Thursday, March 31, 2016


There is an unsettled debate whether the sound made by the letter R belonged to the language of our ancestors before the Europeans came to our islands or not.

In other words, did our ancestors have the R sound in their language?

The doubt comes from the fact that Chamorro as we speak it today (and for some centuries now) lacks words that begin with R. Every Chamorro word that begins with R is a foreign word; mainly Spanish (riko, rifa, rai, rosåt) but also Japanese (rakkio') and English (redio).

When R appears at the end of a word, the word or name is foreign and we change it to a T. Spanish colar becomes Chamorro kollat (fence).  The Spanish name Javier becomes Habiet in Chamorro.

When R appears inside a word, it changes to either an L or a T. Carlos and Ricardo become Kåtlos and Rikåtdo.

Spanish guitarra becomes Chamorro gitåla (guitar); alambre becomes Chamorro alåmle (wire).

Spanish barba becomes Chamorro båtbas (beard); determina becomes Chamorro detetmina (determine).

BUT THEN.....?

Why does the R sound appear unchanged in a few Chamorro place names and some words?

When our indigenous place names were written by the Spaniards using an R, in almost all cases, the people did not pronounce the R but used an L instead. Inalåhan, not Inarajan. Malesso', not Merizo. The same with Ritidian (Litekyan), Taragui (Talågi).

But then why does everyone, including older people, pronounce Orote with the R? And Urunao with the R? Is it possible that at one time people did say Olote? And Ulunao? When I say Talågi, older Chamorros do not look at me strangely. But when I once experimented saying Ulunao, even the older Chamorros owning land in Urunao looked at me strangely.

Besides place names, the word Chamorro is always pronounced with the R.  Some would argue that the word Chamorro is not indigenous. Thus, R is used and pronounced.

Chamorros did not always replace the Spanish R with a Chamorro L. Riko is always riko; karera is always karera.


Some Chamorros did have a problem with the R sound even when most over Chamorros did not.

I remember an older lady, now deceased, telling me how some people could not say Santa Cruz, the district of Hagåtña west of San Ignacio district where the Plaza is. Instead, they would say Santa Klus.

Most Chamorros will say, "Ai karåmba!" But I have heard some say, "Ai kalåmba!" And these were older speakers, so you can't say it's just the Americanized young people who are apt to change the way things are traditionally said.

And in the video below, the lady says para using an L instead of the R, two times and once with an R.

So, in summary we can say that, although not in a consistent way, Chamorros have a hard time with the R sound and tend to replace the R on many occasions. The unsolved mystery is whether Chamorros always had this difficulty or did they in fact pronounce the R sound in days past.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


The Chamorro word for "black pepper" is borrowed from the Spanish. In Spanish, it is pimienta.

But Chamorros on Guam say it one way, and those in Saipan another way.

Guam Chamorros say either pimienta, like the Spanish, or simplify it to pimenta.

Saipan Chamorros throw in an L.

They either say plimenta (as Påle' Jose does in the video).

Or they say pilimenta.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Then-Bishop Felixberto Flores
Early 1970s

Before we end Mes Chamorro (Chamorro Month), I'd like to briefly touch on the Chamorro language advocacy efforts of the religious leader of the Chamorro people, on Guam and even in the Northern Marianas until 1984, the late Archbishop Felixberto Camacho Flores.

Flores took the helm of the Church in all the Marianas just at the time that the Church allowed the use of the vernacular in the Church's liturgy. Although the Church, in its official documents, retained Latin as the liturgical language of the Church, with some use of the vernacular allowed, in practice, Latin was ignored altogether by most bishops and priests.

On Guam, dropping Latin meant the switch almost entirely to English in the liturgy. The techa in the pews still lead the rosary and devotions in Chamorro. On a weekday Mass and at the early Mass on Sunday, the man åmko' continued to sing the traditional Chamorro hymns while the priest said Mass in English.

