Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Different cultures view New Year's Day differently, and so customs differ throughout the world concerning the first day of the New Year.

Some cultures consider New Year's a time to ward off evil and encourage good fortune for the coming year. So fireworks, for them, chase away the bad and 12 (some say 13) round fruits on the dinner table on New Year's means 12 months of good fortune, all year round; the 13th for some people means even extra fortune.

Others, like Americans, regard New Year's as a time to begin anew. So, they make New Year's resolutions.

Chamorros, in the past, didn't seem that preoccupied about the coming year's fortunes, good or bad. Perhaps this is due to the average Chamorro's consistent pattern of having the basic necessities of life. There were few luxuries for most, but almost all had a roof over their head, land to till and the sea to fish in.

The attitudes Chamorros had about New Year's in the days before Americanization can be broken down into three main categories. Remember that not every Chamorro family had the same regard for New Year's and not everyone practiced these customs.


For some, New Years was the time to bury the hatchet. Or machete. To forget about past wrongs, end a family fight, or grievance with a neighbor or whomever. Two people who may not have spoken to each other due to a quarrel might start to speak to each other once again on New Year's or thereabouts.


Some families observed the custom of really giving the house a clean sweep. This was done a day or two before January 1, not on New Year's Day itself. Everything in the house, and sometimes around the house, was given a good cleaning. Perhaps some old and useless things were disposed of. The New Year was started, this way, with everything clean and in order.


Another custom, for some, was to wear nothing but new clothes and new shoes on New Year's. Again, it was the idea of starting the new year using nothing but new things. But, as one lady said, this was not a widespread custom before the war, because, before the war, "Puro ha' mamopble." "We were all poor."


The Germans have many interesting New Year's customs. In some parts of that country, a spoon full of melted lead is dropped in cold water and the resulting shape is supposed to give a clue as to the coming year.

The German Capuchins were in charge of the Catholic mission in Saipan and Tinian from 1907 to 1919. They used some German melodies to compose new hymns in Chamorro. These songs were not sung on Guam; only in Saipan and then Rota.

One of these songs, "Ta fan magof todos," is sung for the new year. It includes the lines :

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

"Jesus, our God / in the new year
have mercy on us / remove what is harmful.
Give rest / to those already in the grave
and on those who may die this year."

In time, this idea of thinking of the dead developed into remembering the dead of the past year. In recent years (the last 20 or 30), this developed further into the practice of lighting candles in Mass, and presenting them to the altar or sanctuary, one candle for each deceased in the past year, at the New Year's Mass. This custom (and the song) also traveled south to Guam where it became the practice in some parishes.


In many families in the old days, New Year's was not celebrated with any special attention. Yes, it was the New Year, but so? Life was very different back then. A new year meant another year of pretty much the same thing; farming and fishing.

If any meaning was given to January 1 in those days it was a spiritual, or religious, commemoration.

For centuries, January 1 was, for Catholics, the feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, since Old Testament Law ordered that Jewish baby boys be circumcised on the 8th day after birth. Since the Lord's birth was observed on December 25, His circumcision would be observed on January 1. The feast of the Lord's Circumcision meant several things. First, it showed how Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus obeyed the Old Testament Law. Second, on the 8th day, baby boys received their names. Our Lord's name, Jesus, means "God saves" and is indicative of His mission and identity. Third, when the Child Jesus was circumcised, He shed His first blood for our salvation. The fact that this feast fell on the first day of new civil year was secondary.

In 1960, Pope John XXIII changed the title of the Church feast of January 1 from the Circumcision of the Lord to "Octave of the Nativity," "octave" meaning "eighth day." The prayers of the Mass of that day still referred to the circumcision of the Lord. In 1969, the general reform of the Church Calendar shifted the observance to Mary, the Mother of God, though the current Gospel for that day does make reference to the circumcision of Jesus.

So Chamorro Catholics from the time of Sanvitores up to the changes in the Church calendar observed January 1 as a religious feast of the Circumcision, and thereafter the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. The change of a new secular, or civil, year was not seen as a religiously significant thing.

Now, of course, New Year's in the Marianas is often accompanied by fire crackers, gun shots and resolutions, under influences from abroad. Modern attitudes about hoping for a better new year, in terms of money, health and other things, have come into people's minds. But, under several centuries of Spanish influence, many Chamorros in older times did not give January 1 tremendous attention and not many customs developed except for the ones described above. January 6th, in fact, was more celebrated by Chamorros than January 1st.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


To most modern people, the rock on the left, off the shore of Hågat, looks like Aladdin's slipper or maybe a genie's lamp.

