Thursday, July 31, 2014


A catón printed in Manila in 1919
(School books for the Marianas were shipped from Manila so it wouldn't be surprising at all if some books used in our schools were printed in Manila)

Guam's schools under the Spanish administration in the late 1800s, though limited in number and student population, did use textbooks, of a sort!  Documents survive from the Marianas reporting the titles and quantities of these books used in the schools of Guam, Luta and Saipan.

Along with maps, large pictures and mathematical tables, school books were also used. The basic subjects taught were the Spanish language (reading, writing and grammar), the Catholic faith, arithmetic and geography.

For the teaching of religion, the catechism of Father Astete and a book of Bible stories (Historia Sagrada) were used.  These books were in Spanish. Father Ibáñez's few books in Chamorro (El Verdadero Cristiano Instruido/Y Magajet na Quilisyano Manaeyac, for example) were also used while supplies lasted.  Ibáñez was a long-time Spanish priest in Hagåtña and spoke Chamorro.

Another standard text used in classrooms in the schools of the Marianas was the catón.

A catón was an elementary guide to pronunciation and reading, including multiplication tables, basic catechism and short stories often having a moral lesson to them.

Although to our eyes the catón seems rather simplistic, it was a great aid to the very young in learning how to enunciate and how to pace their public reading. 

Religion was always incorporated even into secular subjects.  Here, the seven precepts of the Church are listed.  The dashes are there to help the reader clearly enunciate the different syllables.

Chances are your great-grandparents or grandparents used a catón very similar to this one.

Sometimes we don't realize just how educated our great-grandparents were, thinking, as we do, that our islands were remote and ignored.

A Spanish verse says :

"La niña buena, aprende Catón,
y escribe los palotes sin ningún borrón.”

("The good girl learns the catón,
and writes the strokes without any smudge.")

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Not once did I ever have a conversation with her in English.  Not even a few words.

And she spoke with the tonåda, or sing-song accent, which, I believe, was the way all Chamorros, our ancestors, spoke before contact with the West. Just my hunch.

Ana Aguon Santiago Quinata was my parishioner at San Dionisio Church in Humåtak, and when I say, MY parishioner, I mean it.  There were nights when it was only me, her and a stray dog at Mass. Other times, she'd bring one or more of her granddaughters. But many times, it was just Tan Ana and me at Mass.

Being pastor of Humåtak in those days (1990s) meant living in Malesso' and driving to Humåtak on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for Mass.  Besides Sunday, those were the only other days Mass was said at Humåtak, weddings and funerals excepted of course.

She would walk to church by herself, but I always drove her back to her home after Mass in the parish van.  The ride lasted less than a minute, but we would talk and I would catch a few phrases or words here and there to improve my Chamorro.

She used the word åmko' in two ways, besides the usual meaning "old person."  She referred to the priest as "i amko'" (the "old man") even if the priest was 28 (as I was) and she referred to God as "i amko'" as well.  For sure, God is eternal and doesn't age, but from the human standpoint the Creator was there long before us and this world's been around a long time.

Tan Ana was married to the late Jose Topasña Quinata (seen on the far right).  Jose was better-known-as JT but among the older villagers he was known as "Josen Dende'."  Tan Ana, thus, was also known as "Tan Anan Dende'," or as "Tan Anan JT."

JT was always fun to be with.  He liked to tell stories and have a laugh.  He told me about being hired by the Americans right after the invasion to look for Japanese stragglers and how one of them got him in the arm.  He used to open and close his fist, moving the muscles of his arm to show where the bullet entered.  As he flexed, you could see a depression in his arm appear and disappear. That's all that Japanese fugitive was able to do to JT, but I think the man was proud of that wound.

His house was right next to the famous bridge with the four towers, and he told me the government had not properly paid him for the land where one of the towers sat.  So, he told me, in Chamorro, "One of those towers is mine!"   Again, we'd have a good laugh.

JT was not shy.  If I was preaching and got somewhat enthusiastic, he would say out loud, "Sångan, Påle'!"  ("Say it, Father!")  And, during the announcements after communion, when I was reminding the parishioners about the upcoming fiesta, he said out loud, "I'll bring one pig!"

Tan Ana, however, was old-school and would pinch his arm and nudge him to keep silent, looking at me to make sure I wasn't angry.  I never was!

Tan Ana was the daughter of Tan Eduviges Aguon Santiago, seen here in the middle of this photo.  I can only imagine how good and deep her Chamorro was, with a genuine tonåda accent.

Even when I had left Humåtak and was assigned to Saipan, Tan Ana heard that I was coming down to Guam one March for my birthday.  Unfortunately, I had eaten some old crab salad the night I left Saipan to fly to Guam.  The next morning I was down with a mild case of food poisoning, with a severe head ache and dry heaves.  I couldn't hold anything down.  I was supposed to go down to Malesso' and Humåtak to say Mass there, but had to tell Påle' Jose I just couldn't do it.

But Tan Ana had made me either a cake or a dish, I don't remember.  So she got someone in the family to drive her from Humåtak all the way to Sinajaña, to my mom and dad's house where I was sick in bed, to give me the dish and to talk to me a little.  I made a very poor conversation partner, as I was so sick.

But I will never forget her thoughtfulness driving all the way up to give me that food.  Nor our conversations, nor her accent, and most especially the way she went to Mass every single time we had Mass, even when no one else was there.  A truly devout Catholic with a sweet, maternal personality.