The story was different in the Northern Marianas where the Chamorro people were still attached to their language. For people born there in the 1920s, 30s and earlier, English was very much a foreign language. The Diocese of Agaña set up a Chamorro Language Liturgical Commission to translate the Mass into Chamorro and Flores, among others, sat on that Commission.

Flores did not like what he was seeing on Guam, though, with the loss of the Chamorro language even in church. Ordained in 1949, he was, for a while, one of only two Chamorro priests, besides Monsignor Oscar Calvo. Even though, in short order, several more Chamorro priests were ordained, Flores was one of the main Chamorro orators and translators. Bishop Baumgartner did not speak any Chamorro at all, and left it to Calvo or Flores, mainly, to address the community in Chamorro.

Not only was Flores eloquent in Chamorro, he was a captivating public speaker.

When Calvo became too sickly to do it, Flores wrote many articles in Chamorro for the church newspaper, the Umatuna si Yuus.

Besides writing articles, Flores translated one of the most popular Christian classics, the Imitation of Christ, into Chamorro. This book, of some 470 pages, was published in 1962 as I Madalalaken i Kristo. The book, written right at the time when the switch to English in nearly everything on Guam was happening in the late 1950s and early 60s, is a testimony of Flores' attachment to his mother tongue.

When Flores became Bishop of Agaña in 1970, he increased his efforts to keep the language from dying in the religious sphere. He said Masses in Chamorro and encouraged it in the parishes. He sometimes preached exclusively in Chamorro and at other times in both Chamorro and English. He made it known that, in more important parish Masses where he was to preside, he wanted the processional hymn to always be Katoliko, and the recessional always to be Atan Jesukristo, two Chamorro hymns.

One of his initiatives was the printing, in 1976, of a thin booklet entitled I Mas Man Impottante na Tinaitai gi Fino Chamorro, the Most Important Prayers in Chamorro. His idea was to pass these booklets out to all the students in Catholic schools and all students in the catechism classes in the parishes and teach the basic prayers in Chamorro to all the children receiving Catholic instruction. "The vast majority of our young Catholics cannot properly recite the very basic prayers in Chamorro," Flores wrote, "a situation which we would like to do something about."

In his introduction to this collection of basic Chamorro prayers, Flores said :

"It is a known fact....that much of our Chamorro culture and customs is fastly (sic) disappearing, and while in some cases these are being supplanted by correspondingly good things, it is still nevertheless disheartening to admit that many of them are needlessly vanishing." He continued, "One area in which we are definitely losing grip of our people, especially the young ones, is the knowledge of our Chamorro language." Flores was saying that this was the current situation back then in 1976. Imagine the situation today.

The fight goes on today to interest the people in learning their own language, and we experience mixed results today, as Flores did in his day. But his efforts should not be forgotten as we carry on what he also endeavored to do.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Antes de terminar el Mes Chamorro, me gustaría hacer referencia brevemente a los esfuerzos en defensa del idioma chamorro del líder religioso, en Guam e incluso en las Islas Marianas del Norte hasta 1984, el difunto arzobispo Felixberto Camacho Flores.

El arzobispo Flores tomó el timón de la Iglesia en todas las Islas Marianas justo en el momento en que la Iglesia permitía el uso de la lengua vernácula en la liturgia. Aunque la Iglesia, en sus documentos oficiales, retuvo el latín, con cierto uso de la lengua vernácula permitido, en la práctica, la mayoría de los obispos y sacerdotes ignoraron por completo el latín.

En Guam, abandonar el latín significó cambiar casi por completo al inglés en la liturgia. Los techas todavía rezaban el rosario y las devociones en el idioma chamorro. En una misa entre semana y en la misa temprana del domingo, los ancianos o  man åmko' continuaban cantando los himnos tradicionales en chamorro mientras el sacerdote celebraba la misa en inglés.

La historia fue diferente en las Marianas del Norte, donde el pueblo chamorro todavía estaba apegado a su idioma. Para las personas nacidas allí en las décadas de 1920, 1930 y antes, el inglés era en gran medida un idioma extranjero. La Diócesis de Agaña creó una Comisión Litúrgica en Idioma Chamorro para traducir la misa al chamorro y el arzobispo Flores, entre otros, formaron parte de esa Comisión.

