Monday, December 16, 2019



Genuine hospitals were a new thing on Guam when the Americans first took over the island. Under Spain, there was a military medical doctor on duty at times, and a US Navy report says the Spaniards had a "primitive hospital." There were also secluded houses set up for lepers and those mistakenly considered lepers. But hospitals in the modern sense of the word did not yet exist.

Yet, even when the US Naval Government set up a hospital in Hagåtña, with free medical care for the civilian population, many Chamorros avoided the hospital at all cost.

"Sagan finatai ayo," some people said. "It's the place of death," when speaking about the hospital.

Well, to the casual observer it may seem so. Although the medical service was free and as good as was possible at the time, given all the limitations being as distant as we are, not everyone survived surgery or treatment. Some patients arrived when the disease was too advanced and nothing could be done. So, many a patient who walked into the hospital did not leave the hospital except to be buried in the cemetery.

Sagan finatai for sure.

But many people came to the conclusion that the hospital actually made you die! To be sure, even in our own day, this can be true!

So many Chamorro people in the old days preferred to stay at home, and be treated with traditional, herbal remedies furnished by a suruhåno or suruhåna. They claimed that the American medicine did them no good, and that there were side effects to them, as well.

"Atdet-ña i amot ke ni chetnot." "The medicine is worse than the disease."

"Ti fina'maolek si tatå-ho ni amot Amerikåno. I amot Chamorro ha' ha angongokko." "My father was not helped by American medicine. He only relies on Chamorro medicine."

Besides staying home, the old Chamorro habit was for the sick to stay home with all the windows closed, making the room as hot and as stuffy as possible. Blankets were even put on top of feverish patients. The belief was you could sweat the disease out of you, and that the draft or cool air (sereno) was deadly and what made you sick in the first place.

Closing up all the windows was the exact opposite of what American officials urged people to do. But no amount of American pressure could convince Chamorros to open the window.

Even in the 1990s, I would bring holy communion to the home-bound elderly, many of them quite sick. Their rooms were often dank and humid, because they always kept the windows closed.


Another thing many old time Chamorros avoided was any sort of amputation, big or small. Or even the removal of internal organs.

"Malago' yo' na ha sodda' yo' kabåles si Yu'us, taimano i ha fa'tinas yo'."

"I want God to find me complete, the way He made me."

"Singko na kålulot ha nå'e yo' si Yu'us, singko na kålulot bai nana'lo."

"God gave me five fingers, five fingers I will return."

These are some of the sentiments expressed by many man åmko'.

Even when warned that keeping the diseased body part would lead to death, some older people refused to have any body part amputated or removed.

These religious reasons may have been just a convenient way to cover up fear or dread of living the rest of one's life with one foot. Not living at all was better for them than living with one foot.

Friday, December 13, 2019


Where is this Chamorro guy above going? With his rooster under his arm? Accompanied by an armed man, what looks like a village head or gobernadorcillo, wearing a top hat and with staff in hand, and a clerk with record book in tow?

Well to the cockfight, of course! The gayera was a strong element of Chamorro colonial times under Spain.

A visitor to Guam in 1849 says this about the cockfight as he saw it. It is written in a style of English sometimes strange to our eyes or ears, so I have explanatory comments in parentheses and in italics :

"Between the government house (the palace or palåsyo) and the calaboose (prison), which stood directly opposite it, was a small grass plot (it must have been what we now call the Plaza de España), toward which we saw several parties of Spaniards as well as seamen, directing their steps, and we retraced ours. There we found active preparations going on for a cock-fight, some four or five cocks being already there, a small cord being tied to the leg of each, and at the other end a small peg which was driven in the ground, beside each cock stood its owner, descanting (speaking at length) upon its merits, and waiting for bets, previous to heeling (attaching blades to the heel) and matching them.

Within a few yards of the last, another group were seated gambling for money, at a game peculiarly their own, and they too, within one hundred yards of the church, and the sound of the little bell before the altar, which we distinctly heard.

Nearly every individual then was laboring under a severe attack of the influenza, which was raging fearfully and fatally upon the island; but neither death nor disease prevented them from practicing this cruel and brutal amusement as it is termed.

