Friday, May 29, 2015



A "false friend" is a word found in two languages, but do not mean the same thing. You think you can use the word with your own meaning (a "friend"), but in another country it has a different meaning ("false friend").

Even though we borrowed our Chamorro word pendeho from the Spanish, it means one thing in Chamorro, and another thing (or things, actually) in Spanish.

For us, pendeho just means "a rascal," "rogue" or "a mischievous person."

It is never taken offensively and can even be somewhat affectionate, acknowledging the smarts of a scoundrel, or is simply said in jest.

Nå'e si pendeho ni salape'-ña.
Give the rascal his money.

Ai si pendeho!
What a mischievous person!

But I advise you not to go around Spain or other Spanish-speaking countries saying pendejo.

In a few of those countries, the word is harmless.

But in some of them, it is highly insulting.

I won't tell you what it means in those countries. You can do your own research!


In Spanish, the word is spelled with a J : pendejo.

Although we preserve this Spanish style in place names like Sinajaña, Inarajan and personal names like Juan and José, when we spell in Chamorro nowadays, we switch the J to H.

So pendejo becomes pendeho.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


"Totoktok gi un kånnai; sasaolak gi otro kånnai."

("Hugging with one hand; spanking with the other hand.")

An older lady, in her 80s, was talking to me about someone we both knew, now long since passed.

She remarked how this person was both strict and loving at the same time; not averse to punishing you, yet always following up punishment with some act of kindness.

A person is born with two hands. It's the same person, but using two hands for opposite things. So it is with the way some people treat you. Hugging with one hand, spanking with the other.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


In the days before the internet, TV or even radio, how was important news from the government immediately disseminated to the general public?

As far as the capital city was concerned, by way of a town crier.

This was a common practice in Spain, and it was repeated here in the Marianas.

When something had to be announced to the whole population in Hagåtña, the crier would go out at night with a lantern bearer and a bugler (kotneta). The bugler's tune would call the people in that particular area out from the homes to gather around the crier. When everyone was present, he would read out the news. Many times these were instructions from the governor, perhaps concerning health (there were often epidemics in those days) or some public works project, or a new law. After announcing in one barrio, the crier and company would move to the next.

Why at night? Well, probably because a lot of city dwellers, especially the men, were at their ranches since even before dawn. The government had to wait till they returned home before sunset to have most of the men present to hear the news.

More than likely, the Chamorros called the town crier the same thing the Spaniards called him, the pregonero. Påle' Roman's Chamorro dictionary has the word pregón, which means "announcement" and the verb pregona ("to announce"), but he doesn't include the word pregonero (announcer). Another early dictionary (von Preissig's in 1918) does not include the term. But, as late as 1946, up in Saipan, the word pregonero was used for a news bulletin in both English and Chamorro. Today, the word is completely absent from conversation.

One thing's for sure, these announcements were read out in Chamorro. It's quite possible they were announced in both Spanish (for formality's sake) and Chamorro (for effectiveness), but almost certainly at least in Chamorro, as most Chamorros did not understand Spanish very well, at least those in the late 1800s.  In fact, some Americans who came to Guam in the early 1900s, thinking their Spanish would be enough to ensure successful work with Chamorros, soon realized that their Spanish was useless with most Chamorros. They had to learn Chamorro in order to communicate with all Chamorros, "high and low."

Friday, May 22, 2015


When I was growing up, it was Truk.

Then, in the 1980s, we first heard about Chuuk.

But how did Chamorros call this island, or group of islands, back in the day before they also spoke English?

They used the Spanish version of the name Chuuk.

We always have to forgive people in the past for spelling unfamiliar things in foreign lands the way they did. After all, if someone spoke to you in a language you didn't understand, and asked you to write down what you heard, it would be a mess!

So when the Spaniards (and other Europeans) heard the word Chuuk, the best they could spell it as their minds tried to grasp the sound they heard, was Ruk. Sometimes the Spaniards spelled it Ruc, as K is not found in the Spanish language (except sometimes when spelling foreign words or names).

Here is a close-up of a Spanish map of the Carolines, showing the island of Ruk. In the map at the top of this post, you can also see Ruk spelled out, and it's an American map, not Spanish! You can see the name Ruk in the heading and also in the part encircled.