Sin embargo, al arzobispo Flores no le gustó lo que estaba viendo en Guam, con la pérdida del idioma chamorro incluso en la Iglesia. Ordenado en 1949, fue, por un tiempo, uno de los dos únicos sacerdotes chamorros, además de monseñor Óscar Calvo. Aunque, en poco tiempo, se ordenaron varios sacerdotes chamorros, el arzobispo Flores fue uno de los principales oradores y traductores chamorros. El obispo Baumgartner no hablaba nada de chamorro y dejaba que monseñor Óscar Calvo o el arzobispo Flores, principalmente, se dirigieran a la comunidad isleña en chamorro.

El arzobispo Flores no solo fue elocuente en chamorro, sino que también fue un orador cautivador.

Cuando monseñor Óscar Calvo se puso demasiado enfermo para hacerlo, el arzobispo Flores escribió muchos artículos en chamorro para el periódico de la Iglesia, Umatuna si Yuus.

Además de escribir artículos, el arzobispo Flores tradujo al chamorro uno de los clásicos cristianos más populares, la Imitación de Cristo. Este libro, de unas 470 páginas, se publicó en 1962 como I Madalalaken i Kristo. El libro, escrito justo en el momento en que se estaba produciendo el cambio al inglés en casi todo Guam a fines de la década de 1950 y principios de la de 1960, es un testimonio del apego del arzobispo Flores a su lengua materna.

Cuando el arzobispo Flores se convirtió en obispo de Agaña en 1970, incrementó sus esfuerzos para que la lengua no muriera en el ámbito religioso. Celebraba misas en chamorro y lo fomentaba en las parroquias. A veces predicaba exclusivamente en chamorro y otras veces tanto en chamorro como en inglés. Hizo saber que, en las misas parroquiales más importantes que debía presidir, quería que el himno procesional fuera siempre Katoliko, y el de recesión siempre Atan Jesukristo, dos himnos chamorros.

Una de sus iniciativas fue la impresión, en 1976, de un librito titulado I Mas Man Impottante na Tinaitai gi Fino Chamorro, Los Rezos Más Importantes en el Idioma Chamorro. Su idea era repartir unos cuadernillos a todos los alumnos de las escuelas católicas y a todos los alumnos de las clases de catecismo de las parroquias y enseñar las oraciones básicas en chamorro a todos los niños que recibían instrucción católica. "La gran mayoría de nuestros jóvenes católicos no pueden recitar correctamente las oraciones más básicas en chamorro", escribió el arzobispo Flores, "una situación sobre la que nos gustaría hacer algo".

En su introducción a esta colección de oraciones chamorras básicas, el arzobispo Flores dijo:

"Es un hecho conocido... que gran parte de nuestra cultura y costumbres chamorras están desapareciendo rápidamente, y aunque en algunos casos están siendo suplantadas por cosas positivas, todavía es desalentador admitir que muchas de ellas están desapareciendo innecesariamente". Continuó: "Un área en la que definitivamente estamos perdiendo el control de nuestra gente, especialmente de los jóvenes, es el conocimiento de nuestro idioma chamorro". El arzobispo Flores decía quésa era la situación en aquel entonces en 1976. Imagínese la situación hoy.

La lucha continúa en nuestros días para interesar a la gente en aprender su propio idioma, y hoy experimentamos resultados combinados, como lo hizo el arzobispo Flores en su día. Pero sus esfuerzos no deben olvidarse mientras continuamos con lo que él también se esforzó por llevar a cabo.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Sadly, one day soon there will be almost no confessions said in Chamorro, as fewer and fewer people speak it. There will still be speakers of Chamorro in years to come, but I think it is safe to say fewer of them will confess in Chamorro, or confess at all in any language.