But to our ancestors, who had no idea who Aladdin was, the rock reminded them of a canoe.

A very old story is told about these two rocks came about.

Many centuries ago, before the time of the Spaniards, some Chamorro men in Hågat agreed to go out to sea to catch fish. They took with them fruits and the bark of the puting tree, which is narcotic, to use to catch fish.

The tide would soon go out and the fishermen needed to tie their nets to the breaks in the reef in order to catch the fish swimming out with the tide. In their haste, they chose a canoe that was leaky. As they rowed out, the boat began to leak. As they paddled back to land, they began to throw their things out of the boat so as to return to land faster. But the canoe was just leaking too much and they abandoned it to swim to shore.

When they looked back, they saw that the canoe had changed to a rock, which they called Palåye. The things they threw out of the canoe, such as the nets, the bark and fruits, formed a second rock.

Since then, Palåye Rock served the fishermen of Hågat by making loud noises as sea water rushed through holes in the rock, just as the canoe from which it was made had leaking holes. These loud noises warn the fishermen that big waves are on their way.

The other rock, formed by the nets, bark and fruit, has some vegetation. But on Palåye, made from a canoe, no plants grow. At least, as the story goes. But recently some vegetation has spring up on Palåye. Still, compared to the growth found on the rock on the right, one can see why that's how the story goes. I do remember seeing Palåye Rock completely barren of plants.


The puting tree is known, in English, as the fish-killer tree and as the barringtonia asiatica among scientists. Its poison stupefies fish, making them easy to catch in their dazed state.

Monday, December 29, 2014


Mr. Kaneaki Sawada, a Japanese merchant, was living a comfortable life on Guam since around 1908. Though a long-time Guam resident, he never fully entered into local society besides selling his wares and having friendly business relations with other merchants. His wife, Nao, was Japanese. Unlike other Japanese men who became Catholic because they married Chamorro women, he and his family did not convert.

Sawada took a trip to his native country, specifically to Tokyo, in March of 1933. This was less than a month after Japan withdrew completely from the League of Nations, which pointed to Japan as the cause of the problems in Manchuria. Japan's growing isolation from world diplomacy created in many the impression that Japan were the "bad boys" of the global scene.

On Guam, Sawada said, this negative feeling towards Japanese could be felt. Sawada's comments were reported in more than one Japanese newspaper. He said there was a desire on the part of some on Guam to drive the Japanese out, at least those who had not married into local society. In fact, seven such Japanese males left Guam permanently that March.

The Japanese on Guam, numbering around forty persons, worked as merchants, tailors, barbers, fishermen, carpenters, blacksmiths, cooks and farmers, making more money than Chamorros doing the same work. This, also, did not help Japanese-Chamorro relations.

The interesting thing, Sawada said, was that some of the children of these Japanese, being half Chamorro, supported the idea of forcibly repatriating some of the Japanese residents of Guam.

Sawada did not live long enough to see the ultimate result of Japan's diplomatic divorce from the rest of the world. He died before World War II began. His widow, Nao, lived long enough to gloat when the Japanese flag flew over Guam, and she made life difficult for some locals during the war. Mysteriously, she disappeared when the Americans invaded Guam.

Friday, December 26, 2014


Headstone at Tinian's Catholic Cemetery

Ignacio Arceo and Manuel San Nicolas Aquiningoc were Chamorros who moved to Yap sometime around or before 1920.

The Japanese were running all of Micronesia by then, except for Guam.

Ignacio was born in Agat, Guam, the son of Joaquin and Vicenta Arceo Aquiningoc. He first married a Welsh-Chamorro woman with the last name Lewis. She was the daughter of Evan Lewis, a Welshman from England, who went from island to island doing a variety of work, till he settled in Yap and married a Chamorro woman with the last name Cruz.

Ignacio had a good number of children, born in Yap. Living for twenty or more years in Yap, I am sure that Ignacio, as head of the household, was able to speak some Japanese and maybe even some Yapese. Manuela, minding more domestic duties, probably had less interaction with the Japanese and Yapese but could still have learned something of those languages.

The children, especially the older ones, would have had more exposure to the Japanese and Yapese languages. The couple continued to have children right into the war. Those younger ones would have been still very young when the family, as well as all the Yap Chamorros, were forcibly moved off of Yap by the U.S. government at the request of the Yapese.