At four o'clock the services of the church were concluded, which was announced by the tinkling of the bell, when they immediately uncovered (their heads) and dropped on their knees, remaining in that position until the boxed (I can only assume he was being carried in a litter) priest and his retinue had passed, the game cocks standing proudly erect, as though conscious of their superiority to the degraded beings who knelt around them.

The procession having turned an angle of the government mansion, they sprang from their knees, adjusted their hats and proceeded to cock-fighting with as much nonchalance as a Broadway exquisite would sip his julep."


1. Cockfights were always held on Sundays after morning Mass. The church service the writer talks about having ended around 4PM was not Mass; it was Vespers and Benediction, always held in those days (in bigger churches) on Sunday afternoons. Mass in those days was always celebrated quite early; 4AM or 5AM. On Sundays, a second or third Mass was possible but none past 10AM.

2. The Sunday cockfight was THE social event of the Sunday, after church. People came out in large numbers. At times even the village priest attended the cockfight and sometimes even, if the writer was telling the truth, entered his own rooster in the contest! All this in opposition to church rules.

3. Chamorros in those Spanish times played different games of chance now forgotten, except for Tres Siette, remembered by a few. But other games were called paiket, tangga and panggengge. Games could involve cards, dice and other things.

4. The visitor happened to come the very same month a ship from Hawaii brought the flu to Guam, January of 1849, killing 200 people. His ship arrived on January 21 for three days, leaving on the 24th. Had the ship left the following day, the 25th, this visitor would have experienced one of the worst earthquakes the island had felt in a while. The church tower in Hagåtña even fell.

5. The writer speaks of a "boxed priest." Only one thing comes to my mind, to explain this curious phrase. People could be carried about in boxes carried on men's shoulders, called a litter or palanquin.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019



The Japanese bombed Sumay and other targets on Guam on December 8, 1941. They continued doing so on December 9.

But the Japanese didn't land on Guam till the early morning hours of December 10.

An invasion force landed at Apotguan (what most people today call the Alupang side of Tamuning, or Dungca's Beach) and then marched west to Hagåtña, following what is now Marine Corps Drive. When they got to Hagåtña, they were met with the small and futile defense of the Chamorro Insular Force Guard in the Plaza de España, and a few American Navy men.

The Japanese victory was swift, but not without bloodshed and loss of life. At least seven men, Chamorro and stateside, died that day at the Plaza de España. Others perished at other island locations.

One of them was Ángel León Guerrero Flores, a married man aged 31 years or so, with five young children.

A story, which has been disputed by some who were at the Plaza that day, says that Flores was ordered by the Japanese to lower the American flag in front of Government House, the residence of the American Governor. Despite repeated orders shouted menacingly at him, Flores refused to lower it. A Japanese swung at his head with a sword but another Japanese did the job by pushing his bayonet into Flores. Other versions of the story say that he was killed a day or two later. To this day, no one knows where the Japanese buried his body, nor the bodies of some others killed in the Japanese invasion.

In 1978, the US Navy and the local government commended Flores posthumously, and others, for his conduct as a Prisoner of War under the Japanese.

Whether the flag story happened or not, what can be said with more certainty is that Flores remained at the Plaza, facing the threat of superior invading Japanese forces, at the risk of his life, which he eventually did lose.

A street in Sinajaña. where his widow and children resided after the war, is named after him.

Friday, December 6, 2019



There are three main clans of Lizamas in Saipan, known by their nicknames :

Pilåkku'. Batittang. Pina'lek.


These are the earliest Lizamas to move from Guam to Saipan. Around 1893 or 1894, Vicente Cruz Lizama, from Hagåtña, Guam, and his wife Rosa Taisague Cabrera, also from Hagåtña, moved to Saipan. A son Antonio had already been born on Guam but Vicente and Rosa had many other children born on Saipan. These children in turn had many offspring and the Pilåkku' clan was well-established.

Vicente had a brother Antonio who also moved to Saipan but it seems he and his wife did not have children. Another brother of theirs, José, died in Saipan in 1895, apparently a bachelor.

Vicente was the son of Juan Mendiola Lizama, born around 1838 in Hagåtña (his father was Mariano and his mother was Margarita) and his wife Margarita Demapan Cruz, born around 1846 in Hagåtña, the daughter of Casimiro and Josefa.