Having spent three years in Saipan and two years in Malesso' and Humåtak in the 1990s, when there were still many older people who could only confess in Chamorro, and others who just preferred to confess in Chamorro, I had plenty of experience hearing confessions in Chamorro.

As we all should know, a priest can never reveal what he hears in confession. But the general dialogue, before and after the sins are confessed, is known to everyone. And the list of common sins committed by many people are known to all. I, too, have confessed in Chamorro many times when I confessed to an older, Chamorro priest such as Msgr Calvo or Father Ferdinand Pangelinan, Capuchin.

P :  Påle' (priest)
K : I kumokonfesat (the one confessing)

Confession in Chamorro always starts out this way :

P : Åbe Maria purisima. (Hail Mary most pure)
K : Sin pekådo konsebida. (conceived without sin.)

K : Bendise yo' Påle' sa' umisao yo'. Esta treses meses desde i uttimo kumonfesåt-ho (or konfesåt-ho). Estague' i isao-ho siha. (Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has already been three months since I last confessed. Here are my sins.)

Guaha na mañakke yo', dos biåhe. (I have stolen, two times.)

Guaha na hu sångan i na'an Yu'us sin nesesidåt, kuåttro biåhe. (I have said God's name without necessity, four times.)

Guaha na mandagi yo', singko biåhe/ (I have lied, five times.)

Guaha na hu cho'gue i desonesto kontra guåho ha' na maisa, un biåhe. ( I have done unchaste acts against myself alone, one time.)

Guaha na umabali yo', un biåhe. (I have committed fornication/adultery, one time.)

Guaha na chumatfino' yo', dies biåhe. (I have cursed, ten times.)

Guaha na u egga' i ti kombiene ma egga', un biåhe. (I have watched something inappropriate for one to watch, one time.)

Guaha na hu sångan i prohimu-ho, dos biåhe. (I have spoken about/gossiped about my neighbor, two times.)

Hokkok ha' este, Påle', i isao-ho siha. (These are all my sins, Father.)

P : Kao mañotsot hao nu todo i isao-mo siha? (Do you repent of all your sins?)

K : Hunggan, Påle'. (Yes, Father.)

P : Sångan på'go i Fina'tinas Sinetsot. (Say now the Act of Contrition.)

K : Asaina Jesukristo, etc.

P : Ya na' susuha todo i isao-mo siha gi na'an i Tata.... (And I absolve you from all your sins, in the name of the Father....)

P : Sångan tres na Tatan-måme para todo i man malångo. (Say three Our Fathers for all the sick.)

Of course, there will be little differences here and there among penitents and priests, but this would be the general way someone confesses in Chamorro.

The older Chamorro would not move an inch at the end until the priest says again, "Åbe Maria purisima" and the penitent makes the usual response.


Desonesto = sounds like it should mean "dishonest," and it can mean that in Spanish, from which we borrowed the word. But in Chamorro it means impure, unchaste, indecent.

Abali = an old Chamorro word for any sexual impropriety.

Sotsot = another old Chamorro word meaning "regret." It is the root for mañotsot (to regret, repent) and sinetsot (regretful sorrow).

Friday, March 18, 2016


A "false friend" is a term used in language studies that refers to a word that means one thing in one language, but something else in a different language.

So the temptation is to think that "rope" in Spanish is "ropa." But Spanish ropa means "clothes."

The Chamorro word posision, borrowed from the Spanish posición is somewhat a false friend, but not entirely.

That is because posision can mean "position," as in a thing or a person's location, job or situation.

Håfa na posision malago'-mo? What position do you want?

That is a perfectly correct Chamorro question to ask someone applying for a job.

But posision can also mean, and very often only means, a thing or a person's physical appearance.

Kalan malångo posision-mo. You look somewhat sick.

Bonito posision-ña! It looks pretty!

So, if you are new to the study of the Chamorro language, be careful. If you hear someone say posision, you may be tempted to think s/he is talking about someone's physical position. That is very well possible, but chances are the topic is a thing or a person's physical appearance.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


In Lent of  the old days, one only had to prevent the noise of children playing in the yard or street.