Tan Ana where she liked to be, in church.

Tan Ana's house was always, traditionally, one of the stations (or Lånchon Kotpus) for the Corpus Christi procession every year.

Man sen deboto na mangilisyåno i familian Jose yan Anan Dende'.

Monday, July 28, 2014


Saipan was the scene of a minor international incident in 1897.

By the 1890s, Japanese merchants and adventurers were making the Marianas, and other islands in Micronesia, their home.

For merchants, copra was one of the big draws to the islands. The Nonaka South Pacific Trading Company had set up shop in Saipan to deal in copra. Ten Japanese were living in Saipan when, on New Year's Day in 1897, they gathered to celebrate. They wanted to drink to the health of the Emperor of Japan and, knowing they were in Spanish territory, also to that of the Spanish king. For this reason they looked for flags of both nations.

Lacking a Spanish flag of their own, they made one up using paper, and hung it up crossed with a proper, much better-looking flag of Japan.

A passing Spaniard (some wonder if he was really a Spaniard or rather someone working for the Spanish government) witnessed this and saw the shabby condition of the Spanish paper flag compared to the Japanese flag, and considered it an insult. He told the Japanese just as much, and insisted that they take down both flags. The Japanese didn't see what the trouble was, and shrugged it off.

But the Spaniard returned with others and arrested them. Key among them was Mr Miyazaki, the company manager on Saipan. The Japanese were sent to jail on Guam, capital of all the Marianas at the time.

Japan protested this, and the news made it to many journals across the globe. Look at this headline, for example, in a Hawaii newspaper in 1897.

Those "Spanish dungeons" spoken of in the headline above were the jail cells in Hagåtña, Guam, described as being "foul smelling" and "ill ventilated."

Apparently, nothing became of the matter in the end.

Friday, July 25, 2014


The strong child, the metgot na påtgon, always a son, is a recurring theme in Chamorro folk tales.

The interesting thing is that the strong child is seen as a threat, to the father, of all people.  The father usually makes a move against his own son.

Two versions of this story are :


Un taotao gai nene låhe. Annai man aliligao pånglao, ha bo'ok i haigue* ni tres åños esta.
(A man had a male child. When the child looked for a crab, he pulled up a three-year-old coconut tree.)

Annai lini'e as tatå-ña ni che'cho'-ña, pinino'.
(When his father saw what he did, he killed him.)


Ma såsångan na ginen guåha un nene na gof metgot, sa' ha bo'ok ni haigue annai man aliligao pånglao un biåhe.
(It is said that there was a child who was very strong, because he uprooted a young coconut tree when he looked one time for crab.)

There is also a more developed story that starts with the premise of the "strong child," but we'll save that for another post.

* Haigue : a recently sprouted coconut tree

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Ma susede este na estoria gi 1958 na såkkan.

Annai på'go gaige yo' gi mina' singko grådo, mumu yo'.
(When I first entered the fifth grade, I fought.)

Primet biåhe na mumu yo' yan uttimo;
(It was the first and last time I fought;)

sa' annai måtto yo' guato gi gima'
(because when I got home)

hekkua' håftaimano tungo'-ña si nanå-ho!
(I don't know how my mother knew!)

Lao ha na' oppop yo',  lao esta hu tungo' na para bai ma saolak.
(But she made me bow down, but I already knew I was going to be spanked.)

Pues humånao yo' nåya para i halom tåno' ya mañule' yo' hågon, 
(So I went first to the jungle and got leaves,)

eye dångkulo na hågon ya hu po'lo gi halom katsunes-ho
(those large leaves and I put them inside my pants)

pues humånao yo' hålom
(and I went in)

ya annai ma saolak yo'
(and when she spanked me)

ilek-ho "Ai! Ai!"  lao kada puti lao ni håfafa hu siente.
(I said, "Ouch! Ouch!" but each time it hurt I didn't feel a thing.)

Ma usa guihe na tiempo kuero, na fotte na kuero,
(They used in those days leather, strong leather,)

potpot na kuero yan åncho.
(thick and wide leather.)

Despues umamigo ham yan i kontrariu-ho.
(Later, my opponent and I became friends.)

I rason na mumu ham pot man akassi yan para u li'e' håye mås metgot.
(The reason we fought was because we were teasing each other and to see which of us was the strongest.)

Ai adei annai duro man apanite ham pues ti apmam måkpo'.
(Oh my we really hit each other and soon it was over.)

Guaha gumacha' ya ma chuga' ya pumåra.
(Someone discovered us and stopped it and it ended.)


Chuga' means "to make peaceful, to hush up, to end a quarrel."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Luta (Rota) is unique among the four main islands of the Marianas because it never experienced a massive American invasion in 1944, as the other three islands did (Guam, Tinian and Saipan).  The Americans actually passed over Luta.  It waited for the war to end before taking it from the Japanese, leaving the Japanese forces and Chamorro people there to live off their own limited resources, cut off from the rest of the world, for one year.

This policy of leapfrogging over less strategic islands and hitting hard the more important islands, in terms of military strategy, was adopted by Admiral Chester Nimitz.  In the Marianas, it was Luta that was skipped. Palau, Yap, Chuuk, Ponape and Kosrae were also never invaded, though Americans did invade Peleliu and Angaur in Palau to eliminate the Japanese military presence there, then left after awhile, especially when the focus shifted to the campaign in the Philippines.  Americans also invaded Ulithi in Yap district and stayed for some months, using the atolls for military purposes.  The Americans also destroyed the Japanese naval presence in Chuuk Lagoon, making it the world's greatest naval underwater graveyard, but did not invade those islands.

