Friday, February 28, 2014


The late Chamorro singer from Saipan, Frank "Bokonggo" Pangelinan

For years I knew that the surname Pangelinan came from three men on Guam identified in the list of soldiers from Pampanga in the 1700s.  But for all those years I never knew what Pangelinan meant in the Pampanga language.  The Spaniards spelled local names in a variety of ways, in both the Marianas and the Philippines, so Pangelinan (the present Chamorro way) and Pangilinan (the Pampanga way) are just two versions of the same name.

To this day, there are Pangilinans in Pampanga and one of them moved to Guam more recently and became a household name, Mark Pangilinan the businessman.

Just a few days ago, I asked a dedicated advocate of the Pampanga culture and language, Satcheil Macasias Amamangpang, what Pangilinan meant in his language.

He directed me to a Spanish dictionary of words from Pampanga, Diego Bergaño's Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga en Romance (1860).  There we find that pangilin means to abstain from something.  Pangilinan (notice the suffix -an, which we also have in Chamorro, meaning the "place of" or "time of" some action or object) was the day of abstaining or the thing itself which was avoided.  Eventually, pangilinan came to refer to abstinence from certain foods for religious reasons, such as the Lenten abstinence.

Connected with this idea of avoiding certain things is the idea of remaining pure, sanctified; free from human contact.  Pangilinan, thus,  is thought of as  "He who is not to be touched by human hands or seen by the human eye."

Thursday, February 27, 2014


US Marines on Guam
Chamorros love to give nicknames to others, and sometimes even an American will get one.

Before the war, an American Marine officer was in charge of some local men.  The Marines at the time doubled as the police department on Guam.

This one officer had both a strong Southern accent and a lisp.  So he had trouble saying the name of one of his men, Cerilo.

Whenever the officer had to call on Cerilo, "Shirley" came out instead.

So guess what the Chamorros called this American Marine?  Yes, "Shirley."

Chamorros will take your most obvious defect, your most unforgettable mistake or most prominent physical feature and make a nickname out of it.

Luckily, perhaps, for "Shirley," he got his marching orders and was assigned elsewhere - where he wouldn't be called "Shirley."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Always nice to get a letter or card entirely written in Chamorro; a rarity nowadays.  Perhaps this can be instructional for some.  I'll transcribe it here exactly as the writer penned it :

Puedi i Pasgua-mu pågu na såkkan inecha ni bendision i Niño Jesus, Santa Maria & Yu'us tåta, ya i nuebu na såkkan hinatmi ni gråsian Yu'us, bendision-ña, ma'åse'-ña yan minagof.  Si Yu'us Ma'åse' put i bonitun card Påsgua ni un hanågue ham kåda såkkan.

Rather than translate the card entirely, I'll explain most of the terms and see if you would like to render your own version.

Puedi - from the Spanish word "poder" which means "to be able to."  Chamorros use it to mean "may," "it may," even "hopefully."  And one Spanish informant tells me some Spaniards also use the word in this sense, as well as the principal meaning of "can, is able to."

Påsgua - from the Spanish.  Pascua was any one of several church feasts.  In the Marianas, Påsgua usually means Christmas, but it can also be used for Easter and Pentecost.  I have a post on this and can access that by searching the word on this blog.

På'go - now, this moment, today

Såkkan - year, but also harvest

Echa - for the Spanish "echar" which can mean many things but in this case Chamorros use it to mean "cast on, extend to, shower over."

Bendision - blessing; again, a Spanish loan word.

Niño Jesus - Child Jesus, Infant Jesus

Santa Maria - Blessed Virgin Mary

Yu'us tåta - God the Father

Nuebu - from the Spanish "nuevo," or "new"

Håtme - to be penetrated, filled with

Gråsia - from the Spanish "gracia" which we use to mean "grace"

Ma'åse' - can mean mercy, kindness, benevolence

Magof - happy, joyful

Put - from the Spanish "por" which can mean "on account of, through the agency of, by way of" and is used in many other ways.

Bonitu - from the Spanish "bonito," meaning "pretty, handsome."

Hanågue - from the root word hånao, meaning "to go."  Hanågue means "to send."


