Thursday, April 28, 2016



Bad spirits do not like the color red.

Our mañaina, since they became Catholics, valued very much the baptism of their children. The infants became children of God as soon as they were baptized, so parents had the children baptized as soon as possible. It was usual for a child born in the morning to be baptized within the day.

But, in the meantime, everyone in the family was afraid that the unbaptized baby was more vulnerable to attacks from evil spirits. The baby may get sick, or a spirit might attach itself to the baby.

It was the belief of many that these bad spirits did not like the color red. This was a folk belief, not the teaching of the religion, and many Chamorros did not hold this belief either.

But many did, and they would either dress the baby in red or had some red material around the baby, to ward off evil spirits.


But apparently some adults hold this belief and believe it applies to them, also.

The other day I was at a service in Mañenggon and noticed more red blouses on women than usual. But it was a woman who made the connection for me when she voluntarily mentioned that she was wearing red so that no spirits would follow her from Mañenggon back to her home.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Aniceto Street in Hagåtña

A very short side street in the Aniguak district of our capital city of Hagåtña carries the name Aniceto.

Unfortunately, the name is only half-correct.

The actual name is Padre Aniceto Street.

With the passage of time, as street signs get knocked down, as war moves the original location of streets and as new generations lose touch with history, the accurate names of many places become lost.

As one can see from this depiction of the streets of Hagåtña before the war, there was a Padre Aniceto Street (encircled) and it was in the barrio of San Ignacio - the city's heart - rather than in Aniguak.

But when the Americans bombed the city to smithereens in 1944, nearly every street was changed in the aftermath and a new Aniceto Street was paved west of the original location.


He was the priest of Hagåtña for many years. His full name was Aniceto Ibáñez and, in his religious order, they added a religious name, as well, and his was del Carmen, after Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

But more than simply being a priest, he was a very influential and powerful priest of Hagåtña.

He had a lot of say in the day to day affairs of the island, not just in religion.

He wrote five books in or about Chamorro, including a dictionary published in 1865.

He learned to speak the language of the Carolinian immigrants who settled on Guam (in Tamuning) as well as the northern Marianas, and was all set to be a missionary in the Carolines in 1885 before Spain made other plans for the mission there.

He first came to Guam in 1852 when there was still a village called Pågo. In fact, he was first stationed in Pågo that year and stayed for two years. Undoubtedly he was immersed in the Chamorro language in Pågo because that village was almost entirely populated by several hundred people with less outside blood, carrying indigenous last names like Atoigue, Mafnas and Quichocho. That village closed down in the 1856 smallpox epidemic and the small group of survivors moved mostly to Hagåtña.

In 1854, he began his long stay in Hagåtña, all the way till 1877 when he left Guam after 25 years! He went first to the Philippines and then to Spain. He returned to Hagåtña in 1887 and spent another five years or so in the one island where he lived most of his life!

He died in Hagåtña in 1892 and was buried in the center of Pigo' Cemetery, next to a popular governor, Vicente Gómez. A huge white marble grave marker made in Manila was placed there (as well as at Gómez's grave) as a tribute to him.

Then, in time, a street in Hagåtña was renamed in his honor and survives to this very day, though the street is now in a different location.

Padre Aniceto Ibáñez del Carmen, OAR

Friday, April 22, 2016



The year was 1948 and the war was over. Not only was the war over; the islands were coming back to a state of normalcy and people wanted to get on with their lives.

Prior to the war, civilians, both Chamorro and Carolinian, had been living on the northern islands such as Pagan, Alamagan and Agrigan. War conditions changed that and, right after the war, the islands were empty of people, the Japanese soldiers and civilians having been taken back to Japan. (Japanese holdouts on Anatahan would not surrender to the Americans until 1951!)

In 1947, a small group of Chamorros on Saipan started to organize to petition the government to allow them to move to Alamagan. It is more than likely that at least some of the people in this group had prior experiences living on Alamagan before the war.

Their goal was to farm for a living. Even in the 1800s, the northern islands were wanted by some entrepreneurs for copra farming. But the Chamorros in 1947 did not have those great ambitions. They just wanted to farm for their livelihood, fish and enjoy the peace and quiet of this remote island.