People refrained from hard manual labor during Holy Week (Semåna Sånta) so you didn't hear the sound of hammers or sawing.

Few people had radios or record players.

Americans said that Hagåtña was like a ghost town during Holy Week.

Then, after the war, came the television set.

We had only one TV station back then - KUAM. And even that was not for the whole day but just from the late afternoon till midnight. Then came KGTF, the public TV station, but few people watched it anyway.

But our Chamorro grandmothers were so strict that, come Holy Week, the TV and radio were off limits.

They went all out to make sure neither were turned on. They unplugged them and, as far as the TV was concerned, they were not even to be seen. Grandma threw the såbanas (sheet) over the TV to reduce the temptation for anyone to turn it on.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Mañagaha is a small island, or islet, that sits off Saipan's shore in the lagoon formed by the coral reef on the northwest side of the island. For those readers from Guam, it's Saipan's version of Cocos Island. Tourists go there every day.

But the island was, and still is, culturally significant to many Carolinians who have been living in Saipan since the early 1800s. Tradition says that a Carolinian chief named Aghurubw is buried there. I was able to attend the yearly memorial service for Chief Aghurubw one year in the 1990s.

The other day, while in Saipan, I heard two Chamorros share their theories about the meaning of the name Mañagaha.

Of course, people rarely wrote down the reasons why places have the names they do. In most cases, then, it is sheer speculation to explain what the names of places mean. But, people don't mind doing a whole lot of speculating!

So one man offered this theory.

When the Chamorros from Guam started to move to Saipan, where Carolinians already lived, some Carolinians moved to Mañagaha to live.

When a Spanish officer asked a Chamorro clerk to check on how these Carolinians on the island were doing, he returned saying "Mañåga ha'." "They are staying."

Then a second Chamorro man offered his own explanation.

When the Carolinians moved to the little island, "Mañåga sa' guaha." "They stayed because there was." There was what? Enough for them to live off the island.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


These armed Filipino soldiers are from the town of Macabebe in the Province of Pampanga. And soldiers just like these, if not some of these men themselves in this photo, once lived in Saipan for about half a year. Older people in Saipan used to talk about the tiempon Macabebe (the Macabebe times) and how bad it was!

But while the Macabebe soldiers lived in Saipan, with their wives and children, they had other children, born and baptized in Saipan. A list of these Macabebe babies born and baptized in Saipan follows this story.

But first the story. How did these babies of Macabebe parents manage to be born on Saipan in 1899?


Armed struggle broke out in the Philippines in August of 1896 between Philippine independence fighters and the Spaniards. In the town of Macabebe in the province of Pampanga, a Spanish-Filipino mestizo named Eugenio Blanco y Leison eventually organized a group of volunteer fighters to defend the Spanish cause.

Macabebe, circled in yellow, is not far from Manila

These Macabebe volunteers remained loyal to Spain even as the war went badly for Spain. The American entry into the Philippines in the summer of 1898 made Spain's chances of hanging on to the Philippines even worse.  By the end of the year, the Macabebe soldiers were wondering what to do next, since the Philippines seemed sure to fall into either American hands or an independent Philippines.

Blanco and his soldiers, plus wives and children, some 700 people altogether, set sail for Saipan, still in Spanish hands in early 1899. They stayed in Saipan until the Germans came to take over the Northern Marianas in November of 1899. But for those six or seven months in 1899, pregnant Macabebe women gave birth to their children in Saipan. Here is the list, compiled from the Saipan baptism records.