This clan of Lizamas in Saipan was founded by Joaquín San Nicolás Lizama, pictured above. Joaquín was born in Guam, the son of José Lizama and María San Nicolás. At some point he moved to Saipan, where he got married in 1903 to Carmen Mendiola Mendiola, of the Damoa clan, which had both Guam and Luta (Rota) origins.

Joaquín and Carmen had almost a dozen children, so the Batittang clan spread.

I knew one of Joaquín's daughters who told me how her father was a kapitan in the sendålon Alemán (a captain among the German soldiers). What she meant was her father was one of the local men recruited by the Germans to be police officers in Saipan. 

A note on a photo of Joaquín said that, when the Japanese were coming to take Saipan away from Germany in 1914, he was eager to fight the Japanese. He was loyal to Germany.

Joaquín also had two boats which he used for trade and fishing. His daughter said, "Ti in tingo' tenda," "We didn't know anything about stores, because my father always bought or traded things with the other boats."


The Pina'lek Lizama were the last of the three main clans to move to Saipan from Guam, making the move around 1915 or so.

Two brothers, Luís de León Lizama and Juan de León Lizama, moved to Saipan. They were the sons of Mariano Lizama and Rosa Palomo de León. By 1902 both parents were deceased when some of the children were still young (under 20 years). They were already called the Pina'lek clan in Guam, and not all of them moved to Saipan. Luís and Juan had siblings who remained on Guam.

Luís married a Naputi and Juan married a Crisóstomo, and their descendants continued the clan in Saipan.

Luís was an artillery man in the local insular force under the Americans in Guam in the early 1900s before he moved to Saipan.

The clan's nickname, Pina'lek, means "heartburn" in Chamorro. Why the clan is named that is something I have found no conclusive reasons for.

Juan de León Lizama @ Pina'lek
Signature in 1911


There was one other Lizama who moved from Guam and to Saipan, and she was actually there before the others.

Lucía Fausto Lizama, probably born in Guam and the daughter of Javier (also called Gabriel) and María was already in Saipan in the 1870s bearing children although she was not married. In time, she married the biological father of these children, José Acosta Arriola, and the children all became Arriolas.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


The witness mentioned five people, but no last names!

As most of you know, nearly every Chamorro family has a nickname; a "better-known-as."

On an island where there was a José Cruz, Manuel Flores and Ana Dueñas around every corner, such nicknames were very helpful in specifying who you meant.

It seems that it was such a prevalent thing in the old days that, many times, people sometimes didn't even know the actual last names of the people they were talking about!

Take, for example, this court case in 1906 involving a land dispute.

A witness mentioned the names of five people who might be able to provide information on the case. He didn't use a single last name for any of the five. He called them all by their family, or perhaps, personal nicknames.

Let's see who they were.


This would have been Juan Muña Garrido, whose family was better known as the familian Humåtak. In those days of Spanish influence, J sounded like H as in Juan and José. The Spaniards didn't use a K in their alphabet (except a few times when using Greek words, for example), so they used a hard G to spell Jumatag (Humåtak).


This would have been Juan Concepción Garrido, a relative of Juan Muña Garrido, but whose family was better known as the familian Emmo', after their patriarch Anselmo Camacho Garrido. The -elmo in Anselmo became Emmo'.


I haven't been able to find a family better known as Ama, so it could be that this is Vicente's wife's nickname or his mother's nickname. Sometimes people were identified by their spouse's first name. Like José married to Ana would be called Josen Ana, and Ana would be called Anan José. Or, there could have been another explanation for Ama, but we don't know what it is.


There are families better known as familian Chåda', mostly with the last name Cruz.


Quico is the Spanish spelling of Kiko', since there is no K in Spanish. Kiko' is the nickname for Francisco. There are several families better known as familian Kostat, so it's hard to say which one. Kostat is the Chamorro word for bag.

So when this witness mentioned all five of these people by their nicknames only, I wonder if the Chamorros in the court room (the judge, clerks, advocates) nodded their heads, saying to themselves, "Yes, we know who they are."