A Spanish magazine talking about the "island of Ruk."

But, for the Spanish, the U in Ruk is pronounced like the OO in hook. Ruk rhymes with hook or crook. Not with luck or duck.

Here is how the name RUK sounds.

It was the Chamorros of Saipan, Rota, Yap and Palau who maintained this version of the name for Chuuk even up to our days. Why?

In 1898, the Chamorros of Guam were politically separated from all the other Chamorros of the Northern Marianas. The U.S. had no connection with Chuuk until after World War II.

But the Germans, and then the Japanese, controlled everywhere else in Micronesia : the Northern Marianas, Palau, Yap and yes - Ruk.

Chamorros from the other Japanese mandate islands, in small numbers, went to work in Ruk now and then under the Japanese.

So the Chamorros outside of Guam kept up a connection with Ruk. They were all under the same flag - the Japanese. They would hear news about Ruk. They had relatives living and working in Ruk. Their Jesuit priests in Saipan and Rota sometimes went back and forth, serving in Ruk.

"Ginen mano si påle' mågi?" ("From where did Father come here?")
"Ginen Ruk mågi." ("He came here from Ruk.")

Even as late as 1992, I heard older Chamorro women in Saipan talk about a place called Ruk.

I would say, "Where?" "Ruk!" they answered. And that's how I learned how the older Chamorros called what we call Chuuk, and, at one time, Truk.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


From a list of soldiers on Guam in 1795.

These soldiers, for the most part, are examples of the new race of mixed-blood Chamorros, having pre-contact Chamorro blood, as well as Spanish, Latin American (and thus Aztec and other indigenous American blood) and Filipino blood.

ACOSTA, Patricio de

AGUIRRE, José Antonio

AGUON, Victor

ARCEO, Desiderio
ARCEO, Félix
ARCEO, Francisco
ARCEO, Leopoldo

BAZA, Remigio
BAZA, Victorino


BORJA, Enrique


CAMACHO, Francisco

CAPISTRANO, Francisco Pascual

CASTRO, Ignacio de
CASTRO, Nicolás de

CEPEDA, Nicolás


CRUZ, Felipe de la
CRUZ, Félix
CRUZ, Francisco
CRUZ, José de la
CRUZ, Justo de la
CRUZ, Salvador de la

DUEÑAS, José Romano


GARRIDO, Manuel Tiburcio

GUERRERO, Juan de Dios

GUEVARA, José Andrés

LIZAMA, Nicolás



OJEDA, Manuel de

PABLO, Juan Regis

PALOMO, Antonio


RIVERA, Diego de
RIVERA, Marcos de


ROSA, Domingo de la

SABLÁN, Agustin Roque



TORRES, Juan Francisco Regis de

ULLOA, José de

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


shortly after their capture in 1960

Mention Yokoi on Guam and practically everyone knows who we're talking about.

But Ito and Minagawa? Their names are all but unknown.

Yet, almost 12 years prior to the capture of Yokoi in early 1972, two Japanese stragglers were found on Guam in May of 1960.



Like Yokoi, the first of the two to be found in 1960, Minagawa, was found by Chamorro men from Talofofo who were hunting. Vicente Manibusan and Clemente Santos, both young at 33 and brothers-in-law, were hunting coconut crab by Togcha when they saw a man in the distance. Just from the look of the man, they suspected he was a Japanese straggler.

They circled the area and found Minagawa up inside a breadfruit tree. When they called out to him, he jumped down and ran away. After about a quarter of a mile in pursuit, Manibusan and Santos caught up with Minagawa and struggled with him till he finally gave in. A hit on the head with the butt of Manibusan's rifle helped! Passing cars were hailed, but it was only the third car which cooperated and promised to call the police to send a patrol car to that area.

A fourth car, driven by Enrique Reyes of Talofofo, agreed to take the trio to the Yoña police precinct. Jesús Sehachi Sayama, a Japanese resident of Guam since long before the war, was living in Yoña and was asked to come to the police station and act as interpreter. Several hundred villagers gathered outside when news spread throughout the village. 

Minagawa had fought and screamed when Santos and Manibusan tried to seize him. At the police station, though no longer screaming, Minagawa wouldn't say a word, even with Sayama present. Not even donuts and coffee could loosen his lips. They waited for a police car to fetch them and take them to the main Agaña police headquarters. Then the Navy stepped in and took over.

