Monday, January 21, 2013


A random picture of a Guam baptism.  Mom and baby have no connection with the story below!

An elderly lady was sharing with me her experience of being a new mother many years ago.

She hadn't even given birth yet, and some aunties, related not to her but to her husband, were already deciding who would be the baby's godmother.

One of the aunties put the claim in first to be the godmother.  A second auntie said she would sew the båta, the baptismal gown.  A third auntie said she would make the desserts for the christening party.  This was all back in the 1960s.

The lady said, "I gave birth, and within a few days, me and the baby were out of the hospital and the aunties were already there to take over everything.  Siha la'mon."

This was not the first time I had heard stories of Chamorro aunties being aggressive with newborns and pushing, to some extent, the mother aside as far as certain decisions are concerned.  I have even heard of aunties and godmothers deciding the name of the baby, and not giving the mother the prerogative.

And, even today, I hear of people who more of less insist that they be the godparent of a baby not even born yet.  "Este na påtgon para guåho," they say.  "This child is for me!"  Or, "Iyo-ko i patgon!"  "The child is mine!"

To non-Chamorros, this might sound bizarre.  But, I think, most Chamorros interpret all this as well-intentioned intense interest in the child.  What can be said in favor of this is that many Chamorro godparents take their roles seriously; being a major part in the child's life through the important events of the child's growth.

Friday, January 18, 2013


How do you say "cinnamon" in Chamorro?

We ought to have a word for it, as we use it in latiya, for example.

Pale' Roman's 1932 Chamorro dictionary uses the Spanish word canela, spelled kanela in Chamorro.  This would indicate that at least some Chamorros used cinnamon and called it by its Spanish name.  I suspect that very few Chamorros used it, since cinnamon isn't grown here and had to be imported.  Just those who could afford it.

Today, almost everyone I know just uses the English word "cinnamon."  "Nå'ye cinnamon!" they will say.  "Put some cinnamon!"


Then I came across the Indonesia word for "cinnamon."  Kayu manis.

That translates into "sweet wood."

Kayu = wood

Manis = sweet

Now doesn't that remind you of two Chamorro words?  Håyu and mames?

Kayu = håyu = wood

Manis = mames = sweet

You see, we really are related to the Indonesians, Malaysians, Filipinos and to some degree with everyone in the Austronesian family.  Incidentally, kayo is "wood" in Ilocano.

We have an Indonesian friar living with us.  Next time, I'm going to make him chuckle when I make coffee and offer to put some håyu mames in his coffee.  He will probably know exactly what I'm talking about.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Driving down Marine Corps Drive, I see this truck with a sticker that says MAÑELUS.

Now, in Chamorro, we do not form the plural by adding an S.

That's what we do in English for most (not all) words.

Horse becomes horses; dog becomes dogs; but mouse becomes mice.

In Chamorro, the plural is formed by adding MAN before the word, and/or adding SIHA after the word.

Che'lu (brother/sister) become MAN+CHE'LU = MAÑE'LU.

But it's inevitable that 100 years of Americanization will affect the Chamorro language, just as Spanish did.

As long as we know it's a new development thanks to American influence.  And some of us will hold out against such influence as long as we can.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

I will take my hat off to them for using the Ñ instead of a regular N in MAÑE'LU.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013



Ti bisnes-mu.

It's not your business.

OK, but I would never have paid attention to your license plate had you simply stuck with the ordinary one issued to you by Rev & Tax!


Ti keketu!

Keto or kieto, from the Spanish quieto, meaning "still, motionless."

Quieto (Spanish) and kieto (Chamorro) has more the meaning of physical stillness, which usually means the person or environment is also silent, but if one wanted to say silent, silencio (Spanish) or silensio (Chamorro) would be used.

*Si Yu'us ma'åse', Lucinda, pot i un na' tungo' yo' pot este na ehemplo!

So, "ti keketo" or "ti keketu" means "always on the run."

Monday, January 14, 2013


The early Spanish missionaries reported that the ancient Chamorros were very careful about their to'la, or spittle.

They would spit only when no one was looking, so that no one could see where their spittle landed.


As in many other cultures, our ancestors believed that a person's saliva could be used in some magical charm against him (or her).  If your enemy saw you spit, s/he could collect it later on when your back was turned.