If they hoped to make some cash by selling produce, that was completely dependent on the arrival of the government ship that, in those days, made two trips a year to make sure the people in the northern islands were safe and sound. So, there were no pretensions of getting rich by moving to Alamagan.

In January of 1948, a government ship transported 26 Chamorros from Saipan to Alamagan, with supplies. The leader of the Chamorro community was Jose S. Sablan, who was very much appreciated by the government authorities in Saipan. He was called the "spark plug" who would help the small community achieve success on Alamagan.

The island had enough fresh water in old Japanese cisterns to support those small numbers of settlers. There was a great deal of work to be done; repairing houses and copra sheds left behind, building new dwellings and elementary infrastructure. But the land and sea would amply supply the needs of the new community.

The settlers were :

1. ALDAN, Antonio T.
2. ALDAN, Jose C.
3. ALDAN, Leon A.
4. ALDAN, Lucio C.
5. BERMUDES, Francisco
6. BLAS, Joaquin S.
7. BLAS, Juan S.
8. BLAS, Pedro S.
9. BORJA, Felix de
10. CABRERA, Nicolas T.
11. CASTRO, Santiago V.
12. CRUZ, Joaquin
13. CRUZ, Mariano de la
14. MATAGOLAI, Ignacio
15. MATAGOLAI, Joaquin S.
16. MATAGOLAI, Manuel C.
17. MATAGOLAI, Vicente
18. MENDIOLA, Vicente C.
19. PABLO, Jose T.
20. PANGELINAN, Antonio
21. PANGELINAN, Antonio M.
23. SABLAN, Antonio S.
24. SABLAN, Benigno
25. SABLAN, Jose S.
26. TAITANO, Joaquin R.

As you can see - all males. Their wives and children would be transported to Alamagan a few months later.

The community would be divided into two settlements. One of them would be called Songsong ("village") on the southeast side of the island. The other settlement, Pattico ("my part"), on the southwest. Other sources call this second village Partida or Pattida ("share").

Unfortunately, the Chamorro community on Alamagan did not thrive. By the 1960s, there were less than a dozen homes still on the island. There was an evacuation in 1998 due to volcanic activity; another evacuation in 2009 due to a direct hit by typhoon.

Whenever possible, a handful of men from Saipan always manage to get back to Alamagan (as they often do at other northern islands temporarily abandoned).

Source : Civil Administrator Report, January 20, 1948

Alamagan is more or less dead center in the chain of islands called the Marianas

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Dolores Navarro San Nicolas (familian Alabådo)
receiving the man nginge' from her son Pedro and his bride

Recently, I noticed a good number of comments on Chamorro culture social media sites stating that the man nginge' is a Spanish custom.

None of the people claiming this provide any historical evidence. How can they? It isn't there.

Consider the following :

1. Early European accounts of our ancestors describe different gestures of respect practiced among our ancestors before Spanish colonization.

Just to cite one early source, the Jesuit Francisco García, writing very early during the first decades of Spanish colonization, whose sources were the letters and reports written by the Spanish missionaries on the ground here in the Marianas.

García says, "They (the Chamorros) practice many courtesies, and an ordinary usage on meeting and passing in front of one another is to say 'ati arinmo,' which means 'Allow me to kiss your feet.'"

He also says, "To pass the hand over the breast of the person they visit is a great courtesy."

So we notice here no mention of taking someone's hand and "kissing" it with the nose, which is how we have practiced the man nginge' for at least a couple of hundred years, if not longer.

But we do see that our ancestors did have gestures of respect which involve kissing (with the nose?), the feet, the hands and the breast or chest.

Ati arinmo, by the way, is the way a Spaniard spelled what he heard with his Spanish ears. And even this differed from Spaniard to Spaniard, one Spaniard spelling a Chamorro word one way and another Spaniard spelling the same word a slightly different way.

Some suspect, as I do, that arinmo is actually addeng-mo. Addeng is the Chamorro word for foot or feet. (On Guam, this has been replaced by the Spanish loan word påtas, which means the feet or paws of animals.)