When the Americans destroyed Japanese air and sea capabilities by June of 1944, Luta was left to struggle on its own.  No Japanese ships or planes from the rest of the Marianas could come to its rescue, not even to supply it with food.  The Japanese and Chamorros on Luta would have to live off the land from June 1944 till the arrival of the Americans more than a year later.


The Shoun Maru, a Japanese ship used in the phosphate industry in Luta, takes a hit from an American submarine's torpedo in 1944

American air strikes on Luta began in May or June of 1944.  These attacks continued until the war's end. The Japanese had built just one air strip on Luta, up by Sinapalo (Shinaparu by the Japanese), and the U.S. had easily neutralized it.  So the only real reason why the Americans sporadically attacked Luta after the fall of Saipan, Tinian and Guam was simply to harass the Japanese and to target practice. Bombers leaving Guam, headed for Japan, who had to cancel the run, for whatever reason, could not return to Guam fully loaded with bombs, so the American planes dropped them on Luta!

But Chamorros, not just the Japanese, were also wounded and killed by American bullets.

Because of these American attacks, the Chamorros abandoned their homes in Tatachog village (the Japanese lived in Songsong) and took shelter in caves in the island's interior and along cliff lines.  They grew whatever they could, trying to avoid planting in open fields where they could easily be seen by American planes.  They shot sling stones at birds to kill and eat.  Water was available in the south, where there was a spring.  But other areas suffered in the dry season of 1944 going into 1945.  Even their dead they couldn't bury in a cemetery, but rather close to the caves where they lived.

The people on Luta also had to deal with two kinds of American bombs - fire bombs and time bombs.  Even when one jumped into water to escape the fire bombs, the surface of the water was on fire.  The time bombs were also deadly.  Some people, thinking unexploded bombs were a dud, picked them up, only to be killed when the bomb exploded at that same moment.  Smoke from the frequent bombing made the air thick and hard to inhale.


As if American bullets weren't enough trouble, the Chamorros on Luta also had to look out for the Japanese. There were over 2600 Japanese military personnel on Luta in 1944, and only 790 Chamorros.

In addition, there were over 4700 non-Chamorro civilians on Luta, made up of Japanese, Okinawans and Koreans.

The Japanese soldiers took whatever food they could from the Chamorros.  Some Japanese, especially officers, "borrowed" Chamorro teenage boys and young men as well to be their cooks and servants.  One Japanese officer came to tell a Chamorro mother "sorry," her son, whom he had taken to be his cook, was killed during an American attack.

The Japanese, so it was believed, also planned to round up all the Chamorros and kill them, lessening the number of hungry mouths to feed on the island.  But a senior Japanese officer convinced the Japanese leaders that the Chamorros should live and do all the planting of food while the Japanese attended to the defense of the island.

It was also a Japanese, so the story goes, who took the risk of leaving Luta under cover of darkness and sailed in a small boat to the Americans on Guam, begging them to capture Luta before the Chamorros died of hunger.  This Japanese man, it was said, was close to a Chamorro family and may have been in love with one of the daughters.


Then, in the early fall of 1945, the Americans stopped dropping bombs from their planes.  Instead, they were dropping cigarettes and little food packets, which the Japanese said were time bombs.  But a few Chamorros picked them up, and, when they didn't explode but contained food instead, were relished by the Chamorros.

The Americans also started dropping leaflets announcing that the war was over.  Japan had surrendered on August 15, 1945.

Still, the Americans waited a while to go to Luta to claim it.  They finally arrived on September 2, 1945, two weeks after the end of the war with Japan. Marine Colonel Howard N. Stent was sent from Guam to accept the Japanese surrender of Luta.  When his ship, the USS Heyliger, a destroyer escort, arrived, Japanese officials came on board and signed the surrender papers.

Japanese Military Officers at the surrender of Luta to U.S. forces

When the Chamorros first met American soldiers, the Americans offered them packets of food. Some Chamorros were hesitant to eat them, until the Americans themselves opened them up and ate it themselves. When the very hungry Chamorros started to eat all these new American rations, their stomachs were so bloated from hunger that they got sick.  After four or five days, though, they were able to eat normally.

American officials reported that the Chamorros were hungry but in good health.  It was clothing that they needed, and which the Americans provided.

By September 4, the Japanese soldiers on Luta, except for five of them too sick to travel, were shipped down to Guam for processing before being repatriated to Japan.

With the Japanese and others gone now, the Chamorros of Luta could go back to their fishing, farming and building new homes once again.

The Japanese Garrison on Luta now camped in Guam awaiting return to Japan

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Japanese in Guam during the Occupation

Yesterday's paper included a statement by a war survivor, pointing out something that I had known for quite some time. Life under the Japanese wasn't all pain and suffering for everybody.

Eddie Camacho, a well-known Guam businessman, said that, in the beginning, the Japanese "left the Chamorros to themselves."

What then, was the reality, based on all accounts from those who went through that experience?