This is "modern" Chamorro.  Our pre-contact ancestors wouldn't be able to understand this card very much; it is full of Spanish loan words.  But a Spaniard also would scratch his or her head a bit, though s/he would recognize many, if not half, of the terms.  But a Spaniard who didn't speak Chamorro could not translate this; s/he could only point to the words and translate them, sometimes with difficulty.

Take inecha, for example.  The root word is echa, which we took from the Spanish echar.  But we use it employing our grammatical rules, in this case, using the IN infix.  A Spaniard would be clueless about this and would probably not even catch that inecha is actually a Chamorro form of their verb echar.

The writer also uses one English word, card.  She could have used kåtta, except that kåtta is understood to mean letter (on paper), not a card.  But the word kåtta is also from the Spanish carta, which can mean "letter" but also "card" as in poker.  We Chamorros could use kåtta also for card, but only if people pick up the usage.  Language is a matter of convention.

Even the language I am using now and which you are reading - English - has gone through several reincarnations.  Ever try listening to Shakespeare?  Or reading Chaucer?  Or, further back, the Old English which was largely built on a Germanic foundation?  We moderns can barely understand the English of 900 years ago.  English has borrowed heavily from a development of a Latin language, Norman French.  Yet, it remains the English language; i.e. the language of the people of England.

Yes, this is Chamorro; the language of the indigenous people of the Marianas, no matter how much it has borrowed from Spanish and now even from English.  But just as we differentiate between Old, Middle and Modern English (and many smaller categories besides), we have to differentiate between Chamorro as it is and was spoken in its different phases.

Lastly, one cannot assume that, even before contact with Europeans, the language spoken by our ancestors was frozen and static.  A Chamorro of the 500s CE may have had some difficulty understanding perfectly a Chamorro of the 1400s CE.   Human speech evolves, even without outside influence.


The writer spells in a way that differs from my way of spelling.  Did it really matter to me?  Not at all.  I understood what she was saying, as she would have understood me with my kind of spelling.

We're a long way off till the day we all spell Chamorro the same way, just as people spell in English differently.  Not convinced?  Read people's Facebook pages!

Right now, my opinion is we serve language preservation more by focusing on getting people to speak it. When we help form a new generation of fluent speakers, we might be able to get (some) uniform spelling accomplished; not by law, but by the proficiency of the speakers adopting a common orthography. Language is a matter of convention.

Monday, February 10, 2014


You wear all your religious medals on one safety pin on the outside of your dress.

Of course, many other countries, especially those which were once under the Spanish flag, do the same, but this was a very common thing among Chamorro women in the not too distant past.

The idea of putting all the medals on one single safety pin might be more seen among us, though am sure it happens elsewhere.

That Chamorro women started early in colonial times wearing religious medals and beads is attested to in these scenes from the early 1800s, when Chamorro women still liked to smoke homemade cigars made from locally-grown tobacco :

A religious medal is called a melåya in Chamorro.  Melåya is the Chamorro pronunciation of the Spanish word medalla, meaning "medal."

The LL in Spanish is sounded like a Y, which, in Chamorro, sounds like a DZ.

Chamorro tends to prefer L in place of D and N.  Natilla in Spanish, for example, beomes latiya in Chamorro.  Naranjita in Spanish becomes lalanghita in Chamorro.  So, medalla became melåya.

Chamorro women were so wont to wear these melåya all bundled up this way, on the outside of their dresses or sometimes on their inner undershirt.

When these women were inpatients in hospital, the melåya would often interfere with tubes and wires attached to the women, but not the sternest nurse could get the women to take them off.  All the more reason, they said, to wear the melåya when they were sick in the hospital.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Russian tourists have been flooding Saipan for some time now and are now becoming a common sight in Tumon.

How does one say "Russian" in Chamorro?

Usually, we borrow the term for foreign nationalities and races from the Spanish.  A Chinese person is called "Chino" in Chamorro, which we borrowed from the Spanish.

A Spaniard is an "Españot," which is "Español," pronounced in the Chamorro way.  An "American" is "Amerikåno," and so forth.

But we sometimes differ from the Spaniards, even when we create our own term and make it sound Spanish.  Case in point, "Russian."

In Spanish, a Russian is a ruso.

