Monday, November 25, 2013


Culture is never static; there are always changes of one kind or another.  Changes in the material culture - what people do, the time they have or don't have, the resources they enjoy or lack - have an effect on other aspects of culture.

Here's a look at the way we used to pray the rosary for the dead, compared to now.  We're not looking here at the wake or the burial; just the rosary.


Rosaries for the dead held in a church is a recent thing, starting in the early 1970s.  There is a lot of convenience for the family having it in church.  The family does not need to find seating for the large numbers who usually attend.  Parking is usually not an issue.  Churches are air-conditioned.  As more and more families are foregoing serving any food at all, using the parish hall or putting up tents for refreshments (and borrowing the seating for that) becomes one less item to handle.  Don't forget garbage disposal.

But then one has to pay the parish. After all, electricity for all that air-conditioning isn't free for the church.  As more and more people die, there will be (and already have been) scheduling conflicts.  Only rarely have two separate families agreed to hold one rosary for two deceased people.  Having frequent rosaries in the church also adds to the wear and tear of the church building and grounds.  Rosaries at the church also have to fit around pre-scheduled parish events.  Some families choose to have the rosary at the home because there is a more personal feel to it; more of a connection to the deceased.

Before the early 70s, rosaries were held at the home.  Period.  An altar in the living room was set up just as soon as possible.  A techa (prayer leader) was contacted.  Folding chairs (before the war and right after) were not that easily borrowed so wooden benches were more often the seating.


Before the 1970s, people kept it simple.  Before the war, it was common for the family to pass out just mamå'on (pugua', pupulu and åfok; betel nut, pepper leaf and lime rock) to the guests to chew.  Other families would provide water and coffee and something along the line of bread and butter, broas (sponge cake), roskete.

On the final day of the public rosary, the ninth day, the family of the deceased would sometimes provide an actual meal but, again, the basics : åggon (staples) such as rice, titiyas, taro, yam, breadfruit (suni, dågo, lemmai); totche (viand) such as chicken, pork or beef prepared any number of ways; and one or two desserts.

Other families would keep a list of the families who attended.  Someone in the family would actually, in some cases, write down names in a notebook.  The deceased's family would kill a cow or pig on the ninth day, cook it and send portions of it to the families who had attended.

The techa  would be given a bigger share.  Sometimes the family would give her a paper bag full of pugas (uncooked rice), eggs and/or canned goods (laterias).  A techa would not be paid in cash.  That, actually, would have been considered an insult to most, if not all, techa.

By the 70s, full-on meals became more and more common.  All kinds of abuses accompanied this, though the intention of the family was good.  Whispers would roam the area about some people coming just to eat; different rosaries would be compared as to which served better food.  Up in Saipan, the bishop, in recent years, asked people to stop serving full meals when the rosary was held in church because of waste and the economic hardship on families who felt shame if they could not serve full meals each night for nine nights!

Sometimes, when a large clan is involved, the different branches can shoulder the burden and take one night each.  Other times, co-workers, or members of a club the deceased may have been in, will volunteer to sponsor a night.

What many younger Chamorros do not realize is that serving full meals each and every night is not part of the older tradition.  It is a new tradition that developed in the last 40 years, and is increasingly diminishing among many families who find it either a burden or unnecessary.


In the past, a rosary was said immediately after someone died.  This is still often the case.  But the big difference is that, today, families most often have the rosary just once at night.  In the past, while the deceased was not yet buried, the idea was to have as many rosaries as possible.

For example, if someone died in the morning, a rosary would be said immediately.  Then at 12 noon, then some families would say it again around 4PM.  The 8PM rosary was de rigueur.  That was the main rosary, and it was started at 8PM, not 745, nor 815.  Then again at 12 midnight - if the deceased was not yet buried.

Remember that, in the past, burial was as soon as possible, there being no morgue and no family members in the mainland or Hawaii that could just hop on a plane.  Thus, this round-the-clock rosary, more or less, was a matter of just a day or two at the most.

You can see why no huge meals could be served either in the old days.  The person might even be buried the afternoon of the day of death, if he or she had died in the wee hours of the morning.  There was no time to cook for 200 people, and few stores to run to, and little cash to buy with.

Today, people just understand that there is a rosary once a night, and the hour can differ, depending on the church schedule.  On the day of burial, the rosary is usually held during the viewing and not at night.  In fact, many people aim to have the funeral on the ninth day and be done with the whole process on the same day.


The old tradition is to pray two sets of rosaries of nine nights each.

The first round is for the public; the extended family, relatives and friends.  This is called the Lisåyon LinahyanLinahyan means "the multitude" but is meant here as the general public.

The second round is called the Lisåyon Guma'.   It literally means "the rosary of the house" and is meant for just the immediate family, especially those just living in the home of the deceased.   No refreshments were served in this rosary, and it was just once a day, at the 8PM hour.

The Lisåyon Guma' has all but disappeared now.

And even the rosary for the dead itself is disappearing, with some families wanting just nine nights of Mass intentions.  A pity, from my point of view.  But that is material for another post some day.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, you may want to check out a movie documenting the illness known as Lytico-Bodig and the way it specifically affected our island, and perhaps a focus on Umatac, pictured above in the 1950s.

From the San Francisco Film Society website :

Local filmmaker Berry Minott takes us on an epic journey to find the cause—and perhaps the cure—of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and other neurological disorders. Her investigation begins on the Pacific island of Guam, where following the end of WWII, the indigenous Chamorro people were afflicted with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms from a disease called Lytico-Bodig. For years renowned scientists descended on this small village to detect the source of this mysterious illness—was it hereditary, environmental or dietary? This engaging and edifying documentary features rare archival footage and candid interviews with author/neurologist Oliver Sacks, New Yorker columnist Jonathan Weiner and many other noted scientists.