  • Anxiety. This was something, one can say, the vast majority of Chamorros on Guam experienced during Japanese Occupation. This anxiety was both the broad kind ("Will the Americans ever come back?" "Will the Japanese be here forever?") and the narrow kind ("Is that Japanese guard upset with me? "Will I get punished today?").  People have shared how they had this general uneasiness, not knowing the future, and not even knowing what might happen day by day. Life under the American Navy was all very predictable. Life under the Japanese was unstable. Chamorros had to watch their moves and their speech for fear of the Japanese. They weren't used to that with the Americans.
  • Material Security. The Japanese could come along, and often did, and just take whatever they wanted. Many Chamorros gave up some material things they enjoyed before the war, like cars and radios. Even homes were requisitioned by the Japanese, but usually the family was living at the ranch house.
  • Occasional Beatings. Usually, Chamorros suffered slaps to the face, for things such as forgetting to bow to a Japanese, or for bowing incorrectly (too low or not low enough). There were many more possible infractions such as slipping into speaking English, saying anything remotely disparaging about Japan or Japan's chances of victory. Some Chamorros were punched or kicked. Some were arrested for more serious things like failing to show up for work.
  • Boredom. One older woman, now deceased, told me that the worst thing she suffered during the Japanese Occupation was boredom. Before the war, she was a top student and enjoyed school. But the Japanese focused on Japanese language training for a select group of future teachers, so she didn't go to school the whole time the Japanese were on Guam. "There was nothing to do," she said. "Not even Church."
  • The last several MONTHS before the American return, and some say just the last few WEEKS before the American return, were truly the days when nearly all Chamorros suffered and feared death the most. When American planes strafed Guam, and American ships circled the island, that's when the Japanese panicked and the American threat brought the worst out of them. This is the period of forced labor followed by killing, the rapes, the massacres, the roughest treatment of all. Some even died from American bullets.
Of course there were exceptions. Some Chamorros suffered quite a bit for a lot of the Occupation, especially those considered higher status, as they stood out more and were suspected more of having pro-American sentiments.

Those married to Americans (who were sent to POW camps in Japan) were always eyes cautiously.

Those suspected of helping Tweed also had more attention from the Japanese than they cared for.

But, for the majority of Chamorros, life under the Japanese was not a brutal experience until the last phase.


  • Starvation. Even in the last several weeks before liberation, when most people were herded into camps, people had some food. From the time the Japanese came and stores ran out of goods and people had no cash anyway with which to buy, the people returned to farming. The weather cooperated during the whole Occupation. While people didn't have luxury food items anymore, they did have the basic foods needed for survival. This they carried with them into the concentration camps. Walking to the camps, sleeping on the earth in cramped huts, dealing with mud and rain, contending with the lice and the rats wasn't fun. But they had something, even a little, to put in their stomachs.


  • A Kind of Freedom. The picture above is there because one man, long deceased, told me he had terrific fun as an older teenager during the Japanese Occupation. His family owned a considerable number of cattle. As he was the oldest son on Guam at the time, his father put him in charge of the cattle. This placed him in a position to deal with the Japanese, looking for meat. He negotiated with the Japanese but he also gained a sense of importance with his fellow Chamorros. The Japanese always got the best cuts, but many Chamorros were happy with the less desirable parts which the Japanese would never touch. He admits that he used his position as a beef provider to his own advantage, especially with the ladies who now had a friendliness towards him unseen before the war. He told me, "I was never a good student, so I was so happy when the schools closed when the Japanese came." Unlike others who became very bored, this man used his new freedom from school to become a valuable supplier of food to the Japanese. He was active and important.
  • Friendship with the Japanese. Many Chamorros became friends with the Japanese, both military and civilians. Japanese Catholic priest, Father Komatsu, was treated like a son by several Chamorro matriarchs. Individual Japanese officers befriended some Chamorro families and even helped them escape danger. One family benefited from their mother's friendship with the Japanese in their southern village. She was a pre-war nurse, trained at the Naval Hospital. In her small village, she gave simple treatments to Japanese soldiers who needed minor medical attention. In return, the Japanese in that village made sure that family was safe and sound. Other Chamorro women became girlfriends of Japanese officers. Some of these ladies became girlfriends of American soldiers quickly after the liberation.

As one Chamorro man told me, "Wartime was bad only in the very beginning and the very end. When the Japanese Army was in charge."

"The Japanese Navy, which came after the Army, was much better. And then came the Japanese civilian government, which was tame. The Japanese just wanted you to grow food. Grow food and don't get into trouble. That was it."

A Chamorro lady told me, "Other than not having our priests and Mass, and our church to go to, we went back to the old way of life during the Spanish times, the time of my parents and grandparents. We farmed, we fished and as a family we helped each other. We were careful not to use English, but we spoke Chamorro in the family anyway. We just missed our priests and our church life."

"Didn't you miss the Americans?" I asked her.

"Oh yes we did! We loved the Americans. To us, the Japanese were a strange kind of people. Not Christian, not what we were used to. But honestly it was hard to know if the Americans would ever come back."

They did.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Supporters of the "Historic Inalåhan" program came to the Legislature in support of a bill intending to help fund this endeavor.  The majority of the testimonies were given in Chamorro.  Here was one of them.

Guåho si Rosita San Nicolas, uno gi “crafter” yan i taotao i kusina ta’lo,
(I am Rosita San Nicolas, one of the crafters and kitchen crew also,)

gi guåho fuma’titinas i asiga guihe påpa’.
(I am the one making salt down there.)

Dångkulo na si Yu'us ma'åse', Senator Cruz, Aline yan si Tina.
(Thank you very much, Senator Cruz, Aline and Tina.)