The witness was asked to identify someone, and his answer was,

"Tio Joaquín, Bådo, ti hu tungo' i apeyidu-ña."

"Uncle Joaquín, Bådo', I don't know his last name."

Imagine! It's his "uncle"; he knows his personal name and his nickname. But not his last name.

That's how it was for a lot of people in the old days. Last names were sometimes not known, even of the people you personally knew.


Besides being known by your family or clan nickname, people were also known by their spouse's first name.

José and Ana, who are married, were known as José'n Ana and Ana'n José.

It often happened that you were ONLY known by your spouse's name by many people.

Here is a dialogue between a lawyer and a witness in 1910 :

~ Do you know her grandmother?
~ Yes.
~ What is her name?
~ Manuela'n Vicente.

How's that for identification? Manuela isn't known by her last name, but by her husband's name Vicente.

Friday, November 29, 2019


If you've ever gone shopping with older Chamorro ladies, especially when they are on a pilgrimage or otherwise shopping in a religious store, you know that they really go for fancy rosaries.

The more glittering and sparkling the rosary, the more she likes it. It's probably the rosary that will grace her folded hands in her casket when she dies.

This is not a new thing; new as in only since American times. Court documents from Spanish times show that this has been going on for two hundreds years or more.

As simple as life was for most people during Spanish times, even the Chamorro lady who lacked many fancy things often was the owner of a gold rosary. Despite the fact that the Marianas did not have ships bringing in imported goods frequently; despite the fact that we had few "stores" to speak of in Spanish times, many of our people did have jewelry, watches rosaries.

Gold rosaries show up in court documents over a hundred years ago in the Marianas in surprising frequency.

A last will and testament states that a gold rosary owned by the deceased is to be given after death to a certain daughter in the family.

A complaint is filed in court against a platero (a silversmith) for failing to replace beads in a gold rosary as the owner had requested.

Another complaint is filed in court alleging that so-and-so stole a gold rosary when the alleged thief was employed as a house servant.

That stolen gold rosary passed to no less than three different buyers until the matter was brought to court.

In another case involving the payment of a debt, a debtor includes a gold rosary as part of the payment.

Although gold rosaries were the most prized, rosaries that stood out in other ways were also valued. There is a case involving a lisåyon resplandot åttilong, a rosary with a black shine. Others were made of white pearl or of glass. They were included in the inventory of deceased persons when the estate was brought to court.

Gold rosaries were highly prized by Chamorro women

Monday, November 25, 2019



Someone writing for a newspaper in 1849 called Guam the "El Dorado" of recruiters.

He meant whaling recruiters, looking for young men to replace dead, sick or deserted crew members on the whaling ships that crossed the Pacific and beyond.

Working on a whaling ship was miserable. One whaler said, "We have to work like dogs and live like pigs."

So, it's no surprise that many crew members left the ship, unauthorized, when they pulled into a new port. Whaling captains were always looking for replacements, and Guam had a reputation for being an easy place to find them.

Thus the remark El Dorado, the mythical city of gold which was later applied to any place of fabulous wealth or opportunity. The Marianas did not have gold or silver, but it did have young men dying to leave island and join the whaling ships. And not just whaling ships. Even merchant ships recruited men from Guam.

Just take a look at these Guam maritime recruits from one single year, in 1868. There is one man with an unfamiliar surname, Gioto. Either he was not Chamorro and just happened to be on Guam in 1868, or someone spelled his name wrong. There is also a man surnamed Pelayo. He could also have been non-Chamorro but was on Guam at the time.


Vicente de la Cruz, Manuel de la Cruz, Isidoro Pelayo, Vicente de Salas, Juan de la Concepción, Bernardo Blas and Pedro Gioto were recruited on the Hawaiian schooner JH Roscoe under the command of Captain N.T. Jones. 

Luís de Guzmán and Antonio Pereda were recruited by Captain J.R. Spencer for the Hawaiian schooner William H. Allen.

Martín Dueñas and Juan de la Cruz were recruited to go to Asención (Ponape) by Captain Bell of the American merchant ship Aguila.

Leocadio Gogue and José del Rosario were recruited on the Anglo-American whaler Acorn Barnes under Captain Jeffries. "Anglo-American" means the ship was owned by a joint British and American company.