2. Spaniards do not have, nor ever had as far as we can tell, the ordinary custom of kissing, much less with the nose, the hand of an elder, authority figure or higher status person.

Bishops and the higher clergy wore rings and it was that which people kissed. The rings were symbolic of the church dignitary's spiritual marriage to his diocese. In certain situations, political or military leaders had their rings, or hands, kissed with the lips as a sign of loyalty by subordinates.

Women, especially of the higher class, would sometimes extend their hand to be kissed. But this was always at the invitation of the woman. In Chamorro culture, the subordinate always makes the first move, reaching for the hand of the saina or superior.

Kissing was done with the lips, and sometimes the lips never even touched the hand. But the kiss was never made with the nose, while Chamorros kiss with the nose.

3. Our close neighbors, the Filipinos, practice a similar custom that is accepted as a pre-Spanish gesture.

The Filipino Mano Po

By "close" I mean we have common racial and linguistic roots and many similar customs and values.

The Filipinos practice their own gesture of respect by taking the hand and placing it on the forehead, rather than on the nose or the mouth.

Early Spanish descriptions of the Filipinos indicate that this was already a custom before Spanish influences took root there.

4. Indonesians and Malays also practice the gesture.

If one argues that the gesture is Spanish in origin, because both the Marianas and the Philippines were colonized by Spain, how then does one account for the fact that the Indonesians and the Malays (not everyone in Malaysia is Malay) also practice it? Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia were ever Spanish colonies.

The Indonesian Salim gesture

Like the Filipinos, Malays and Indonesians take the hand to the forehead, but, according to some writers, the hand is sometimes "kissed" with the nose, but never with the lips, the same way Chamorros avoid using the lips.

5. Borrowed terms do not necessarily mean borrowed actions.

Perhaps some people think the gesture is Spanish-based because the gesture is accompanied by Spanish loan words. When one reverences the hand of a man, one says, "Ñot," which is short for Spanish "señor," or "sir." For a woman, "Ñora," short for "señora" or "madam."

But all that shows is that, at some point, Chamorros adopted some Spanish forms of address.

The Filipinos also borrowed the Spanish word mano, or "hand," and call their form of hand-reverencing the mano po. That phrase is a combination of Spanish mano and Tagalog po, a term of respect.

The Indonesians and Malays call their hand gesture the salim, which might be borrowed from Arabic (Malays and Indonesians are overwhelmingly Muslim). But the gesture itself is not Muslim nor Arab.

My opinion....

Since the Spaniards themselves did not practice it; since it is not practiced in any  former Spanish colonies in Latin America; since the gesture (with minor variations) is practiced by peoples with geographic and cultural affinities (Chamorros, Filipinos, Malays/Indonesians); since the gesture never involves the lips (something more European); since old accounts describe gestures of respect practiced prior to Spanish colonization, I am most comfortable saying

1. The gesture is not Spanish in origin.

2. The roots of the man nginge' lie in our pre-contact indigenous culture because early accounts do speak of other gestures of respect, so at least the roots and the cultural values were already in place before colonization.

3. Since Ñot and Ñora are Spanish loan-words; since the early accounts do not describe the reverencing of hands but rather other gestures of respect; these earlier gestures evolved over time, at least as far as the terms of address are concerned, and perhaps even the manner (from reverencing feet to reverencing hands).

4. It is possible that our ancestors did reverence the hand, even though European writers did not document it. After all, García says the Chamorros of the 1600s practiced "many" courtesies, although he details only three of them.

5. It is possible that, in pre-contact society, reverencing the feet was reserved for special situations and that reverencing the hand was the norm, although the verbal formula "Allow me to kiss your feet" remained. This is similar to the old custom of ending a letter in Spanish with "I kiss your hand" even though that was not meant literally.

Other than that, I think we are on shakier ground drawing other conclusions. Many of my own conclusions are couched in words like "perhaps" or "possibly" because coincidences and similarities alone are not sufficient to prove connections.

Good history involves good evidence. And alas, good evidence is absent more often than not.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Many people are familiar with the family name Mesngon. But not everyone knows that the name has an actual meaning. It's an actual Chamorro word.