For more info, go to

Monday, November 18, 2013


The fiesta of Sånta Barbara, patroness of Dededo, Guam is coming up soon (December 4).

It's always good to record her hymn for the benefit of all, but a plea from some Chamorros living in the U.S. mainland prompted this recording on this blog.  They are praying her novena, but are not familiar with the hymn.  Here it is!

TUNA SONGSONG i tagåhlo na patrona yan gogue-mo :

Sånta Barbara bendita, nå'e ham ni ginegue-mo.

Annai på'go mafañågo kalan ånghet mali'e'-mo,
chaot-mo i taotao tåno', si Jesus ginefli'e'-mo.

Guma'yu'us i gimå'-mo, tres bentåna i tore-mo,
tres ya uno ha' na Yu'us, ennao ha' i hinengge-mo.

Gos habubo i tatå-mo, maolek hao yan pinat mesngon,
ya matåga i ilu-mo, ma'pos hulo' gi langet-mo.

Yagin hulo, yagin påkyo, pulan i man ginegue-mo,
yagin sago, yagin linao, fåta i mina'ase'-mo.


People, praise your exalted patroness and defender :

Oh blessed Saint Barbara, give us your protection.

When you were just born you looked angelic,
you refused an earthly man, Jesus was your beloved.

Your home was like a church, three windows had your tower,
three persons in one God, that was your faith.

Your father was ill-tempered, you were good and greatly patient,
and they cut off your head, you went up to your heaven.

When thunder, when stormy, watch over those you defend,
when sickness, when earthquake, show forth your mercy.


Barbara converted to Christianity when she was young and when Christianity was not yet legal in the Roman Empire.  Her father was still pagan and opposed her conversion to Christianity.

She refused marriage with a man, wanting Christ alone.

She lived in a tower, and, in a house built for her, she had three windows made to represent the Trinity.

They tried every way to harm her, but her wounds healed by the next day each time.  Finally, her father had her beheaded and he was struck by lightning as punishment.  That is why she is patroness in times of thunderstorm and lightning.

My English translation is not literal, because sometimes the words are used in a poetic way.

Tuna songsong literally means "Praise, village."  The meaning is "let the people of the community praise."

Chaot-mo i taotao tåno' literally means "Your aversion was the man of the earth," but what is meant is that she rejected a man interested in marrying her.  Chaot actually can also mean "allergy!"  Taotao tåno' can also mean "person of the land" or "native."

Sago literally means "the flu," but what is meant is any illness with flu-like symptoms, like the influenza epidemic, with fevers, body aches and cold sweats.


Tower - where she lived

Lightning - which struck her father dead in punishment.  She is also our protector in times of storm and lightning.

Sword - by which her head was cut off.

Cannon - she is the patroness of artillerymen (as she is of those working in dangerous professions)

Chalice and Host - by which she remembered the sufferings of Jesus, which enabled her to undergo her own sufferings and martyrdom.

Friday, November 1, 2013


(In this short clip of just 22 seconds, several cultural values are manifested.  The matriarch shows herself a) the boss, commanding her grandkids to b) reverence the hand of the priest the Chamorro way, putting the hand to the nose.  Finally, she shows approval for someone by calling them "månnge'" or "delicious.")

The Chamorro community lost an important cultural icon in the passing of Escolastica Tudela Cabrera of Saipan, better known as Tan Esco.

She was a great resource for my blog and I have less to offer you now because she is no longer here for me to interview.

Esco was truly an icon of the Chamorro culture that those of us old enough to know first-hand ruled the land for the last 250 years or more.  Agrarian, Catholic, family-centered.

She spoke the language beautifully.  She was matriarch; strong-willed and not shy about expressing herself.  There were times I had to edit my recordings of her because she named names.

She was born into the Tudela and Borja clans in Saipan.  Her parents and grandparents came from that generation of Chamorros influenced by the Spaniards.  She knew some Spanish words and phrases and recalled how her elders could say prayers in Spanish.  She had some early training under the Spanish Mercedarian sisters.

She also spoke very good Japanese, having gone to Japanese school when Saipan was under the Japanese flag.


Tan Esco was not born rich, and she did not die rich either.  But all her adult life she and her late husband, Gregorio Cabrera, worked very hard to raise their many children.  Esco was the type of person to see an opportunity and take advantage of it.  She learned skills so that she could do any number of things.  Whatever was near at hand, she put her hand to it.

She would wake up at 2AM to start her work.  Making food she would sell.  Baking.  Opening up businesses.  Many of the foods she made came from the grounds and trees surrounding her home.


Esco was unabashedly Catholic.  Fully dedicated to all things Catholic and, if you were not, she would preach to you to become one.

She was a prayer warrior.  Every hour, on the hour.  The type to wake up in the middle of the night and reach for her rosary.  Her home was strewn with mail from every traditional Catholic organization soliciting donations and sending her devotional leaflets.

She had a chapel or oratory built on her property next to her home.

As does happen with many strong personalities, some people shied away from her.  But I will miss her stories, her truly Chamorro way of thinking and speaking, her complete loyalty to her religion and her knowledge of a level of our culture, tied to the land and all the land's resources, that is disappearing as we speak.

U såga gi minahgong.
Find out more about her life at :