Like most of the Yap Chamorros, the Aquiningocs moved to Tinian after the war, where there was plenty of good land and no native population to cultivate it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


This carol includes some Chamorro words using older and forgotten meanings. Please read the notes below for an explanation.

Linangitan Niño, boi hu faisen hao :
håye u tane'-ho, yanggen triste hao?
(Heavenly Child, I will ask you :
who will cheer me up, if you are sad?)

Misen i lago'-mo pinedongguan hao
annai si Maria mina' onno' hao;
ayo ha' i Bithen sinangåne hao
"håye u tane'-ho yanggen triste hao?"
(Many tears fell from your eyes
when Mary wrapped you up;
the Virgin only said to you
"who will cheer me up, if you are sad?")

Meggai na pastores fumatoigue hao
para un ma nginge', hulon i taotao;
ilek-ñiha a'gang yan ma li'e hao
"håye u tane'-ho yanggen triste hao?"
(Many shepherds came to you
to kiss you, Lord of the people:
loudly they say when they see you
"who will cheer me up, if you are sad?")


1. The intent of this sentimental song is to cheer up the Baby Jesus, who comes into this world of suffering sharing in our sad condition. The Baby is not born in comfort. He is born in a cave or stable, among animals, as there is no room in the inn. Mary and Saint Joseph are not in their home town. They are far from home and its usual comforts, yet Mary has to give birth in these conditions. In time, the Infant will be hunted down by King Herod to be killed. So, Our Lady and the others try to cheer Him up by asking, "If you are sad, who will make us happy?" Then the Baby Jesus will remember that He has to be happy, because He is the joy of His mother and the whole human race. This carol is sentimental, and not strictly theological.

2. Påle' Roman, the composer of the Chamorro lyrics, used the word tåne' to bring across this idea. In the older, original meaning, tåne' is anything that occupies your time. It is the opposite of idleness, boredom or inactivity. Thus, it can take on multiple meanings. If someone or something delays you, it is taking up your time, so tåne' can mean a delay or a distraction. But something entertaining also takes up your time in a happy way, so tåne' can mean entertainment or fun. When you see someone bored, which is usually something that drags us down, you can say, "Espia håfa para tane'-ña." "Look for something to occupy his time," which implies making him happy and no longer bored.

3. Påle' Roman also uses the older form boi, from the Spanish voy, which means "I go." It was adopted by the Chamorros to express a future action. "Boi hu kånta," "I go to sing," or "I will sing." But Chamorros really don't favor the OI sound and change it to AI. So Jimmy Dee sings the modern and usual version of the word, bai.

4. Hulon is not a word usually used nowadays. It has the general meaning of a leader or official, like a judge, or head of a community or family.

5. Pinedongguan means "to fall on its own," meaning not something deliberately thrown down. The Chamorro words do not specifically say the tears fell from His eyes, but I translated it that way because it's implied and it sounds nicer that way.


Påle' Román, a Spanish Capuchin, was Basque. The Basques have their own language and customs. He relied a lot on another Spanish Basque Capuchin, Father José Antonio de Donostia, a composer, for songs to translate into Chamorro. Linangitan Niño was one of them.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Father José Tardio, the Jesuit missionary in Saipan (pictured above in black), kept up a regular correspondence with his fellow Spanish missionaries on Guam.

In January of 1933, he wrote to a Spanish Capuchin on Guam to wish him a Happy New Year, to send him some extra calendars and to share some information about the religious condition of the Saipanese, both Chamorro and Carolinian.

Here's what he says. This is my translation of the Spanish original :

"Over here, everything goes as normal. This year has been one of blessings in terms of the deaths among the natives. Only 85 have died during the year. Among them, 80 were completely prepared and five deaths were doubtful. Three were lost at sea and could not receive the sacraments. Two were given the Last Rites at the last hour under condition; both were drunkards and were somewhat sluggish when they called on the priest. Baptisms were 151; confirmations 181; marriages 36; 25,846 confessions heard by me; 66,007 communions distributed.  Thanks be to God, faith and piety reign among the majority of these faithful."

An explanation is in order concerning his information on the deaths.

Traditional Catholicism is very concerned about a person's spiritual state at death since, the very worst can repent and the very best can lose faith, up to the last moment of one's life. So, spiritually preparing for death was a great concern.