Man måtto ham, man magof ham gi annai man mamaisen ham ayudo.
(We come, we are happy to ask assistance.)

In agradese todo i ineppen-ña si Tina nu hame.
(We appreciate all of Tina's answers to us.)

I representånte-ña as si Stephanie måtto påpa'
(Her representative Stephanie came down)

gi sagan-måme ya ha kuentuse ham.
(to our place and spoke with us.)

Pues man gaige ham på'go guine
(So we are here today)

para bai in sangåne hamyo na in agradese todo i ayudo
(to tell you that we appreciate all the help)

yanggen siña en na’e hame para bai in abånsa ha’ mo’na.
(if you could give us so we can move forward.)

Yan an man måtto i bisita
(And when the visitors come)

pareho ha' i estråño yan hita ni taotao tåno'.
(the foreigner as well as the locals.)

In fanunu’e håftaimano mo'na i kinalamten i man antigo
(We show them how things were in the past)

guihe påpa' gi lugåt-ta.
(down there in our place.)

Yan guåha na biåhe na man mamaisen bokan Chamorro.
(And there are times that they ask for Chamorro food.)

Pues in na' posisipble ennao gi anggen man mamaisen
(So we make that possible when they ask)

para bai in na’ guåha.
(that we provide it.)

Ennaogue’ testigo ha’ si Sen Cruz gi annai måtto un biåhe.
(There is Senator Cruz to witness when he came one time.)

In na’ sena guihe påpa'.
(We made him eat dinner down there.)

Pues in kombida para bai in fan gupot an si Senator.
(Then we invited Senator to feast with us.)

Si Tina ti måtto ha dalak hame guihe na ha'åne.
(Tina didn't come to follow us that day.)

Lao hu tungo' ha' dångkulo i korason-ña
(But I know that her heart is big)

para u bisita i taotao Inalåhan lao chumatsaga guihe na ha'åne
(to visit the people of Inarajan but that day it was difficult to do so)

annai måtto påpa' si Sen Cruz.
(when Senator Cruz came down.)

Pues in agradese na dångkulo yanggen mumaloffan este i finaisen-måme
(So we appreciate a lot if this our request moves ahead)

ni para en ayuda ham gi håftaimano mo'na para bai in abånsa mås i kinalamten i historical Inalåhan.  
(that you help us in our endeavor to advance more the activities of Historical Inalåhan.)

Pues dångkulo na si Yu'us ma'åse' senadoras yan si senadot siha ni tumattitiye lokkue' 
(And many thanks to the senators who follow also)

yan sumopopotte este na bill, i 361-32.
(and support this bill, number 361-32.)


She uses a word some (many?) younger Chamorro speakers may not know.

Estråño.  It means "strange, foreign, unusual."  Estranghero is the most exact word for "foreigner" that is related to estråño. They both come from Spanish loan words.

And the indigenous term can also be taotao hiyong (outside people) but that term tends to have a harder nuance to it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


An American PT boat during World War II

Fermin Flores was a Chamorro from Palau. His father Joaquin left Guam during the late Spanish era and, by way of Yap, eventually settled in Palau.

A Chamorro community developed in Palau, many of them living in Ngatmel, at the very northern tip of Babeldaob, the main Palauan island.

Fermin was working for the Japanese military on a special project, producing coconut oil for the needs of the Japanese as supply ships from Japan could no longer reach Palau due to American advances in the Pacific.

Thus, Fermin was able to circulate around the island quite a bit and, being fluent in Japanese, could understand everything being said around, even things that perhaps were not meant for his ears. For some reason, people would converse in his hearing, even though he shouldn't have heard things like - the possibility of killing all the Chamorros in Palau so that they would not aid the Americans should they invade.

Black smoke indicates hits by Americans on Japanese naval positions in Palau

Palau was being hit pretty badly by American bombs in the fall of 1944. Many people left their homes to seek shelter in more wooded areas, in caves, trenches and foxholes. This included the Chamorros in Ngatmel.  Everyone was unsure of the future. Would the Americans really invade? Would the civilians survive that, or would they perish alongside the Japanese troops? Would the Japanese themselves turn on the Palauan and Chamorro civilians?

Fermin was putting all this together in his head in October of 1944.  The Spanish missionaries and Hondonero family were, at least, missing, by then.  Even if people had no proof the Japanese had killed them, their absence would have raised suspicions.

Perhaps all this moved Fermin to seek a radical solution to this uncertainty. He abruptly asked his cousin Jack Borja if he would follow him.  "Where?" Jack asked. Fermin told him to never mind that and just answer the question. Jack must have sensed the underlying message and agreed to do it.

Fermin and Jack knew that American PT boats patrolled Palau's waters, but at about two miles' distance, keeping adequate length from any Japanese shore guns. Their plan was to steel away in darkness from an isolated point and make it to one of these American PT boats.

At 7PM that night in October, Fermin and Jack pushed out to sea. The waves were high and they had reason to fear that they may not make it in one piece. It took them all the way till dawn the next morning to reach the PT boat, which thought the two Chamorros were Japanese. Once they realized they were not Japanese, the Americans brought them aboard.

The Americans brought Fermin and Jack to Peleliu, in the southern part of Palau, which was now in American hands. The Americans obtained information from the two about Palau and the Japanese military strength there and overall conditions.