...the only curse we fear connected with spitting is the curse of red stains all over the floor and walls, thanks to pugua' or betel nut.

Which leads me to wonder.

Did our ancestors spit the juices of their pugua'?  Or did they swallow it?

Since tobacco did not come around until the Spaniards came, and since it is only the addition of tobacco that makes swallowing pugua' juices unpalatable, I suspect our ancestors swallowed the juices of the pugua', pupulu and åfok.  But who knows?

Personally, I don't add tobacco and so I swallow the juices.  I mean, that's the point, isn't it?

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Carolinian women, topless, in the streets of Hagåtña in the late 1800s.  But they lived a mile or more up the road, in a place they called Tamuning.

The Carolinian people who live on small atolls almost directly south of Guam, several hundred miles away, had historic links to the Marianas.  They made regular trips to the Marianas and preserved the sailing directions in their memorized chants.

These atolls, such as Woleai, Eauripik, Lamotrek and Elato, are now included in Yap State, but the people are part of the Chuukese ethnic family.

In the 1700s, the Carolinians made sporadic visits to Guam, at one time forming a strong friendship with Luis de Torres, a Spanish-Chamorro mestizo and military officer.

In the early 1800s, more and more Carolinians sailed to the Marianas, seeking lengthier stays.  Originally sent to live on unpopulated Saipan, by 1868 islanders from Namonuito were relocated to Tamuning, at a place known in Chamorro as Apotguan.

The very name Tamuning is believed to be Carolinian in origin.  We have no clear evidence what it means.  Even older Carolinians I have asked in the past, many of them now dead, did not know.

In 1884, the settlement of Carolinians in Tamuning was given a new name, Maria Cristina, in honor of the Queen Regent of Spain.  There was normally a Chamorro appointed their teacher, and the Hagåtña priest often tried to influence them to become Catholics.  A few did, judging from the 1897 Census which shows some of them with Christian names.  But the majority did not have Christian names, even as late as 1897.

Their clinging to tradition, including their minimal clothing, was a source of concern for the early American administration.  Not only were some Americans disturbed by their lack of clothing, one official was upset that visitors were taking photos of them and sending them off to the States and elsewhere, giving the world the impression that this was how the Chamorros lived.

So, in 1901, American Governor Schroeder deported the entire community to Saipan, where they were gladly received since Saipan had an established Carolinian community and was in need of more settlers.

When I was in Saipan 20 years ago as a young priest, I met elderly Carolinians who said that their parents or grandparents were Re TamuningRe is Carolinian for "people."  Re Tamuning means "People of Tamuning."  Here is one young lady today who says one side of her Carolinian lineage hails from Tamuning.

The Carolinian village of Tamuning was located at what we now call Dungca's Beach, near Alupang.  In Chamorro, the area was called Apotguan.  The Japanese landed here on December 10, 1941.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Mames meme'.

Mames = sweet.

Meme' = urine.

Sweet urine.  This is one of the old Chamorro terms for diabetes.

Glycosuria is the English medical term.  It means "sugar in the urine."

Diabetes is often one of the medical conditions responsible for high sugar content in the blood, but it is not the only one.

Nevertheless, older Chamorros described diabetes this way.

I even heard of an old method of diagnosing diabetes.  The person's urine was spilled on the floor.  If the ants came and surrounded it, that was confirmation of mames meme'

Thursday, January 10, 2013


That's ZOOPARK in the middle, written in the Cyrillic alphabet

Guam is experiencing a welcome boost to tourism, thanks to the increasing arrival of tourists from Russia.  The government has recently made it easier for Russians to travel to Guam, and Vladivostok, a major Russian city on the far eastern coast of Russia near Korea and Japan, is just several hours away from Guam by plane.

But the first Russian tourists to Guam came long before there were high-rise hotels on Tumon Bay.

Let's go back to....1817!

In that year, a Russian scientific expedition on board the Rurik, commanded by Otto von Kotzebue, visited Guam.  The scientist Chamisso and the artist Choris were part of this visit, and, thanks to them, we have some information and sketches of life in the Marianas back then.

Otto von Kotzebue
The First Russian Tourist to Guam

There was yet another visit by Russians, this time in 1870.  This time it was not a scientific expedition, but a Russian warship, that briefly stopped at Apra Harbor.