José Camacho, José de San Nicolás, Rufino Tenorio, Raimundo Tenorio and Juan Taijito. were taken by Captain Henry F. Worth of the Anglo-American whaler John Carver.

José Taitano, Pedro Luján and Ignacio Guerrero joined the crew of the Anglo-American whaler Eugenia under Captain W. Barnes.

Ramón de los Santos, Cecilio Materne, Pedro Namauleg, Mariano de la Cruz and Mariano Camacho were taken as crew members in the pesca de ballena (fishing of whales) by J.M. Soule,  captain of the American whaling ship Adeline.

José Mendiola, Isidro Mendiola, José de la Rosa and Mariano Baza were recruited by Captain Phillips of the American ship Monticello.

The majority of these men, from the looks of their surnames, would have been Hagåtña residents. Materne might have come from Aniguak. Taijito from Asan. Namauleg could have come from Hagåtña, Aniguak or Asan. Perhaps some from Sumay. But there are no Babautas from Hågat, Afaisens from Inalåhan, Quinatas from Humåtak, or Nangautas from Malesso' on this list, for example. I don't see any Luta names either, although a few men from Luta did get recruited in the 1800s.

A whaling captain of days gone by

Friday, November 22, 2019


Mwar, or floral crown

This song has been recorded by others, but this one is by the group Ti Napu.

Un na' beste hao koronan flores
(You dressed yourself with a crown of flowers)
para i che'cho'-mo.
(for your work.)
Asentådo i magagu-mo.
(Your clothes were proper.)
Ma kehåye hao mismo i amigå-mo
(Your own friend told on you)
na guaha otro ya dinanche i keha
(that there was another and the grumbling was correct)
sa' un fatta hao gi halom taotao.
(because you revealed yourself in public.)

Lao bai sungon i pinadese.
(But I will endure the pain.)
Håfa yo' bai cho'gue?
(What will I do?)
Yanggen ennao disposision-mo
(If that's your decision)
ai lokkue' nene.
(oh well baby.)
Ya un dia siempre un tungo' piniti-ho
(And one day you will surely know my hurt)
ya un tånga tåtte i gimå'-mo.
(and you will want back your home.)

I trongkon åtbot annai manflores
(When the flame tree flowers)
hu hasso hao nene
(I remember you baby)
ya hu tånga hao gi fi'on-ho.
(and I want you by my side.)
I famagu'on-ta konsuelu-ho kada puenge
(Our children were my comfort each night)
an un dingu ham pot i otro na guinaiya-mo.
(when you left us for your other love.)

Monday, November 18, 2019


Everybody today knows it as the Plaza de España. If we were to render that in English, Spain Square.

But it wasn't called that originally, not even by the Spaniards!

They called it the Plaza de Magallanes. Magallanes is the Spanish form of the last name Magellan, after Ferdinand Magellan, the first European that we know of who made contact with our islands. That happened in 1521, just 19 years after Columbus bumped into what we now call the Americas.

In English, Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan was Portuguese by birth, and his last name in Portuguese is Magalhães.

When Chamorros learned of the Spanish version of his name, Magallanes, they pronounced it the Chamorro way. In Chamorro, we do not have the Y sound as in "yellow." Our Y is like Yigo or Yoña. In Spanish, double L (LL) has the Y sound like "yellow." In Spanish, Magallanes sounds like ma - ga - ya - nes. But our Chamorro elders pronounced the Y like the Y in Yigo or Yoña.

That's why when we say Acfalle, Tajalle or Quintanilla, the LL sounds like the Y in Yigo or Yoña. Double L (LL) in Spanish sounds like the Y in "yellow," but like the Y in Yigo and Yoña if being said with the Chamorro pronunciation.


The first Governor's palace (palåsyo) in Hagåtña was built in 1736 so we can assume that a plaza of sorts was laid out in front of the palace. It was really just a big, empty space. At times, paintings and sketches suggest it was surrounded by hedges or even crops. We do know that, since it faced the palace, it was where people gathered to listen to special announcements from the Governor or to celebrate some events.

But, more or less, it was just an empty space. Not much going on on the site itself, except there seems to have been a cock fight done there every Sunday afternoon. It didn't always have straight four lines like a square.