But then came the next thing, which must have been quite a surprise. The Americans said that they would rescue the Chamorros from Ngatmel. The plan was for Fermin and Jack to go back to Ngatmel and inform the Chamorros about the plan. That is what Fermin and Jack did. Then, in December of 1944, the Chamorros did as planned.  On three long boats, 119 Chamorros from Ngatmel reached an American ship lying outside Palau.

The Americans took the Chamorros to Angaur, another southern Palau island taken by the Americans, where a refugee camp was set up. The Chamorros of Palau were now safely out of Japanese hands. The Japanese would not surrender Palau for another nine months or so. One can only imagine what danger the Chamorros avoided by not living under the Japanese for another nine months.

Ruins of the Japanese Lighthouse at the Northern Tip of Palau

The day after the Chamorros escaped from Ngatmel, the Japanese noticed that no Chamorro showed up to work. Some of the Chamorros did the cooking for the Japanese. The Japanese figured the man on duty at the lighthouse should have spotted them. When they interrogated him, they found out that the man fell asleep.

(For further info, read Fermin Flores' book Vision Fulfilled)

Monday, July 14, 2014


The hill in Ngatpang, Palau
Site of the execution

A Chamorro woman in her 20s, married to a Filipino, with two young children ages 5 and 3.  All of them - shot dead by the Japanese.

Agapito Cairela Hondonero was a Filipino who left his home country and settled in Yap around 1928 or 1929.  He was employed at the  "American" weather station on Yap, an island which was under the Japanese at the time. This station had a working relationship with the Manila Observatory, sending weather reports there. As the Philippines was still under American control at the time, he was considered an "American national."

This is not the same as a U.S. citizen. An American national owes allegiance to the U.S. and falls under the protection of the U.S., but does not have all the benefits of U.S. citizenship. Up until 1950, people born on Guam were American nationals only, unless they acquired U.S. citizenship some other way.  In 1950, the Organic Act granted U.S. citizenship to those born on Guam who weren't already U.S. citizens by another route.

Filipinos were considered American nationals till their country's independence from the U.S. in 1946. Being an American national alone would have put Hondonero in a bad light to the Japanese in Yap.

When war was declared between the U.S. and Japan in 1941, Hondonero was put in jail by the Japanese in Yap.

Hondonero was married to a Chamorro.  Her name was Filomena Adriano Untalan.  Her father, Jesus Guzman Untalan, had moved to Yap, not from Saipan (as the majority of Chamorros on Yap had), but from Guam. Her mother, Mecaila Chuapaco Adriano, was also a Chamorro from Guam.

In July of 1944, Hondonero was sent by the Japanese to Palau, along with two Jesuit priests (one Spanish, the other Colombian) and a Spanish Jesuit brother.  Hondonero's wife Filomena, and their two children, Baltazar, around 5, and Carolina, around 3, accompanied him to Palau.

In Palau, the priests were joined by three other Spanish missionaries, two priests and a brother.  The missionaries and the Hondoneros were together, waiting their fate at the hands of the Japanese.  Alfonso Untalan Diaz, a nephew of Filomena, happened to be in Palau and managed to talk to her.  He told her that she and the two children were not considered spies and that the Japanese were willing to set them free. Filomena told him that she knew the Japanese meant to kill her husband, and that she would not abandon him now.

On September 18, having heard of the Japanese losses in the Marianas and the American attack on Peleliu, an important island in the southern part of Palau, with heavy American shelling going on daily in the main section of Palau, the Japanese expected that an American invasion could happen at any moment.  They feared that the missionaries and the Filipino weather man would run to the Americans and help them with intelligence. The Japanese decided to kill them all.

Two trucks came in the early evening of September 18 to take them to their executions. The shooting happened on Ngatpang Hill, called Gasupan Daijo by the Japanese. The trucks stopped and the prisoners were taken into a jungle area, where they found a trench freshly dug. They were informed that they had to die. While the priests chanted, the whole group was made to kneel in front of the hole.  Japanese lined up behind each prisoner. The soldiers were told to shoot one prisoner each at the back of the head. They were to use pistols, since using rifles at such close range would be dangerous to the bystanders.

Hondonero and his family knelt on the far left. When the order was given to fire, the Japanese standing behind Filomena was so taken with emotion that he misfired. Filomena was carrying her baby girl on her back. The girl started to cry at the sound of the guns. Since he was faltering, the Japanese soldier was replaced by another soldier who came up and shot the girl, killing Filomena at the same time.

The three Jesuits from Palau, killed with the three Jesuits from Yap and the Hondonero family

The bodies of all ten were buried in the hole.  When the Japanese in Palau heard that their country surrendered to the U.S. on August 15, 1945, they decided to cover their tracks.  The bodies of these ten dead were exhumed, burned and what was left was buried in a new spot, but not far from the original site. The Japanese agreed to tell the Americans, once they came, that the prisoners were sent off to the Philippines and that they did not know what happened to them afterwards.

But, their crime was not hidden enough. The Americans soon found out about it and the Japanese soldiers involved were tried for it and found guilty. The leading culprit committed suicide before he could face trial. The trials, by the way, happened on Guam after the war.

For the Untalan family, the bitter memories are coupled with the failure to find the remains of their loved ones. There have been several attempts to do so and some spots have been found that could very well have been the site, but no human remains, so far, have been found.

Alfonso Untalan Diaz, nephew of Filomena, did get her rosary and crucifix, given to him by a local girl who got it from a Japanese soldier.