Mesngon means " durable, lasting, long suffering."

But I bring this up only as an example of a method used in the Chamorro language to create new words.

The method takes the prefix mi and combines it with a noun or verb and creates a new compound word.

Such is the case with mesngon.

It comes from the combination of mi and sungon.

Mi means "abundant." Sungon means "to endure."

Mi + sungon becomes mesngon. Durable, lasting, long suffering.

The mi is changed to a me.

Mesngon gue' na taotao! That person puts up with a lot of things!


Mi + fino' (word). Mefno'. Eloquent, well-spoken, talkative.

Mi + chugo' (juice). Mesgo'. Juicy.

Mi + hinalom (interior). Mehnalom. Profound.*

Mi + håga' (blood). Mehga'. Bloody.

Mi + hånom (water). Mehnom. Watery, humid, wet.

Mi + pulo (hair). Mepplo. Hairy, furry.

One can also use the prefix mi without morphing it into me.

In those cases, the subsequent noun or verb remains the same

Mi + tiningo' (knowledge). Mi tiningo'. Possessing a lot of knowledge.

Mi + tåno' (land). Mi tano'. Possessing a lot of land.

There is a Chamorro church hymn that goes :

Mi pinite hao Maria, sa' sinapet nu i taotao.

You have a lot of sorrow, Mary, because you were afflicted by the people.


* Mehnalom

Because it is a common occurrence in many languages for speakers to switch consonants (for them, doing so makes it easier to say the word), many Chamorros say menhalom instead of mehnalom.

Some English examples of consonant switching : aks instead of ask, purty instead of pretty.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Spanish Missionaries in Saipan in 1929

Unlike the Chamorros on Guam who continued to be exposed to a Western and Christian power (the U.S.) in 1898, the Chamorros of Saipan were governed by a people more foreign to their prior experience - the Japanese. Except for a brief period of 15 years (1899 - 1914) under the Germans, the Saipan and Rota Chamorros had to deal with a new colonial power that was neither Western nor Christian.

I believe this made the Chamorros there cling even more closely to their Spanish missionaries. I was fortunate to know some older people who were teens and even young adults when the Japanese ruled the Northern Marianas and they shared with me how they disliked having to bow every morning to the Emperor who was considered a god by the Japanese. Their Christian faith could not accept that, even though they were compelled to stand in formation at school in the morning and make those bows. It seemed to me that, as soon as they could, they found solace in the company and guidance of the Spanish missionaries, until the Japanese severely curtailed the freedom of those missionaries to be with the Chamorro people.

Like the Chamorros on Guam, the Spaniards all the Chamorros dealt with in the 1900s were no longer political masters. They were now all religious figures, dealing with supernatural hopes and aspirations, and ministering to the souls and bodies of people, keeping alive the Christian way of life, the beloved customs and traditions, that gave many Chamorros comfort for the last 300 years. Yes. The Spanish missionaries in both Guam and the Northern Marianas in the 1920s and 30s were generally loved by the people.

In Saipan, the Japanese allowed the Catholic missionaries something the American authorities in Guam refused to do. The Church in Saipan was able to open a Catholic school for girls, whereas, on Guam, the U.S. Navy did everything to prevent Catholic schools.

In 1929, the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz (Berriz is a town in Spain) opened a "colegio," or school, for girls in Saipan. The Japanese government at the time was actually supportive of this endeavor, since the Japanese schools could not accommodate everyone interested in getting an education. The girls' school would focus, anyway, on some academics (the basics) but also on religion, music and domestic skills, as was the custom at the time in female education.

When Mother Margarita Maturana, the Superior in Spain, visited Saipan in 1929, she was welcomed with great emotion by the "such simple and affectionate" ("tan sencilla y cariñosa") Chamorro people. A delegation of both Chamorro and Carolinian civic leaders came to pay respects to Mother Margarita.

They were the Chamorros Francisco de León Guerrero, José de los Reyes, Luís Tenorio, Mariano Pangelinan, Manuel Pangelinan, Vidal Arriola, Domingo Blanco and Vidal Camacho. Two Carolinian leaders accompanied them : Ignacio Lairopi and Antonio Angailen.