The Plaza in 1819
Not a true four-sided square


It was the Americans who started calling it the Plaza de España. Maybe Magallanes was too hard for them to say.

They were also the ones who built the kiosko (gazebo) in the center, various times, even beginning with a thatched roof one. The kiosko served as a bandstand at times and the military band played there weekly.

The Plaza has been the location of several important events in recent history. This is where members of the Guam Militia, Chamorros, shot their machine gun at the invading Japanese on December 10, 1941. This is where the Japanese made the American Governor and Spanish bishop strip to their underwear and run around the Plaza in order to show the Chamorros who was in charge now. This is where a Chamorro-organized protest against George Tweed was held. The Plaza has been the site of inaugurations, weddings, social events, political rallies and even movie and TV filming over the years.


Wikipedia is an online, reader-contributed informational website.

The people who write the articles are human, so mistakes are bound to happen. And it happened with the wikipedia article on the Plaza de España in Hagåtña.

Whoever wrote the wikipedia article used information from the nomination of the Plaza to the national register of historic places. In that documentation, it is stated that the Plaza was originally named after Magellan, in Portuguese Magalhães.

While it is true that Magellan's real name, his Portuguese name, was Magalhães, the Spaniards called him Magallanes, not Magalhães, and so the Plaza was never called the Plaza de Magalhães, unless a Portuguese were writing or speaking.

Secondly, the author of the wikipedia article may have thought that Magalhães in the nomination was a typo. He may have thought that magalahes (chiefs / governors) was meant. That is not the case. It was never called the Plaza de Magalahes. In Chamorro, we do not make words plural by adding an S, as we do in English or Spanish and other languages. And in documentation from Spanish times never do we ever read about a Plaza de Magalahes. Plaza de Magallanes, yes. The author was confused by Magalhães, the Portuguese form of Magellan/Magallanes. The ~ over the A in Magalhães is a clue. The ã is a letter used by the Portuguese, but not by the Spaniards.


Not so!

Friday, November 15, 2019


When the Spaniards forced the Chamorros of the northern islands (collectively called the Gani islands) to move south to Guam and Luta from 1695 on, those islands became depopulated, but not entirely and not for all time.

Even as I write this, or as you read this, there are small numbers of people living on Agrigan, an island that was evacuated in 1990 when the volcano started smoking, though no eruption occurred.

People have started to move back, little by little. But the lure of Agrigan has been there for a long time, and not just for people of the Marianas.

In 1810, a man named Johnson lead of group of four white men, two black men and twelve Hawaiians (we're not totally sure about the precise homelands of these 12) sailed to Agrigan to settle there, empty as it was and far enough, so they thought, from the Spaniards in Guam. But, far though Agrigan may have been, the Spaniards would not tolerate this colony and sent armed men up to Agrigan to round them up and bring them to Guam.

Just five years later, in 1815, the Spanish had to deport another colony in Agrigan made up of three Englishmen, one American and thirty-some Hawaiians.

In 1818, a group of shipwreck survivors who found safety in Agrigan had to be taken down to Guam.

A French settler in the Bonin Islands, north of the Marianas, by the name of Leseur, took a wife named Pidear, "a native of Grigan, one of the Ladrones." Agrigan was often spelled Grigan by English/American writers in those days. I suspect that Pidear was a Polynesian in one of the earlier groups that had lived briefly on Agrigan.

Then, in 1859, a ship was sailing from San Francisco, California to Hong Kong and passed in between Pagan and Agrigan. One of the mates on board remarked that he had been on Agrigan in 1849, and said there were two Caucasians and seven islanders living there. The comment didn't specify what kind of Caucasians or islanders they were.

The Spanish government and independent businessmen later tried to exploit Agrigan for copra, and the German and Japanese governments opened up the island to human settlement for that purpose as well. In 1960, there were 113 people living on Agrigan. The number of residents continued to drop until in 1990 they all left due to possible volcanic eruption.

People are still trying to get to Agrigan today, especially since the US military has expressed interest in using the northern islands for target practice. Putting people on these northern islands, they think, will make that impossible to do.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019



The Americans may have taken Guam back from the Japanese on August 10, 1944, when General Geiger announced that organized Japanese resistance had ceased, but that didn't mean the island was safe from Japanese danger. Over 7000 Japanese troops were believed to be hiding in the jungles when the battle for Guam ended.