Born on May 7, 1899
Daughter of Pedro Martínez and Alejandra Navarro

GARCÍA Y DIZON, María Salomé
Born on June 2, 1899
Daughter of Pedro García and Tomasa Dizon

Born on May 29, 1899
Son of Julián Bautista and Máxima Ysi

Born on June 19, 1899
Son of Víctor Manansala and Feliciana Rivera

Born on June 26, 1899
Daughter of Silvino Santos and María Giménez

Born on July 8, 1899
Daughter of Bonifacio Ipsi and Flora Piría

Born on July 12, 1899
Son of Doroteo Bautista and Clara Bernarte

DE SILVA Y GERMÅN, María Cristina
Born on July 9, 1899
Daughter of Mariano de Silva and Petra Germán

Born on August 16, 1899
Daughter of Baldomero Leonzon and Gregoria Reyes

Born on September 4, 1899
Son of Apolonio Lobo and Marcela Regala

Born on September 20, 1899
Son of Silvino Santos and Sabina Espino

SÅNCHEZ Y SALVADOR, María Consolación
Born on September 28, 1899
Daughter of Baldomero Sánchez and Perpetua Salvador

Born on September 28, 1899
Son of Carlos Masancay and Bonifacia Miranda

CALMA Y BENZALI, Catalina María Socorro
Born on November 20, 1899
Daughter of Valeriano Calma and Rosa Benzali

That makes 14 Macabebe babies born and baptized on Saipan; 8 girls and 6 boys.


Interestingly, even though history tells us that there was great tension between the Macabebes and the Saipan Chamorros and Carolinians, we find that one Macabebe baby had Chamorro godparents. José Alig and his sister Lucía Alig were godparents for José Bautista e Ysi.


Even more interesting to me is that Juan Reyes, a Chamorro, asked Pedro Mansale from Macabebe to be godfather to his son Pedro. Why more interesting? Because there was no shortage of Chamorro candidates to become godfather, but the father chose a Macabebe. So, relations may not have been so strained for everyone, all the time.

Pedro Mansale must have been rather popular because he was godfather a second time for another Chamorro baby, this time José, son of Juan Cabrera.

Adriano Bongay and his wife Francisca Díaz of Macabebe were godparents for the Chamorro baby Adriano, son of Juan Castro.


The Macabebe contingency under Eugenio Blanco numbered some 700 persons, which undoubtedly included Filipinos from places other than Macabebe who were loyal to Spain. Some of these also acted as godparents for Chamorro babies while they lived in Saipan.

Enrique Montealegre and his wife Felisa Bernardino from Santa Cruz, Zambales were the godparents of the Chamorro Enrique Bernardo Fausto de Salas.

Macabebe and German soldiers present at the ceremony turning over the Saipan government to Germany

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Play this video to hear the pronunciation of kinilís åtdao

Today in the western Pacific and in Southeast Asia we will experience a solar eclipse. The moon will block the sun for a little bit. Depending on where you live, the whole sun will be blocked or, just a part of the sun will be blocked.

How does one say "eclipse" in Chamorro?

Kilís in Chamorro means "to eclipse." Kinilís is the noun form.

Kinilís åtdao means " eclipse of the sun."

Note the pronunciation. The stress is on the last syllable. Ki - LIS. Or, ki - ni - LIS.


We can't be totally sure where kilís comes from.

Is it indigenous? Were our ancestors saying this word long before the Spaniards came?

Why not? Our ancestors saw eclipses, so there is every possibility that they had a word for it.

But the oldest Chamorro dictionaries give us this tantalizing clue.

They say that "eclipse" in Chamorro can also be klis.

Doesn't klis sound suspiciously close to the Spanish word for eclipse, which is "eclipse." Exactly the same spelling as in English, but, in Spanish, it is pronounced e - clip - se. Eh - klip - say.

It is so like Chamorro to shorten words by dropping beginning or ending syllables, or by blending two syllables into one.

So we can't totally exclude the possibility that the Spanish e - clip - se was shortened by Chamorros to klis.

In time, some people could have started saying ki - lis because it was easier to pronounce. We see this in the word kilisyåno, which comes from the Spanish cristiano ("Christian"). It is easier for us when pronouncing words to separate two consonants. We see this also in tulaika, which comes the Spanish trueca ("change"). The TR in trueca became TULaika because Chamorro doesn't favor the R. It tries to change R to L when possible.