The Chamorros talked of Spain with Mother Margarita; how they valued the customs and traditions given them centuries before by the Spanish missionaries. They shared with Mother how they managed for two years when no Catholic priests were living on Saipan when the Northern Marianas changed from German to Japanese rule. Despite the absence of priests, the people of Saipan went morning and night to the church to say their prayers as a community. A well-educated layman, Gregorio Sablan (Kilili) performed baptisms and kept records and did his best to keep things going.

I can attest that, to this day, there are many people in Saipan who cling to these traditions, although the number gets smaller and smaller with every funeral.


From the Spanish original letter of Mother Maturana (beatified in 2006):

Hablan de España, del amor que le tienen y lo mucho que se precian de conservar las antiguas costumbres implantadas por los españoles. Cuentan luego cómo procuraron conservar la fe y la piedad religiosa cuando quedaron sin los misioneros alemanes. Mañana y tarde, a la hora de la Misa y del rosario, se congregaba el pueblo a toque de campana en la iglesia y rezaban las oraciones acostumbradas.

Source :

Friday, April 15, 2016


Death by garrote in the Philippines. Something similar happened on Guam in 1863.

In the late morning of April 29, 1862, in the barrio of Sumay, a Chamorro from Hagåtña named Anselmo Benavente took his machete and gave two thrusts of the blade to a Filipino named Cornelio Eustaquio, who died of his wounds.

Anselmo was angry with Eustaquio, who had taken Anselmo to court over an unpaid debt Anselmo owed Eustaquio.

Arrested, tried and found guilty, Anselmo was sentenced to ten years in prison. But he was later given the ultimate punishment - death.

The method of capital punishment commonly used in Spain and her territories in those days was the garrote, which Chamorros pronounce galuti.

Many people today think this method of execution is inhumane, and it was abolished in Spain only in the last several decades. But, back then, the government thought it was a less horrible method of killing than hanging or the firing squad.

The garrote was a strangling device in which a chain, or rope or some other material was placed around the neck of the condemned which was then twisted with a bar or rod, tightening the squeeze on the neck until he or she was strangled to death.

Apparently the garrote was not used much in Guam in 1863 since a professional executioner had to be brought in from Manila to do the job, arriving in September of that year.

It was soon after that Anselmo was informed of his sentence to die by garrote.

For a few days before his execution, Anselmo confessed his sins to the priest of Hagåtña and received holy communion. He admitted his guilt that he had forfeited his life on account of taking away someone else's life.

People remarked how calm and peaceful Anselmo was about his impending execution, becoming upset only when family members came to visit him in his cell. The priest of Hagåtña credited Anselmo's tranquil resignation to the prayers of the innocent children made to pray for his soul before the execution, and to the many Mass intentions offered for him.

On September 30, in the late morning, Anselmo was taken to a small plaza in front of an old fort called San Rafael, which was located north of the Plaza and the church, near the river. Right before he was executed, he asked for the community's forgiveness. Then he was executed

Såga gi minahgong, Ansetmo.

(Source : Chronicle of the Marianas, by Fr Aniceto Ibáñez)

Thursday, April 14, 2016


When our diet was corn-based before the war, drought would lead to hailas (ha - i -las) or food shortages.

It has been very dry these past few months in our islands.

We expect them to be, as this is the dry season (fañomnagan).

But, usually, in April we start to see a change. Chamorro farmers used to be on the look out for the primet ågua de Åbrit (the first water or rain of April). It was critical that farmers plant at the right time, when April showers water the fields. If farmers planted too early, the seeds would die from lack of rain.

But it is now the middle of April and there has been little rain at all. So, this has been an even drier dry season than usual and the cause is attributed to the El Niño weather pattern that comes and goes every two to seven years.

The Chamorro term for drought is inaglo'. It is simply the noun form of the adjective ånglo', or "dry."

Our islands have experienced very bad periods of inanglo' in the past.

In the early 1790s, the drought in the Marianas was so prolonged that the people were in very desperate conditions. Crops wouldn't grow and one Governor had to buy supplies for the people from the very ship that brought him to Guam.