Priests tried their very best to assist the dying with the sacraments. To die without the consolation of the Last Rites was something to avoid. Thus, Father Tardio speaks about 80 out of 85 deaths that were "complete," meaning "completely prepared." These 80 dying people had the Last Rites. The three lost at sea obviously could not be reached by a priest.

The two drunkards (Father Tardio actually uses the Chamorro word bulachero) were given the Last Rites under condition because of the sluggish state they were in when they called the priest. Not being in full awareness or consciousness, or in full grasp of their free will, there is some uncertainty about their true spiritual condition. Still, they were anointed, presuming that, had they been completely sober, they would have sincerely wanted to repent and make their peace with God.

Father Tardio closes by saying how faith and piety reign on Saipan among the majority. This was certainly the reputation of Saipan's Chamorros. Even after the war, when the American Capuchins came in to take over the work, they remarked how devoutly Catholic the majority of Saipanese were.

One statistic alone makes this clear. If one priest (Tardio) heard 25,846 confessions in one year, or 365 days, that means he heard, on average, 70 confessions a day. Of course, right before Easter or Christmas there would have been many more than 70 confessions those days, and less on other days throughout the year. But that is quite a number, compared to today.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Yanggen chumocho gåmson i ga'lågo, siempre nina' dåkngas.

(If a dog eats octopus, it will lose its hair.)

Ilek-ña i amko', "Ti debe de u chochocho sa' måppla' siempre i pilu-ña." "It shouldn't eat it because its hair will fall out"

I heard this when I was a kid.

Not that I have ever seen it. Fifty years and I have not once seen anyone offer octopus to a dog.

So I asked the elder, "Lao håftaimano i ga'lågo para u fañodda' gåmson para na'-ña?" "How would a dog find an octopus for food?"

"Yanggen mañochocho gåmson i familia ya guaha sopbla, siña ha' nina' chocho gue' nu i gamson." "If the family is eating octopus and there are leftovers, the family might make the dog eat the octopus."

Neither is there, as far as I can find out, any scientific basis for the folk belief.

The only caveat I read about is to avoid the toxic blue-ringed octopus. Its venom is powerful enough to kill humans.

"Don't eat me! I'm poisonous!"

But I'd never myself offer a dog even a regular octopus. Just in case.

This seems to be more than just a Chamorro concern, as the link below will show. Others have also asked the question if eating octopus will make a dog lose its hair.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Sermon from the 1950s

Komo påle'-miyo, guaha obligasion-ho na hu na' fanmanhasso hamyo pot i moråt na obligasion-miyo yanggen manmanbota hamyo.
(As your priest, I have an obligation to bring to your mind your moral obligation if you are voters.) (1)

Nesesita en bota ayo na petsona i en pepe'lo gi korason-miyo na guiya i mås maolek para ayo na ofisio.
(You must vote for that person whom you consider in your hearts to be the best person for that position.)

Yanggen manbota hao ha' sin fotmalidåt pat yanggen on bota håye na taotao ni taigue gi korason-mo na guiya i mås maolek na taotao para ayo na ofisio, siempre on komete un isao kontra i tininas.
(If you vote without seriousness or if you vote for someone who isn't in your heart as the best one for that position, you surely commit a sin against justice.)

I obligasion para manbota, un serioso na obligasion.
(The obligation to vote is a serious obligation.)

Petmitido hao manbota sa' guaha libettåt-mo.
(You are permitted to vote because you have freedom.)

Fanhasso maolek åntes de on fa'tinas i botu-mo.
(Think well before you make your vote.)

Faisen maisa hao : Håye siha i mås man maolek na lalåhe (2) para u ha ma'gåse (3) i sengsong-ho (4).
(Ask yourself : Who are the best men to lead my community.)

Nesesita hågo mismo on fa'tinas i desision-mo.
(You yourself must make your decision.)

Gågao si Yu'us ya on inayuda fuma'tinas i dinanche na desision.
(Ask God to help you make the right decision.)


1. This line strays from a literal translation. The Chamorro literally says "to make you think" and also "if you vote." But I have given a dynamic translation to give more of the sense intended.

2. Lalåhe = men. This sentence dates this sermon to the days when it was assumed that only males were political candidates.

3. Ma'gåse = to be superior, the head. Må'gas can mean the superior or great.

4. Songsong = town, village or community.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Nuebo na rai, nuebo na lai.

A new king, a new law.

I've heard this said only by one person, in his mid or late 80s, and that was ten or more years ago.

Am sure he learned it as a kid, so perhaps in the 1930s.