The Spanish priest of Hagåtña, Father Aniceto Ibáñez, went to visit the ship and met the chaplain, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Russian priest could speak Russian, naturally, and German; neither of which Ibáñez knew how to speak.  Thankfully, both the Russian priest and Ibáñez could speak some French and so they could communicate.  The Russian priest showed Ibáñez all the sacred items he used for their sacraments.

A Russian Priest
Much like the one who visited Guam in 1870


A few people say that Russian submarines were spotted off the coast of Guam in the 1960s, during the Cold War.

One John Forbes of Sinajaña is said to have taken his boat out to the submarines to practice his Russian, which he had studied in college.  We have no solid evidence of this, and is perhaps just one more entertaining morsel of the John Forbes legend.

Soviet Submarine
Did they visit Guam in the 1960s?

Before we had this....?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


It may not be tåddung (deep) in the sense of being an ancient Chamorro word, as it is actually Spanish, but it is a word rarely used and perhaps unknown to most younger Chamorros.

But the word is desåtma, and it means to "dismantle, disassemble, take apart."

The original word in Spanish, desarmar, means that but also to "disarm," as in to take away someone's weapon; and also to "win over" or to "placate."

Ma desåtma i belen.  The belen was dismantled.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


We haven't heard it for a while, but several times in the past, some people have wondered out loud if village mayors should be phased out.  The idea always goes down the drain.

Guam likes its village mayors.  Even though Umatac, with just 700 residents, has a mayor just like Dededo with 40,000+ residents.

Historically, the islands didn't have rulers over the entire island.  Each village had its maga'låhe.  So all government was local.

Under the Spaniards, although there was a governor of all the Marianas, each village had its officials, though they all took orders from the Governor.

The Americans kept a village leader in place, though they eliminated some of the Spanish village offices, like the village agriculture supervisors and such.  Under the U.S. Navy, the village leaders were called commissioners, which survived all the way till the title was changed to mayor in 1990.

So we're used to our village leader, call him or her what-may.  The mayor is the person we go to for the personal touch in government.  He or she deals with citizen needs first-hand, dressed in their t-shirt and shorts, from their pick-up truck, all hours of the day or night.  And we like that.

Man Burukento i Taotao Siha

So I wasn't surprised when some people, who had been to the legislature's inauguration, told me that the mayors' ceremony was more boisterous and noisy.  The audience loves their mayors, and they expressed it.

"Biba! Biba!" filled the air.  There's a word that will probably not disappear any time soon.

As long as there's politics on Guam.

Monday, January 7, 2013


In 1990, the Commissioners of our villages on Guam were given a new title : Mayor. 

Now, we live in a period where people often ask, "How do you say that in Chamorro?" Government agencies, I believe, are required to have a Chamorro version of their entity's name. So, after the name change in 1990 from Commissioner to Mayor, people started to ask, "How do you say 'mayor' in Chamorro?"

What's the answer?

Well, you could go back to the old Chamorro word for "mayor," which most people have forgotten. Or, you can invent a new Chamorro word for "mayor," since so few people seemed to remember the old.


That's the old word for "mayor."

It's borrowed from the Spanish word for "mayor," which is alcalde, because our people didn't have mayors until the Spaniards took over.

Before the Spaniards, we had maga'låhe, "great men," the head of villages.

But, when the Spaniards did away with the ancient chiefs in each village, the word maga'låhe became applied to only one person, the Spanish governor of all the Marianas.

As for the heads of the individual districts, at times he was called the alcalde, and at other times the gobernadorcillo, or "little governor," in Spanish. Saipan, Tinian and Luta at times was headed by an alcalde.

So, 100 plus years ago, when a Chamorro thought of the position "mayor," they used the word atkåtde, or in Luta atkåde, from the Spanish word alcalde.

Look at this pre-war lápida (grave stone) written in Chamorro of a former mayor of Saipan, Juan de los Reyes. It says,

Este na lugar nai ma 
hafot i tatautau i hagas
Alcalden Saipan as
Juan de los Reyes

This place is buried
the body of the former
Mayor of Saipan
Juan de los Reyes

You see? "Mayor" in Chamorro is atkåtde. Although in this old grave stone they keep the Spanish spelling.