In March of 1793 (March is one of the driest months in the Marianas), a fire swept through Hagåtña, destroying 31 homes.

When hundreds of Spanish convicts deported to the Marianas arrived in 1875, the islands' food supply was severely depleted by their arrival in addition to the drought that plagued the islands at the time.

Because we import almost all our food nowadays, we do not face the threat of starvation today, even when in a drought, as our ancestors did.

But, our water supply in the north of Guam risks becoming salty as the fresh water levels drop too low in the underground lake that provides us with the water. In the south, dependent on river water, homes will have dry fawcets for periods throughout the day if water rationing is implemented. Grass fires, especially in the south, will increase, promoting soil erosion and threatening wild life, plants, power lines and homes.

Let us all pray that this period of inanglo' comes to an end with the commencement of the rainy season (fanuchånan).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Those three arches in the Plaza de España make quite the scenic spot in our island's capital city.

People often pose for photos right in front of them, especially the newlyweds from Japan.

As you can see from the pic taken in 1916, the arches were actually part of a building, now torn down. That building was called the Almacén. That word meant, at that time and in this context, a warehouse or storehouse. The government's goods coming in from abroad and from Tinian (where there was a government cattle ranch) were stored there.

The three arches were part of the Almacén built in 1799. They are thus 217 years old or so! They have survived time, weather and especially the American bombardment of Hagåtña in 1944.

The arches also survived the replacement in 1886 of the 1799 Almacén with a new one built that year by Spanish Governor Olive. Rather than get rid of the arches with everything else from the 1799 Almacén, he kept the arches and built the new Almacén around the old arches.

Those same arches survived yet another government decision in 1930 to get rid of the 1886 Almacén, since it was considered too dangerous of an old building. Enough earthquakes did enough damage to it that the government feared parts of the Almacén coud fall apart, injuring people. But when the Almacén was torn down, American Governor Bradley decided to keep the arches intact.

I guess people really did (do) like those arches.

The Almacén served more than one purpose; basically whatever the Governor thought any extra space could be used for.

It was used as a hospital and, during the early American period, the second floor as used as a school.

The top of the center arch is decorated by a Spanish seal.

So next time you pass those arches, think of the building that used to stand there for hundreds of years as a warehouse, hospital, school and a few other things.

Monday, April 11, 2016


What is the above object called in Chamorro?

Answer : it depends.

In Guam, it is called a lisåyo.

But in Saipan, it is called a misterio.

In Saipan, lisåyo refers to the actual prayer and not the beads used in the prayer.

In Guam, lisåyo refers to both the prayer form and the beads used to pray it.

Misterio means "mystery" or "mysteries" and the rosary is a prayer form that meditates on the mysteries of the life of Christ and the Blessed Mother.

Lisåyo is the Chamorro form of the Spanish word rosario.

Chamorro avoids the R sound and often replaces it with an L.

Chamorro also doesn't have the Western Y sound and replaces it with our own Y sound which sounds like a DZ or DJ. So the RIO in rosario becomes YO.

Why is there this difference between Guam and Saipan?

The people who lived at the time the change occurred are all dead now and cannot answer. They also did not leave any written explanation why there was a change.

The limitations of history.

Friday, April 8, 2016


(1896? ~ 1985)

The Guam Seal that we see all over the island, on flags and government letterheads, is the subject of some controversy.

For years, a stateside woman named Helen Longyear Paul has been credited for the creation of the Guam flag, which includes this seal. Paul was a Navy wife who also taught in Guam's schools and she had entered her design in a flag contest begun by Naval Governor Roy Smith in 1917.

The heart of the debate is whether a Chamorro student in Hagåtña, originally from Humåtak, by the name of Francisco Feja Feja, was the true artist who conceived and sketched the seal. There is a lot of support for this claim since Francisco (Ton Kiko) lived all the way till 1985 and the story was known from him by some people. It's the "official" literature of the past that is silent about Feja, giving all the attention to Helen Paul.

Francisco's daughter, and the late Dr. Bernadita Camacho Dungca, who learned about Feja from her father, who was friends with Feja, did much to spread awareness of Feja's story.