The soil of Palau remains the final resting place of a Chamorro mother, her Filipino husband, and their two children.  One was killed on suspicion of being an American spy; killed without trial, without evidence and without witnesses. The wife was killed because she would not leave her husband.  The two little ones were killed, as the Japanese officer said, because, with mother and father dead, there would be no one to take care of them.  A very sad tale.

Depiction of the Execution Scene

One of the Japanese at the scene indicated the positions of the ten people killed.  There are only nine spots shown, but that is because Filomena was carrying Carolina on her back when both were killed at the same time.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Pale' Oscar Lujan Calvo, with American officials, Dueñas family members and others, at the original grave of Pale' Dueñas in Ta'i in March of 1945

JULY 12, 1944  is observed as the official and recognized date of death of Father Jesus Baza Dueñas, and the other three killed along with him, including his nephew, one-time Island Attorney Edward Camacho Dueñas.

Some of those observing the July 12th date are :

Governor Carlos G. Camacho's Proclamation 70-24 (1970) making July 12th the official anniversary

Antonio M. Palomo, historian, in many of his writings

Guam Recorder, and other publications

Julius Sullivan, OFM Cap, in The Phoenix Rises, the 1957 church history book

However, July 13 is offered as the day of his execution in an affidavit signed only in June of 1945, only (little less than) a year after the death of Fr Dueñas.  This affidavit was signed by Pale' Oscar Calvo, who got his information from the Saipanese interpreter, Joaquin Dueñas, who was present at the beheading in Tå'i.

This, as far as I know, is the only source for the alternative date of July 13.

And yet - curiously enough - the same Pale' Oscar places a bronze plaque above the final resting place of Fr Dueñas in the sanctuary of Inarajan Church and states the date of death as July 12.

Perhaps, because the killings were done in the darkness before the dawn (about 4AM the affidavit states), as the end of an ordeal that began on July 12, people remember the death as occurring on July 12.

Or, perhaps, when he wrote the affidavit, Pale' Oscar got his dates wrong.

As it is, July 12 is the day everyone observes his martyrdom.

The Memorial Plaque in Inarajan Church

Thursday, July 10, 2014


A good friend, Jose Arriola Espinosa, composed these Chamorro lyrics to go to the song, "Silver Threads and Golden Needles."  A great way to improve our language skills is by learning songs in the language.

I'll start with the entire Chamorro version first, then a line-by-line translation.

Tenga ya-mo man promete, ni korason-mo che'lu-ho.
Solamente yo' sin suette, guine nai na huego.

Sa' kåda yo' nai man guaiya, guinaiya ni gof fitme,
ma deroga i kontråta, ya ha tutuhon i puti.

Chorus : Nene, nene, gaima'ase', sa' ti siña hu sungon,
todo este na pinadese, korason-ho ti mesngon.
Oppe yo' pot kilisyåno, oppe yo' ni magåhet,
kao bai suette guinaiya-mo, pat kao bai hu maså'pet?

Nene, ya-mo man ofrese, pues ti siña hao konfotme,
na un fan guaiya un kilisyåno, uno ha' kåda biåhe.
Hinasso-mo na ti kombiene, na un fan guaiya nai tåtte,
eyo ya-mo i diårio, mås ke sea nai håye.

(Spoken) (Nangga nåya,) siempre un dia, un padese i kastigon i huegu-mo,
sa' hågo na klåsen taotao, ti åpmam hinasso-mo.
Siempre un dia un angokko, na un ma guaiya ni fitme,
ma fa' baba hao nai tåtte, asta ke måsga hao, nene.

(see asterisked notes)

Tenga ya-mo man promete, ni korason-mo che'lu-ho.
(You often like to promise your heart, my brother/sister*)
Solamente yo' sin suette, guine nai na huego.
(All I am is the unlucky one in this game.)

Sa' kåda yo' nai man guaiya, guinaiya ni gof fitme,
(Because every time I love with a true love**)
ma deroga i kontråta, ya ha tutuhon i puti.
(the deal is broken and the pain begins.)

Chorus : Nene, nene, gaima'ase', sa' ti siña hu sungon,
(Baby, baby have mercy, because I can't take)
todo este na pinadese, korason-ho ti mesngon.
(all this suffering, my heart isn't strong.***)
Oppe yo' pot kilisyåno, oppe yo' ni magåhet,
(Answer me for God's sake****, answer me truthfully)
kao bai suette guinaiya-mo, pat kao bai hu maså'pet?
(will I have the luck of getting your love, or will I suffer?)

Nene, ya-mo man ofrese, pues ti siña hao konfotme,
(Baby, you like to offer, then after you cannot come through*****)
na un fan guaiya un kilisyåno, uno ha' kåda biåhe.
(that you should love someone, one at a time.)
Hinasso-mo na ti kombiene, na un fan guaiya nai tåtte,
(You think it's not proper******, for you to love back)
eyo ya-mo i diårio, mås ke sea nai håye.
(what you like is something new each day*******, it doesn't matter with who.)

Spoken over instrumental :

Nangga nåya, siempre un dia, un padese i kastigon i huegu-mo,
(Wait a bit, for surely one day, you will suffer the punishment of your games)
sa' hågo na klåsen taotao, ti åpmam hinasso-mo.
(because you're the type of person whose thoughts don't last long.)
Siempre un dia un angokko, na un ma guaiya ni fitme,
(Surely one day you will hope to be loved for real)
ma fa' baba hao nai tåtte, asta ke måsga hao, nene.
(you will be betrayed back, until you get tired******** of it, baby.)