The idea is that it's a whole new ball game whenever a new guy takes over.

This was especially true when Guam and the Marianas were truly ruled more by man and less by rule.

Both Spanish and American military governors had wide powers. On paper, there were limits and these were observed to an extent. But some governors exceeded them and got away with it many times.

To be accurate, even some Spanish governors were denounced (fairly or otherwise) and had to appear before higher authority. Some American Naval governors also faced fire from the public and were then scrutinized by Washington.

Because of this, I am sure our mañaina certainly related to the proverb : Nuebo na rai, nuebo na lai. One didn't know what to expect with each new governor.

Even today, when we say we are under a government of laws, not men, each ruler's personal likes and dislikes, style and emphasis color his or her administration and affect people's lives to some extent.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Chamorros in Hawaii were not as low-profile as one might imagine a hundred years ago.

For example, a Chamorro from Guam named Joe (born Jose) Castro was a bit of a boxing celebrity in Hawaii at one time.

We don't know who he was, other than that he was originally from Guam. In fact, he billed himself as the "Guam Wonder" in the ring. Castro didn't box just in Hawaii. In the early 1900s, he was in Stockton, California, and did so well he was able to come back to Hawaii with money in his pocket.

He had a bit of bad luck, though, in the Aloha State.

His wife sent a small boy to a Chinese eatery to buy ten cent's worth of poi. But the missus didn't give the boy the necessary dime, and the Chinese owner wouldn't part with his poi.

Mrs. Castro then went personally to see the Chinese owner, and a verbal exchange took place. That's when The Guam Wonder came in and used his boxer's fists to do the talking. He, and his wife, were arrested. Eventually, both the Chinese owner and Castro coughed up the money to pay the court fees and end the case.

Turned out to be very expensive poi.

(made from taro)

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Well, before Charmin came along, what DID our mañaina use?

Some say this....

....or whatever leaf (non-irritating) was handy.

I am old enough to remember we often used this, especially in the outhouses :

But when actual toilet paper became commercially available, Guam and Saipan (and Luta) diverged because, when that time came, we were under two different colonial powers.

On American Guam, our people decided to forego trying to pronounce the English "toilet paper" and coined the Chamorro phrase "påppet etgue," which literally means "paper for wiping."  Not just wiping, as in wiping anything. But I don't want to get more specific. You get the idea.

While on Japanese Saipan and Luta (modern Tinian had no Chamorro community before WW2), the Chamorros borrowed the Japanese word for tissue chirigami.

The Japanese word chirigami comes from two words. Kami means "paper" (it also means "god"). Chiri means "dust" or also "rubbish."  Rubbish paper. The word did not only mean "toilet paper." Inexpensive wrapping paper was also called chirigami.  Or, chirigami could also mean a coarse, rough kind of paper. In fact, today in Japan, many people no longer call toilet paper chirigami. Many call it tisshu (tissue) or even toiretto pepa (toilet paper).  But, just as it happens in other places, Saipan and Luta preserve an old usage less employed in the original country!

On Guam, as well, there is a standard joke that we use "paper toilet" in the restroom.

Whatever you call it, make sure you know your Guam term, and your Saipan/Luta (and now Tinian) term, so you get what you need when you're in a jam.

Monday, December 1, 2014


1. Gi hilo' tåno' annai muma' taotao i Saina
(On earth when the Lord became man)

Ha padese minappot pot i bidå-ta
(He suffered difficulties on account of our deeds)

Ha kåtga un makkat kilu'us pot i isao-ta
(He carried a heavy cross on account of our sins)

Mumåtai yan lumå'la' pot i satbasion-ta.
(He died and rose again for our salvation.)


Esta på'go ha baba i pottan* i langet
(He has already opened the gate of heaven)

sa' yanggen måtai yo' siempre ha pipet yo'
(because when I die He will surely lead me)

Pues ta fan manåyuyut pot i isao-ta
(so let us pray over our sins)

Ya puede tunas i anti-ta para i Saina.
(so that our souls may go straight to the Lord.)

2. Sumen bonito este bidå-ña i Satbadot-ta
(Our Savior's deed is most beautiful)

Ha na' annok ha' dångkulo guinaiya-ña
(He revealed His great love)

Ola mohon ya taiguihe i korason-ho
(May my heart be that way)

Bai sakrifisio ya bai suhåye i tentasion.
(I will make sacrifice and avoid temptation.)

* Usually the definite article i ("the") will change potta to petta.