What seems clear is that Feja moved from Humåtak to Hagåtña and his artistic talents were noticed and appreciated by teachers in Hagåtña's schools. The story goes that one day being by the shore, he was moved by the scene depicted by the Seal today, with the lone coconut tree and the river mouth and the coastal background, and he was inspired to draw or paint it.

The story isn't very clear how Feja's design ended up in Helen Paul's hands. Two different stories, totally based on oral tradition, explain how Helen Paul stumbled on Feja, either at the beach or at the Governor's office steps, with his sketch. Feja then gave the sketch to Paul.

Agueda Johnston's explanation doesn't involve Feja at all, but gives credit to Helen Paul as the designer. She says that the sketch then ended up being used in a flag created by the Home Economics class taught by another American woman, Lillian A. Nagel.

In 1917, Governor Roy Smith approved the design of a Guam flag, using this Seal. The blueprint for the design was rediscovered only recently. The blueprint does not state who is the designer of the Seal. Tradition says that there was a felt need for a Guam flag and artists were encouraged to turn in proposed designs. It is believed that Helen Paul's design, possibly based on Feja's sketch, was turned in for consideration.

No designer's name is credited in the 1917 blueprint

In 1930, Governor Bradley made official the 1917 seal as the Seal of Guam and the following year he made the flag using this seal the official flag of Guam.

The fact that the 1917 design was created as a blueprint lends support to the idea that Helen Paul had something to do with the final product. Paul was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with a BS in Science and having studied architecture there, too. Clearly, the blueprint suggests someone educated in these fields, such as Paul, was involved.

Perhaps the safest thing to say, though, is that both individuals had something to do with the existence of our Guam flag and seal as we have them today.

Feja's design and creation. Paul's blueprint submission.

Had Feja not designed the seal, we might not have the seal and flag we see today. Had Paul not submitted her flag design, which included the seal, in the contest, we might not have the seal and flag that we see today.  As far as I know, we aren't aware of any other flag design submissions in that fateful contest in 1917. History, they say, is written by the winners.



Reading up on this topic is an experience of the frustrations and limitations of doing history.

We don't have all the evidence we would like to have, and what we do have doesn't always check out.

Different sources have different years for Feja's birthday. His obituary suggests he was born in 1896, but his name does not appear in the 1897 Guam Census. His Social Security record states he was born in 1899. One later Guam Census has him born around 1899, another Census says around 1897. 

The official resolution from the Guam Legislature in 1992 states that Feja went to school around 1910 at the Jose Rizal College in Manila and didn't draw the seal until he returned to Guam. But Jose Rizal College didn't exist until 1919, two years after the Helen Paul submission won the flag contest. In 1919, the College was first called the Far Eastern College School of Accounts, Commerce and Finance and renamed Jose Rizal College in 1922. It rose to University status in 2000.

Not only did the institution not exist until 1919, it was a business school, not offering art classes. So it's a challenge to reconcile these two disparate bits of the story. Perhaps Feja did go to some school in Manila in 1910 or so, but perhaps we haven't got the name of the school just right yet. These, and other examples, serve to remind us about the weakness of human memory and the importance of documents, even though documents themselves are far from totally reliable in all cases.

Rest in peace, Ton Kiko and thanks for the Guam Seal. I wonder what Ton Kiko and Helen might be saying to each other as they watch us on earth struggle with this puzzle.

courtesy of Farron Taijeron

BY THE WAY......

I think the Chamorro family nickname is misspelled in the funeral announcement pictured at the top of this article.

I believe it should be Payesyes, and not Jasjesjes.

The payesyes was the small, insect-eating bat that is now extinct on Guam.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Because of Spanish influence, we have a certain kind of human relationship not found in many other Catholic communities.

Among us, the parents and godparents of the same child have a bond among them. They are all co-parents of that child.

In Spanish, the men are compadres. Com (co) and padre (father). Co-fathers.

The women are comadres. Co+madre. Co-mothers.

Many European Catholics, like the Irish or Germans, for example, as far as I know, do not have the idea that the father and godfather of the same child are co-fathers.  Nor that the mother and godmother of the same child are co-mothers. Nor that the two parents and two godparents are all co-parents.