But, like many things in the history of languages, we can only guess and have opinions.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


The other day it was blisteringly hot.

There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun blazed in all its punishing radiance.

I walked into the living room of a home where a social gathering was taking place, and at the dinner table in the adjacent dining room, three seniors sat in solemn contemplation.

I greeted them and said, "Ei na minaipe na ha'åne!" "My what a hot day!"

And an older lady responded, "Depotsi ha', Påle', sa' på'go na mes nai maså'pet si Jesukristo."

"It's the way it is, Father, because this is the month when Jesus Christ suffered."

And I said, "Ya ha na' fan masåså'pet hit lokkue'." "And He is making us suffer, too."

Then she said, "Hunggan. Debi di ta fañaonao gi minasa'pet-ña i Saina." "Yes. We should participate in the suffering of the Lord."

The man åmko', steeped in the religion of their parents, interpreted many things in the light of religion, even the weather.

If it is raining, God is blessing us. If there's a typhoon, God is punishing us.

And if it is unbearably hot in March, it's our participation in the suffering of Christ during Lent who suffered this time of the year.

Monday, March 7, 2016


The Naval Governor of Guam at the Magellan Monument in Humåtak, erected in 1926

March 6th is the day in 1521 when Magellan first sighted land after spending a long time at sea, his men sick and starving. He was the first European to travel in the then-unknown Pacific Ocean. He had no maps to tell him where he was nor where he was going in this part of the world.

So when he sighted our islands that day in 1521, neither he nor anyone in his crew could say what islands they saw. They speak of seeing two (sometimes three) islands and that they sailed in between two of them and headed down the western coast of the larger one, which would be Guam.

So the question is : where did Magellan anchor on the western coast of Guam, where he had that brief but violent encounter with our Chamorro ancestors?

Tradition has it that Magellan landed at Humåtak. There is a monument there that states that. This tradition has been unquestioned till modern times. Why has it been questioned?


Scholars who doubt that Magellan landed at Humåtak offer the following reasons for their doubt.

1. No one who was actually there at the landing says it was Humåtak. They couldn't have if all they had to rely on were maps. No maps of Guam or the Marianas existed at the time. Someone could have asked the islanders what their village was called, and maybe they did, but it was never recorded, as far as we know.

I think it would have been unlikely that someone from Magellan's crew would have asked the islanders what name their village was. Why bother? It wasn't as if they knew that Spain would come back and claim, much less settle, these islands. They weren't looking for small islands. They were looking for a way to travel from Spain to the Spice Islands in modern-day Indonesia where they could make a lot of money. The Magellan crew didn't even give us a name for the island, much less a name for a village of limited and immediate value to them only and where they fought a battle!

Without a name, it's possible that Magellan landed somewhere else on the western coast of Guam.

2. The first descriptions of the landing do not even say they landed at a bay. Pigafetta's narrative does not mention a bay. He only says that they stopped and that there was a village nearby, where they battled with the islanders who had taken Magellan's skiff. Albo's fewer lines about the stop at Guam also do not mention a bay. If a bay is not clearly described, in order to narrow down our list of possible locations, then it is possible that Magellan stopped anywhere along the coast, bay or not.

3. The distance between the northern tip of Guam (Litekyan), the first place Magellan saw on Guam, and Humåtak is so far (perhaps 6 to 8 hours of further travel by sea) that we can wonder : would it be likely that a captain with starving men add another 6 to 8 hours of travel, rather than stop at the earliest safe place to get water and food? Would they have passed Tomhom (Tumon) and Hagåtña Bays, which were highly populated and where provisions could be obtained? Would they have gone around Orote Point? Would Magellan have by-passed Apra Harbor and Cetti (Jati) Bay? Remember that Magellan had no idea what they would find farther down the coast, as they had no map of Guam or earlier reports of prior European explorers. Magellan was the first. Would he have risked possibly wasting time poking his nose down an unknown coast when northern bays clearly offered him what he needed?