* Che'lu.  Literally means "brother" or "sister" but here it means "friend," and not even literally "friend" but rather a way of addressing someone.

** Fitme.  Means "firm," "strong."  But here the connotation is a "true love," one that is strong and one that lasts.

*** Mesgnon.  Means "enduring," "capable of tolerating pain."  Here it can be taken to mean "strong."

**** Kilisyåno.  Literally means "Christian," but Chamorros use it to indicate a person, any person at all among Chamorros or western people.  Traditionally non-Christian people would not be called "kilisyåno." The phrase in this line means "answer me, because I am worthy of an answer, a person of worth, since I am Christian."

***** Konfotme.  Means "agreeable, willing."  In this line, the meaning is, "You make an offer, but then you aren't willing to see it through."

****** Kombiene.  Means "proper, right, correct, appropriate."  Here, the meaning is "You don't follow through because you think you don't have to; it's not your obligation."

******* Diårio.  "Daily."  The girl wants some new fling every day, which is why she can't come through with her promises of true love.

******** Måsga.  Means "to regret, to decide to change."  Here it means, "When your bad ways back fire on you, you'll get tired of paying the price for your old ways and want to change."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Members of the Lizama (Batitang) family after the Battle for Saipan, July 1944
(Courtesy of Scott Russell, CNMI Humanities Council)

On this day 70 years ago, the Battle for Saipan came to an end.

It started with the American invasion on the morning of June 15 along the western beaches of Saipan, from Agingan Point up to just beyond Oleai.  Prior to the invasion, the island was "softened" by American bombardment.  The wailing of the evacuation sirens got civilians - Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans, Chamorros and Carolinians - to pack their essentials and head to the eastern side of the island, where the difficult terrain made an American landing less probable.

Many Chamorros traveled at night and avoided the trails, thinking the darkness of night and the wilderness provided more protection.  People ate what they could find.  When water from small streams, puddles and bo'bo' (little springs) was not available, some even resorted to drinking sea water.  Luckily, Saipan was covered in sugar cane fields and it was also lemmai (breadfruit) season so a number of Chamorros were able to eat those, though many could not find even that.

Babies and newborns were often the most vulnerable, and many of them died.  Some mothers were so traumatized by the bombing that they could not produce enough breast milk for the babies.

Being a small island, with the Japanese populations, both military and civilian, in close quarters with everybody else, it was hard for American bombs and bullets to find only Japanese bodies.  Chamorros, and other non-combatants, were wounded and killed as well.  Some families had to leave the dead bodies of their loved ones behind, finding them later for burial and sometimes finding nothing when they returned.


Japanese propaganda told the Chamorros that the Americans would do the worst things possible to the Chamorros if caught, because the Chamorros had been under the Japanese.  The majority of Chamorros did not believe this.

They already knew some things about the Americans.  Some had relatives on Guam, and had even visited Guam and seen Americans.  They knew that Americans were, for the most part, Caucasian and Christian, just like their beloved priest, Spanish Father Tardio.  They just could not imagine Americans being as cruel as the Japanese said they were.

But a few Chamorros were inclined to follow the Japanese to the northernmost cliffs of Saipan and die with them, either from American bullets or through suicide, but none of them did.  Their family members convinced them not to.

Chamorros met Americans, most for the first time, in a number of ways.  Some American soldiers stumbled on Chamorros hiding in caves.  Many Chamorros would come out with hands up, or carrying religious objects like crucifixes, and say, "Pås Chamorro."  "Peace!  I am Chamorro!"  They needed the Americans to know right away that they were not Japanese.

A few Chamorros had even learned the English word "peace" and said that when they first encountered the Americans.

A few older Chamorros could speak Spanish to some Hispanic American soldiers, and some Chamorros who had been close to the Spanish Mercedarian sisters could also say a few things in Spanish.  It was better than saying nothing at all, since most American soldiers could speak neither Japanese nor Chamorro, and few Saipan Chamorros could anything at all in English.

Some American soldiers had to exhort the Chamorros to leave the caves, blowing whistles and ordering them out.

Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, a Japanese soldier used Chamorros in acts of desperation.  One veteran of the Battle for Saipan told me that he spied a cave and whom he thought were Chamorros.  A Chamorro man did come out, holding up high a poster picture of the Sacred Heart.  But the veteran did not let his guard down, and thank goodness, because behind him, all of a sudden, came the Japanese soldier charging out.  He was shot dead.  The Japanese soldier thought the sight of a Chamorro holding up a poster of Jesus would persuade the Americans to lower their guns.  They didn't.


As soon as they were in American hands, they were given food and water and the wounded attended to. Eventually they were all gathered in Susupe in their own camp, separate from the Japanese, Korean and Okinawan civilians and the Japanese soldiers who survived battle.

American soldier, Spanish sisters and Chamorro/Carolinian civilians at Mass in Camp Susupe


The fall of Saipan into American hands was a huge disappointment to the Japanese.  It was the first time that a pre-war Japanese territory, which had been under the Japanese since 1914, was lost to the enemy.  Also, the fall put the Americans within distance to bomb Japan using their planes based in Saipan.  Later, Guam and Tinian would also be used for the same purpose.

Such a catastrophe was the fall of Saipan for the Japanese that Prime Minister Hideki Tojo resigned, as well as his entire Cabinet, on July 18 - nine days after the fall of Saipan.