It's an idea that exists among Mediterranean Catholic people like the Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese. The French used to have the idea, too, but that has long since disappeared.


A we often do, we take from another language and change its pronunciation to suit our preferences.

What is compadre for the Spanish is kumpaire for us.

Kompaire, kumpairi, kompairi. Individual Chamorros will differ slightly one to the other in pronunciation.

What is comadre for the Spanish is kumaire for us.


But when a Chamorro says "my kumpaire," the R changes to an L.


The same for kumaire.



The change from R to L is seen also in the shortening of kumaire to målle'.

Målle' is what the two kumaire will use to address each other.

"Håfa målle'!"

Or, målle' can be used as the subject when preceded by the personal article "si."

"Estague' mågi si målle'." "Målle' is coming over here."

But the word målle' is not used as a noun in a sentence when preceded by the definite article "i.".

One would not say "i målle-ko" but rather "i kumaile-ko."


I never heard the masculine form pålle' until I was well into adulthood.

Just as kumaire becomes målle', kumpaire can become pålle''.

I was already a priest (påle') when I heard people calling someone pålle', so I thought they were calling me. When I noticed they weren't calling me, I had to figure it out. I then realized that the L in pålle' is extended. The tip of our tongues stay a bit longer on the back side of the upper front teeth a while, as opposed to when we say påle'.


Chamorros and Filipinos don't have the DR sound naturally occurring in their native languages.

So the inclination among both peoples is to drop the unfamiliar or difficult DR sound.

Filipinos change compadre to kumpare.

And comadre to kumare.

Chamorros change the ADRE to AIRE.

Compadre becomes kumpaire.

And comadre becomes kumaire.


We may have gotten the AY sound in kumpaire and kumaire from Latin America.

In some places in Latin America, compadre evolved into compay and comadre to comay.

There used to be a little verse said long ago among Chamorros that showed that even madre became maire.

The verse uses a naughty word and idea, so I'll have to leave that out. Older Chamorros might be able to discover the full text.

Kumaire, kumaire
pot la ____ su maire.

This is the Chamorro pronunciation of the Spanish

Comadre, comadre
por la ____ su madre.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


I learned this way back in the 1980s from an older Chamorro woman, now deceased.

We were talking about someone having just had a baby and she asked if the baby was baptized yet.

I said, "Åhe'. No."

And she said, "Moro trabia." "She's still a moro."

It's a term we learned from the Spanish and it means an unbaptized child. To this day, in certain parts of Spain, unbaptized babies are still called moros.

Footnote #2 below from a Spanish book says : moro : child not yet baptized

"Moro" is Spanish for "Moor," the Muslim people of North Africa who invaded Spain in the year 711 and stayed all the way till 1492.

Although "Moro" can also refer to the Muslims of the southern Philippines, the Moors of Africa are what is meant when an unbaptized baby is called moro. It means that the unbaptized baby is of the same spiritual status as an unbaptized, Muslim Moor. In the old days, the Moors (and Jews) living in Spain would have been the only unbaptized people the Spaniards would have known, and of course unbaptized babies of Christian parents. Thus the parallel.

Very few Chamorros today would be aware that our great grandparents sometimes used this term, and most people, I think, would be glad it has been forgotten. But, history is history and I record it here for that purpose.

Monday, April 4, 2016


Even the more common name of "shingles" isn't known by all. I only heard of it when I was in my 20s when a priest I lived with suffered from it. Growing up as a kid I never heard of shingles.

In Chamorro, shingles is called "tininon San Antonio," or "Saint Anthony's burn."

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.

So that explains the tinino part....the burn.

But why San Antonio?

First of all, we're not talking about the Saint Anthony almost everybody knows - the Franciscan Saint Anthony.

No; here we are talking about a different Saint Anthony. The first one, actually, who was a hermit monk in the desert, and is thus called Saint Anthony of the Desert, among his various names.

A legend about Saint Anthony says that he went down to fires of hell to try and rescue souls. Centuries later, people afflicted with shingles prayed for his help, since the fires of hell had no power over him.

A medieval man suffers from tininon San Antonio