Clemente Santos, Vicente Manibusan and Minagawa on Guam in 1964

One of the two Chamorros who discovered Minagawa



In time, Minagawa started to open up. During his questioning by authorities, Minagawa informed his captors that there was another Japanese soldier still hiding in the jungle by the name of Masashi Ito. Minagawa was willing to accompany the military police to Ito's hidden camp site and encourage him to surrender.

When the time arrived, the search party went by helicopter to the site and Minagawa called out to his compatriot. Ito emerged from hiding, waving a cloth, and turned himself in. Ito later said that knowing Minagawa was captured, he himself had to surrender because he could not make it by himself in Guam's jungle. He had survived so far in large part by having a partner. For the last two days he had been searching for Minagawa, not knowing he had been discovered.

There had been a third soldier in their company, Tetsuo Unno (some old newspapers call him Umino), who had died six years earlier due to illness which weakened him that he could not forage for food like the two others. Though the other two shared what they could and tended to him in his aches and pains and worsening cough, malnutrition set in and he died. They kept his bones for repatriation to Japan.

The two stragglers had a hideout in the Talofofo area, but apparently knew nothing about Yokoi. They made trips as far north as Pago Bay, and Manibusan thought he had spotted Minagawa before, while fishing at Ylig River and Bay. A man with long hair tied in a bun, just like Minagawa, was in the water. When Manibusan called out, the mysterious swimmer dove and disappeared. But Minagawa said that there were a few times he walked right down the main street in Talofofo, but late at night when he went to go fishing. Shows how quiet village life was in those days.


The two were eventually repatriated to Japan, in good condition. They found jobs as security guards. All those years in the jungle needing to notice every movement and sound would make them excellent in patrolling the grounds of their employer's business.

Ito and Minagawa had suspected that the war was over and that Japan was no longer in charge of Guam, but they had no idea that Japan had surrendered and had been itself occupied by America. They refused to turn themselves in because it had been instilled in them that Americans killed their enemy captured.

Asked if they thought there were more Japanese holdouts hiding in Guam's jungles, they replied no. Boy were they wrong!

They returned to Guam, in fact, in 1964 to assist in a search for more stragglers reportedly seen but never captured. In 1972, that would change with the finding of Yokoi.

While back on Guam in 1964, they frequently met with their Chamorro captors, going to parties and eating at restaurants. Minagawa said he was thankful that Manibusan and Santos had spotted and captured him, otherwise he would not be back home in Japan, with a wife and a new life.

The discovery of the stragglers naturally made news all over the world

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


We're very used to the word, and phrase, "Esta!"

It means, "already," and can also mean, "OK," "alright," and so forth.

The word is borrowed from Spanish, but "ésta" in Spanish means "this." So it's curious how "this" became "already" in Chamorro.

One explanation, going back a hundred years or more, is that "esta" is really a shortened version of yesta.

Yesta appears in the Chamorro prayer book above, which was written over a hundred years ago by a Chamorro, well-educated in the Spanish system.

Påle' Román says that yesta is itself a shortened form of the Spanish "ya está." "Ya está" means "it's already there," or simply, "already."

"Did you fold the clothes?"
"Ya está." (They're already there. I already did it.)

From there, Chamorros shortened "ya está" to "yesta." And, as the years rolled on, shortened it further to "esta."

In time, yesta disappeared and is now no longer heard.

I think that's about all I can say about it. Pues, esta!

Monday, May 18, 2015


A typical bus of the 1930s

Sumay was Guam's second largest town well before the 1930s. It was also an important town, with its port, Marine barracks, cable station, Pan Am Clipper landing, hotel and many businesses.

Because of all this importance, it isn't surprising that there was a lot of traffic between Hagåtña and Sumay and the need for public transportation going between them.

One such line was the City Motorbus Line, which ran a bus in the 1930s from the capital to Sumay and back, passing through Piti and Hågat.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Several sources from the early 1900s talk about a unique way the people of Luta (Rota) caught fish.

They tamed them. Right in the ocean.

When the fish were very small, the fishermen would go out in their canoes. They would let down into the water a half a coconut shell, with a stone in it for weight. There was also a string tied to the stone so that the fisherman could jiggle it, making a sound which would attract the fish. Inside the shell would be grated coconut meat. The little fish would eat to their heart's content. And day by day, for as long as needed, the fishermen would do this.