But then the Americans took over Guam in 1899 and a new political structure replaced the Spanish.

In Guam, the Americans installed village commissioners, not mayors. Chamorros back then didn't bother to find a Chamorro name for "commissioner." They didn't feel the need to. Komishana was just fine, the Chamorro way of pronouncing "commissioner."

We've been calling them "commissioner" so long, since the early 1900s, that Guam Chamorros, on the whole, forgot the word atkåtde. It just didn't exist for them anymore.


So, by 1990, when people wanted to find a Chamorro word for "mayor," having forgotten atkåtde, they invented something new.

They took the English word "mayor" and tried to make it sound Chamorro. How they decided that making it mahot makes "mayor" sound Chamorro, I do not know. It's a word without a historical foundation. Someone took the English word and played with it.

Some people disagreed and said mayot is a better version. The difficulty with this is that there already is a Chamorro word mayot, and it means "major" or "main" as in i mayot påtte, the major or main portion.

And to show you how far we can go when we have lost our older foundation, someone even made it manhot.

Up in the Northern Marianas, the Japanese who arrived in 1914 did away with local government. But, after World War II, when the Northern Marianas were under the United Nations Trusteeship entrusted to the US, the position of mayor came back for the individual islands. To this day there is a mayor of Saipan, Tinian, Luta and the Northern Islands. Most people just use the English word "mayor," even when speaking Chamorro. But older people understand atkåtde. In the Northern Marianas, atkåtde (or atkåde in Luta) was in use in the 1950s all the way up to just recently.


There are two answers.

The traditional, but mainly forgotten, word atkåtde. The word historically used in all the Marianas.

Or, as far as Guam was concerned in 1990, make up a new one. Like mahot.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


There is a branch of the Mendiola family called the familian Gutos.

Gutos means "to snap or break a rope, thread, wire."

Why the family should be called this, I don't know.  I have asked a few members of the family, and they don't know.  There may be an elderly family member I haven't met yet who may know.


The Gutos clan seems to have its earliest ancestors, that we can find information on, in the married couple José Mendiola and Juliana Camacho Garrido. Juliana was the daughter of Luís Diego Cruz Garrido and María Crisóstomo Camacho.

The couple had many children. The sons who got married and whose descendants perpetuated the family name were :

FRANCISCO who married Ana Ninaisen.

JOSÉ who married María Delgado Salas

A second son JOSÉ who married Ursula Taitague Atoigue


The family was well-known because one of the elders, Tan Chong Gutos, was a techa (prayer leader) at the Hagåtña Cathedral before the war and, after the war, in Sinajaña where they settled.

Tan Chong Gutos

Tan Chong was frequently called on by many families, especially in the central and northern villages, to be the techa at their family rosaries and novenas. She was part of Monsignor Oscar Calvo's circle of religious associates.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


All I have are pictures of the war-torn Santa Cruz Church in Hagåtña, but few people know there was a second Catholic church in the capital city (besides two chapels) before the war.
It was located....

Where this law office is now located, a few doors down from the budget hotel and across the street from the insurance office.

Many people mistakenly think this part of town is already Aniguak, but it isn't.  It's what was once known as the Santa Cruz barrio of the city.

But why a second church?

It seems that Hagåtña is so scarcely populated now that a second church seems unimaginable.  But before the war there were over 10,000 people living in the capital city.  A second church was not only necessary, the situation was helped by the addition of two chapels (Aniguak and San Antonio) in the city.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The only thing missing is the ~ over the N

Our Chamorro language has a great way of turning any verb or noun into the "place of" doing that verb or the "time of" that noun.

One simply places FAN before the word, and AN at the end of the same word.

One easy example.

EYAK means "to learn."  FAN + EYAK + AN = FANEYÅKAN.  The place of learning, or school!  The one thing to notice is that using this formula can change the pronunciation of the original word, from eyak to eyåk.
Sound Combinations Can Change the Original Word

N + S = Ñ
N+P = M
N+F = M
N+M = M
N+K = NG
N + T = N

Keep these in mind as we look at the following :

CHOTDA = banana
FOÑATDÅYAN = place of banana trees

BENÅDO = deer
FANBENADUYAN = place rife with deer

MAIGO' = to sleep
FANMAIGUAN = sleeping area, bedroom, dormitory

GIMEN = to drink
FANGIMINAN = bar, saloon

HASSO = to think, to remember
FANHASUYAN = monument

ME'ME' = to urinate
FANMEMIYAN = latrine

HÅFOT = to bury
FANHAFUTAN = cemetery

FÅ'I = rice seedling
FAMÅ'YAN = rice paddy

Those sound changes above do not apply in every case.