4. Immediate encounter with the Chamorros. Pigafetta's writing suggests that the Chamorros went out to meet the Europeans very quickly, if not immediately. And why not? And wouldn't these quick encounters with the islanders, and perhaps the fruits and fish they may have shown the Europeans entice Magellan to make a quick landing?

The 6 or 8 hour route from the north of Guam to Humåtak by ship in the days of Magellan


1. No reef. While Tomhom and Hagåtña bays did offer Magellan quicker sources of food and water, those bays are fronted by reefs, while Humåtak Bay is free of reefs and makes an excellent port of entry for ships.

2. Later arrivals. Practically every other Spanish ship that came to Guam in the early years after Magellan's arrival make their landing at Humåtak.

3. It's the old tradition, acknowledged by the government and earlier histories.

The people of Humåtak and visitors at Magellan's Monument in the 1920s or 30s


Some scholars suggest that it was the later arrival of other Europeans after Magellan at Humåtak Bay, and the later significant role of Humåtak as the port of call for the Acapulco galleons, and of Humåtak as the Spanish Governor's frequent residence and commercial center of Guam in those days, that created the tradition that Magellan landed here.


We may never be able to answer the question, with no shadow of doubt, where Magellan made his stop along Guam's western coast in 1521. But, in my opinion, if, at this point, any place will do, then I say let's stick with Humåtak.

Even if we could prove that Magellan landed elsewhere, do we really want yet another festival in crowded Tomhom or Hagåtña? Isn't it a much more pleasant experience to drive through the scenic and bucolic south and enjoy the beauty of Humåtak? We have only two main reasons to visit Humåtak every year - its fiesta - but that's in October, and Discovery Day, or Chamorro Day. Let's keep a reason to visit the village in March, even if we don't like Magellan, or his arrival, wherever it was, or if we change the name of the holiday.

Friday, March 4, 2016


A father and his teenage son were at their ranch, tending to their small herd of six cows.

The father turned to his son and said, "Onse i guaka."

The boy was puzzled. He looked at the cows and counted six, not eleven (onse).

The father looked again at the boy and said, "Onse i guaka."

The boy said, "Lao, tåta. Hu tufong siha ya åhe' ti onse sino sais ha' na guaka."

"But, dad. I counted them and there aren't eleven but only six cows."

The boy's confusion can't be pinned on him alone.

The fact is that Chamorro has two different words that sound exactly the same.

Onse is the Chamorro word for the number eleven which we borrowed from Spanish.

But the Spanish word meaning to place a yoke on an animal is uncir, and unce means "s/he places, or you place, a yoke" on an animal. From there, Chamorros borrowed the word as unse.

Chamorros broadened the meaning of the word to also mean to harness an animal or hitch it to a cart or wagon.

But, in time, people altered the sound from unse to onse, making it sound identical to the word for the number eleven.

So that one could also say in Chamorro,

Onse i onse na guaka.
Harness the eleven cows.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016



Today we feature a Chamorro word used on Guam, but, as far as I can tell, not in the Northern Marianas.

The word koche' means "long hair" according to Påle' Román's 1932 dictionary. Perhaps that's all it meant back then, but today, koche' almost always implies that one's hair is too long and needs to be cut.

As far as I know, koche' applies only to men, since a woman's long hair is seen as a thing of beauty, and not as something needing to be cut because it is unsightly.

Because koche' was in use on Guam as early as the 1930s and probably long before that, and as nearly all Saipan Chamorros trace their ancestry to Guam Chamorros who moved to Saipan between 1860 and 1910, I wouldn't be surprised if koche' was used among Saipan Chamorros many years ago but the use of the word died out, for reasons unknown.

Just as Luta has Chamorro words not used anywhere else but in Luta, if the Luta people do not use koche', it could be that koche' was always just a Guam term.

Make sure you use that precious glota ( ' ) at the end of koche'. Without it, the word becomes koche, which means "carriage," borrowed from the Spanish word coche. Coche also means "automobile" in Spanish and in Filipino (kotse).