But Chamorros say Rusiåno, which sounds Spanish enough.

Russians were such a rarity in Spanish times that Chamorros didn't need to identify Russian things very often, so that might explain why we didn't borrow ruso and make it our own term.

We learned that adding O at the end of English words, more or less, could make them Spanish-sounding, and thus more Chamorro-sounding.  Take, "document" or "pilot," for example.  They easily become dokumento and piloto in Chamorro by adding an O at the end.  So, "Russian" becomes Rusiåno, whereas Spaniards say ruso.


In the early 1800s, a Russian expedition visited the Marianas under the command of Otto von Kotzebue.  Though ethnically German himself, his officers and crew included Russians, besides Russian Germans as well.

In 1870, another Russian ship visited Apra Harbor.  The Spanish priest of Hagåtña went on board and had a visit.

There may have been, almost certainly, at least a few other Russian ships who visited the Marianas in her history.



When Russia fell to the Communists in 1917, the anti-Communists fled as much as they could.  They were called "White Russians" as opposed to the Communist "Reds."

Many who lived in the eastern part of the Russian Empire, in Asia, fled to Japan.  When Saipan and Micronesia became Japanese territory in 1914, these islands were open to them for settling, as well.

One Vladimir Osmolovsky, who had once been police chief in Vladivostok, took up residence in Saipan during Japanese times.  He became a shop keeper.  He lived on Saipan all the way into the war, and was detained by the Americans in the civilian camp after the invasion. He died in Saipan in 1949.


Though they lived in Yap, the Tretnoff family, another group of White Russians, would have been in contact with the Chamorros living in Yap before World War II.  In fact, the Tretnoffs were good friends with a Chamorro lady, Filomena Untalan, who had married a Filipino, Agapito Hondonero.  All the Hondonero family were killed by the Japanese during the war.  The Japanese suspected that Hondonero was a spy.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Båsta nåna de tumånges
sa' un na' lache karerå-ho;
yan maolek-ña yo' gi langet
ke i tano' na sagå-ho.
Stop your crying, mother,
because you will make me stray from my path;
for I am better off in heaven
than in my earthly place.
There are several Kåntan Chamorrita verses in which the speaker, still alive, speaks to someone about their impending death, even if that death might be decades from now.
Perhaps it was due to some (many?) Chamorros lingering thoughts on the nearness of death.  Epidemics were not unknown, which wiped out large numbers of people.
I wonder, even, if this might be due to some of the young men's propensity to get on whaling ships and leave Guam as fast they could.  Many, if not most, never returned.  As late as 1941, I know of mothers and aunties weeping over a son's joining the US Navy as if they had just been told he had died.  Perhaps this was the young man's way of saying his joining the whaling ships might mean they would never see him again on earth, but that they would be together again, and more happy, in heaven.
The line about a mother's weeping is interesting.  For a young man seriously contemplating leaving the island for the big world, by joining the foreign ships, hearing his mother cry at the idea might make him change his mind and stray from his path.
Or, perhaps, for the soul which has departed the earth in death, to see his mother crying over his dead body will make him feel remorse and disturb his smooth journey to the next life.
Those two things stand out, for sure, in this verse, concerning the old Chamorro mentality.  A mother's tears were strong enough to seriously affect a child's future.  And that heaven was a better future than anything on earth.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Potpot na lepblo!
A thick book!

Some of the Mendiolas in the Marianas are known as the Potpot family.

Potpot means "thick."

The Potpot branch in Yoña is very well known.  They are the descendants of Antonio Fejeran Mendiola of Hagåtña (before the war) and his wife Juliana de la Cruz.

Other Mendiolas better-known-as Potpot are the descendants of Mariano Borja Mendiola and his wife Antonia Guerrero Pangelinan.

The family members I have spoken to do not know why their clan is called Potpot.  Of course, if any family member would like to contact me and let me know what they know, please do so.

It's important that people understand that potpot does not mean yommokYommok means "fat" or "overweight."

Neither does it mean pokpokPokpok means "swollen."

Here are some things that can be considered potpot :

Potpot na alunan
A thick pillow

Potpot na pedåson kåtne
A thick piece of beef

Potpot na toåya
Thick towels