qué lindo, ay qué bello, ay qué hermoso, ay, ay, ay
(Oh how lovely, oh how beautiful, oh how handsome, oh, oh, oh)
que el amor a sus ovejas del cielo lo hizo bajar.
(that love for His sheep from heaven made Him descend.)