A line was drawn from Fadian Point (north of Mangilao) on the east to Tomhom (Tumon) on the west. The US believed the great majority of Japanese holdouts were north of this imaginary line. They wanted to make sure the Japanese did not venture south of the line.

But, in fact, there were Japanese soldiers hiding in the south of Guam. The last known one (Shoichi Yokoi) was found twenty-eight years later, in 1972!

The military government then decided to create a kind of a border to the extreme south of Guam at the Talofofo River. Guards were posted at the temporary, postwar bridge which replaced the prewar one destroyed in battle. The guards were there for two reasons. First, to keep American military personnel out of the extreme southern villages of Guam : Inalåhan, Malesso' and Humåtak. Even in the other villages and civilian camps, military personnel needed passes to enter. Keeping the military and civilian communities separate was good for everyone's safety. The US military brass knew that service men would be very interested in socializing with Chamorro women. In a supervised setting, like in a dance with eyes on the watch, there'd be less chance of any mishaps. But servicemen running free, looking for female companions in the villages, might create problems. Cases had already happened when this was the case.

In the extreme south of the island, far from military bases and airfields which were taking up so much land in central and northern Guam, the Chamorros could continue living their peaceful, farming lives as if war had never happened. There were no military installations in the deep south of Guam. American service men, therefore, had no business there except on a few, authorized occasions.

Sign at the entrance of Barrigada after the war

Secondly, the guards at the Talofofo bridge ensured that any American servicemen who did have authorization to cross the bridge had a weapon. The countryside was still too dangerous for them to travel around unarmed. For several years, Chamorro ranchers would find missing chickens and stolen vegetables on their farms, the work of Japanese stragglers marauding for food at night.

You may ask why wasn't there a similar border crossing on the western side of the island, as in Hågat. The answer is simple. There was no road from Hågat to Humåtak in 1945! Nor even before the war. Look at this wartime map of Guam. From Hågat to Humåtak, there is no road. Before that road was finished years after the war, the only way to go from Hågat to Humåtak was by boat or by driving to Yoña, then Talofofo then Inalåhan then Malesso'. Going that way was even faster than by boat!

So there was no need for guards at Hågat. No one was interested in walking up the mountains over to Humåtak, or riding a cart pulled by very slow and uncooperative cows or carabaos.

But no road from Humåtak to Hågat

The border didn't last, of course, and in time anyone could go any where they pleased, except of course on base. A newer, wider bridge over Talofofo River was built, to be replaced several times as the years went by.

But isn't it true that there is a kind of an invisible border still, once you pass Talofofo river, or Hågat on the other side of the island, and enter the deep South. I used to live there, and I always enjoyed the feeling of being in a less rushed, more peaceful and more neighborly part of Guam.

Thursday, November 7, 2019


From Malesso' to Folsom Prison to Gold Rush Country

He was from Guam and he went by more than one name.

Ben Walkins G. Joseph
Ben WG Joseph
Ben Joseph
Benjamin Joseph

The Walkins is really Watkins, a family that was started on Guam by an Englishman named William Watkins who settled on Guam around 1824 and married a Chamorro woman. William Watkins had some children, but the male line died out and the women married so the surname died out that way, too.

His Social Security information states that his father was John Warquin (Watkins) and his mother was María Borja. There was, in fact, a couple living in Malesso' in 1897, Juan Pangelinan Watkins and María Borja. The problem is - they had no children!

What they did have were relatives, on María's side, it seems, living with them. None of them have Watkins in their names. The youngest of the group is Vicente Borja, 13 years old in 1897. But remember that people in those days were very casual about dates. So this is very likely Ben, as Ben is a common Anglo nickname for Vicente. Ben's documents say he was born on August 14, 1887, so he'd be 10 years old in 1897. Not a big difference.

In the 1897 Guam census, Vicente has no maternal surname. He's just Vicente Borja. This suggests that he was illegitimate. Why isn't he being raised by his mother, a Borja? Maybe she had passed? So here we see some shadows of things to come. The boy is starting off life with some challenges already. Later in life, he credits the old folks who raised him, Juan Watkins and María Borja, as his father and mother.