As the fish got bigger, and more attractive to catch, the fish got very used to finding coconut meat in what they thought was a safe environment. Then - swoosh! The fishermen would easily grab the fish.

I wish I knew what type of fish was the object of this method of catching them.

Most of Luta lacks a reef. So I can only imagine where this type of fishing took place, as most of the waters around Luta seem rather rough and deep for this method.

This method is also time-consuming. But, as one writer said, especially in those days, the people had a lot of time on their hands.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Two kompådres agreed to go fishing one night at To'guan Bay in Humåtak. Since they would go out at night, they brought torches (hachon), along with their spears (sulo'). All things being prepared, one decided to nap since it was dark but the tide was still high.

"Wake me when it's time to go out," he said to his påre.

Some time later, he was awakened by the voice of his påre, saying it was time to go. "Find me there," he said to his awakening companion.

It took the awakening man to set out and he found his partner already in the water, fishing. He tried to approach him so they could fish together, but he noticed his påre was always a certain distance away, no matter how close he tried to approach. He also realized that his påre never looked in his direction.

For a long while, he never caught a single fish. He wanted to see how his påre was going, and noticed that he kept putting things from the ocean into his basket, boasting, "Bula yo'! Bula yo'" ("I have plenty!") But when he looked closer, his påre was only catching sea slugs.

He was not convinced that the man who awakened him and who was now fishing with him, was not his påre. Fear overtook him and he didn't know what to do. He decided to move closer to the mouth of the To'guan River, but his partner moved in that direction, too, keeping the same distance as before.

At some point, the man thrust his torch into the hole of a rock to kill it and surround himself in complete darkness. Then, following the river inside, he ran into the interior of the jungle, trying to escape this mysterious partner.

In the jungle, he came upon a group of young men, playing a game called guaoho, forming a circle in a clearing in the dark jungle. They were not men, but taotaomo'na!

Seeing his frightful fishing partner running into the jungle chasing him, the fisherman ran into the circle of taotaomo'na playing their game.

The spirit fishing partner saw this, and yelled out, as he pursued him, "Guaoho, guaoho, guaoho! Hasayon i tiguang-ho! Pao limut! Pao le'o! Pao acho'! Pao ma'ti!" ("Guaoho, guaoho, guaoho! My partner has an awful smell! He smells of moss, of seaweed, of rock and of low tide!")

This spirit tried to get into the circle of his fellow taotaomo'na to catch the man, but the other taotaomo'na defended the fisherman. They subdued the one taotaomo'na and allowed the fisherman to escape and return home, just as the sun was rising.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


The Spanish paragraph above was written by a Chamorro in 1950. And it is impeccable Spanish, except for a single spelling mistake and the lack of accents - all rather minor.  Further, it was written by a Chamorro woman!* Keep in mind that, in the era she grew up, in the early 1900s, women were usually not given much of an education.

Yes, the use of Spanish among many Chamorros in those days was that good.

The note above was written on the inside cover of a novena book.  It says :

Aviso Importante
(Important Notice)

Si esta novena se perdiere,
(If this novena gets lost,)

como suele suceder
(as often happens)

suplico al que me la hallare,
(I plead with whoever might find it for me,)

y que la sepa devolver.
(that he should know to return it.)

Si no sabe mi nombre
(If he doesn't know my name)

aquí lo he de poner
(here I shall put it)

Pangelinan Cruz por apellido
(Pangelinan Cruz is the surname)

Asunción para servir a usted.
(Asunción to be at your service.)

Agaña Heights a 22 de
(Agaña Heights on the 22nd of)

Mayo de 1950. Lot #19
(May of 1950.) Lot #19


Un Padre Nuestro y Ave María
(One Our Father and Hail Mary)

para el bienechor (should be spelled bienhechor)
(for the benefactor)

You can see here the attachment that many older Chamorros had for Spanish. Even though the novena itself was written in Chamorro, the owner decided to write a note about "Lost and Found" in Spanish, to a possible finder who would have little chance of knowing what the note in Spanish meant! Still, she was that attached to the Spanish language.

You can also see that there is a touch of old-world elegance in the phraseology of the note. It somewhat approaches poetry.