For example...

PÅLE' = priest
FANPALIAN (priest's home), not FAMALIAN


PAKI = to shoot
FAMAKIYAN = area of much shooting (as in a place where many hunt, or a firing range)

N + P should become M, but not every time.

It depends, nai.


Notice that sometimes one adds a Y when ending the word with -AN.  Again, it depends.  Påle' ends with a glota, whereas paki does not.  It sounds better to the Chamorro ear to add a Y after paki and make it famakiyan.

Take these words and, applying the FAN+WORD+AN formula, make them all "place of" or "time of."

Gåsgås = clean

Påsto = pasture

Huyung = to leave, exit

Pulan = to watch over

Kamute = sweet potato

Låkse = to sew

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


"New Year" is of course a Western concept brought to us by the Spaniards.  Our customs today of shooting fireworks and guns, drinking champagne and partying all night are not Spanish but modern-day American.

As the Chamorro column in the PDN shows, we have traditionally borrowed the Spanish "Año Nuevo" and change the spelling to reflect our pronunciation.  Some Chamorros pronounce it closer to the Spanish and keep the -o, others say it with a -u.  We don't have the V sound (neither do the Spaniards) and we change it to B.

There are many ways to say "Happy New Year" and anyone who speaks Chamorro will understand whatever version you prefer.

Felis Åño Nuebo - maintains, as closely as possible, the Spanish original we borrowed from. Felis comes from feliz, Spanish for "happy."  The stress is on the 2nd syllable; fe-LIS, not FE-lis.

Biba Åño Nuebo - is a kind of Chamorroism, using Biba, which we borrowed from the Spanish, in ways the Spaniards normally don't use.  You can google "Viva Año Nuevo" and find it, but it's not typical.

Magof Åño Nuebo - combines something Chamorro (magof, or "happy") with something Spanish (año nuevo).

Magof Tinilaikan i Sakkan - is pure Chamorro and translates into "Happy Change of the Year."  The PDN column uses minagof, which means "happiness" so I have questions how well that translates into "happy."  Adjective versus noun.

Magof Tinituhon i Sakkan - also Chamorro and means "Happy Beginning of the Year."


As it is the New Year, I thought I'd look at a Chamorro word than can mean "year."  Såkkan.

Can mean.  Why "can mean?"

Because såkkan has multiple meanings.

We'll look at "year" first.  The calendar we use now (Gregorian) is, of course, a European one.  Our ancestors used a different kind of calendar, which followed the phases of the moon, hence a lunar calendar.  It was made up of thirteen, not twelve, months.

Some uses of såkkan as "year" are :

Håfa na såkkan?  What year?

Gi ma'pos na såkkan.  Last year.

I mamamaila' na såkkan.  The coming year.

Gi 1974 na såkkan.  In the year 1974.

Ti på'go na såkkan.  Not this year.

I once knew a lady who was born in 1900.  So when it was 1974, she was 74; in 1980 she was 80 and so on.  So she told me, "Acha amko' ham yan i sakkan."  "I am as old as the year."  I thought it was a delightful manner of speaking.


Såkkan can also mean "age."

I sakån-ho.  My age.

Kuånto sakån-mo?  How old are you?  (Literally, "How many years do you have?")

Ti meggagai sakån-ña.  S/he isn't very old. (Literally, "S/he doesn't have many years.")

***Notice that I changed the spelling from såkkan to såkan, because the possessive suffix does change the pronunciation.


Såkkan can also mean "maturity, ripeness."

Ti sasakan.  Not ripe, not mature, still green.

Gaisakan na taotao.  A mature person.


Såkkan.  Used to refer to crops when they are harvested.

Ti maolek na såkkan.  The harvest was poor.

Manmañåñåkkan.  They are havesting.