In our super Americanized environment today, which leaves its own deep mark on our Chamorro language and culture today, we forget just how Hispanicized many of our mañaina were 100 years ago, and how attached they were to that language and culture.

* According to several family members, the handwriting is unmistakably their grandfather's, the husband of Asunción. In that case, his was the hand and Asunción was the voice of this Spanish message.

Monday, May 11, 2015



(His/her gallbladder ruptured)

For modern ears, an unusual expression, perhaps.

The gallbladder (lala'et) is the organ where bile, a very bitter (mala'et)  fluid, is stored. Bile is produced by the liver, but stored in the gallbladder. It is an important substance which helps in our digestion, especially in breaking down fats.

Bile, however, because of its bitterness, has taken on, for centuries and across many cultures, the symbolic meaning of sorrow, pain or....bitterness.

For our mañaina, when the gallbladder is ruptured, an abundant amount of bile is released. The symbolism is clear : a ruptured gallbladder means an abundance of sorrow or pain.

~ Ai si Maria. Duro de tumånges sa' pot måtai si nanå-ña.
~ Måffak i lala'et-ña.

~ Poor Maria. She keeps crying because her mother died.
~ She has an abundance of bitter sorrow. (Literally : Her gallbladder ruptured.)

Another nuance to this expression is when someone is saddened because they feel left out.

For example, a mother notices that her child will not share his or her treat with a friend standing nearby, with an obvious expression of disappointment.

She says, "Nå'e i amigu-mo masea diddide', sa' siña ha' måffak lala'et-ña."

"Give even a little to your friends, because he may feel sad and deprived."

Friday, May 8, 2015


The guitar is accompanied by the bibik or harmonica

Even in the 1970s when I was growing up, older Chamorro musical groups and singers often used an instrument that has recently all but disappeared - the harmonica, or bibik in Chamorro.

Bibik can also mean a hand-held whistle, like the one coaches use in sports.

The modern harmonica came about in the early 1800s and was very popular among sailors and whalers. It wasn't costly. It was durable and easy to carry around.

The whalers, and their tunes, made an impact on Chamorros in the 1800s as they visited Guam and sometimes the other islands of the Marianas.

John Perez (familian Bonño) is one of the few Chamorro harmonica players who play the old, traditional tunes besides other melodies in his large repertoire.

Here he shares about the older Chamorro musicians he knew such as his uncle Josafat Perez and also Jesus Franquez.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


A popular dessert dish among Chamorros is latiya.

Or is it natiya?

The short answer is : both.

To make you more confused, some also say latiyas or natiyas. And in Saipan, they call it lantiyas.

What's the deal here?

The name is borrowed from the Spanish, who call it natillas or natilla, again depending on the country. It's simply the difference between saying, in English, "custard" or "custards."

The root word is nata, which means milk cream. The condensed milk forms the custard, along with the other ingredients : sugar, eggs, water, vanilla extract, cinnamon and corn starch for thickening.

From Spain, the custard dish recipe went all over the Spanish-speaking world, becoming modified here and there depending on the country and the resources they had.

Words in a language also change, here and there, depending on the sounds preferred by the speakers.

First of all, no Chamorro would ever pronounce Spanish LL as English Y. It becomes Chamorro Y, which sounds like English J. Quintanilla. Acfalle. So natilla became natiya.

But then, many Chamorros in the past liked to changed initial N in a Spanish word to L. This is what happened to natilla. For some Chamorros, natiya became latiya.

Up in Saipan, time away from Guam as Guam Chamorros moved up there since the 1850s, allowed changes in pronunciation to develop on their own. Latiya became lantiyas.


One thing that stands out about the Chamorro version, whether it's from Guam, Saipan or the other islands in the Marianas, is that the custard is only one-half of the dish. It isn't latiya (or natiya, or lantiyas) unless the custard goes on top of sponge cake, broas or even pound cake, as the recipe undergoes more recent tweaking.

In my own version, I add canned peaches. People love it. I also add a secret syrupy ingredient to soak a bit of the bottom of the cake. Secret.

When I first lived on Saipan, back when I did not have a strict diet, they found out I loved lantiyas. Although they called it by a slightly different name, it was the same dish and it went into the same stomach where latiya used to go!