And yet....he flees.

In 1907, or at the age of 20, he arrives in the United States. He could have left Guam even earlier, and went here and there before moving definitively to California. Like so many of the other Chamorro men who moved to the US, he used a different name from his own. Several versions, in fact. I don't know how he settled on "Joseph" for a surname.

Ah the poor lad. He then made a horrible mistake. Just the following year, in San Mateo, California, he committed murder.

Very common for Chamorros back then

His victim was a Chinese merchant named Wong Ying Gim. Ben and Mr Wong lived in the same place, the cabin of a Mrs Nettie Harrison in Fair Oaks, a neighborhood of Redwood City south of San Mateo. It was Chinese New Year's, February of 1908, and Wong and Ben went to the Chinese neighborhood of nearby Menlo Park to celebrate and indeed they did. They had a lot to drink. When they got home, they argued, as drunk people often do. It was an argument about taking a trip to San Francisco, and Ben lost his cool. Unfortunately, deadly instruments were at hand. A club, a knife and a razor. Ben used all three. With the razor, he almost cut Wong's head clean off his neck. Blood was everywhere.

Ben ran, all the way to Oakland, across the Bay.

But another Chinese man, a relative of Wong, knew that Ben lived with Wong and may have also seen the two together that night at the Chinese New Year's celebration. The Chinese community of the area got the action started. They put reward money together and offered it to whoever might track the murderer down. Then they tasked Wong's relative to get on Ben's trail and never let go till police apprehended him. The man knew what Ben looked like, so it was a matter of time. The man spotted Ben in Oakland and called the police. Ben was arrested. Ben also confessed, making the police department's job a lot easier. Ben was sentenced to life imprisonment at Folsom State Prison.

And yet....he was released after just 8 years and 8 months.

In the 1920 census, Ben is living in a small town called Gridley in northern California, north of Sacramento, doing manual labor. For the census, he told the enumerators that he was from the Philippines and was 31 years old, which makes his birth year 1889. Like many others, he wasn't bothered by accuracy!

By 1930 he had moved to his more or less permanent home. Placer County, California. Gold rush country. Once again he told enumerators that he was from the Philippines and his stated age gave him a birth year of 1886, rather than 1887.

In 1944, he asked for and got a full pardon for his crime.

Ben lived many more years after that, remaining in Placer County. As he got out of prison after such a short time, when he had been sentenced to life, I'm not surprised that Ben avoided going back to San Mateo or the Bay Area. His victim's relatives and friends were still there. I don't think they would've been happy to know Mr Wong's murderer served such a short term.

Ben passed away on August 30, 1968 at 81 years of age. He was buried in the public cemetery in Roseville, in a grave marked Benito "Ben" Joseph, giving yet another variation on his name.

Apparently, Ben never married and never had children. He probably worked very humble jobs. One was at the Pacific Fruit Express plant, which transported farm products in refrigerated cars, at one time the largest network of refrigerated rail cars in the world.

But he managed to live to 81. Who attended his funeral? Did he connect with any Chamorros before his life was over? By the 1960s, there were a decent number of Chamorros living in the Sacramento area, not far from Placer. Had Ben made any contact whatsoever with relatives on Guam? So many unknowns in Ben's mysterious life from tropical Malesso' to the wooded hills of Placer County.

In this draft registration in the 1940s, Ben says he was from Guam in the Philippines!

In an earlier draft registration for World War I, Ben adds Watkins to his name and fudges his birth date again. One day off and if that says 1889 then two years off.

Ben also says he was born in Luzon, the Philippines! And is of the Malayan race.

He also says his work at the time was growing rice for a company in Gridley. Gridley and the surrounding area was, and is, a rice growing region. And so was Malesso'. So Ben probably had some rice farming experience already.

If I ever meet you in the afterlife, Ben, I'd ask you the questions I've already posed here, and a final one. What did the G stand for in your name Ben WG Joseph?

Rest in peace, Ben.


I'm old enough to remember the days when people would ask me where I was from and when I'd answer "Guam," they'd reply, "Where is Guam?"

That was in the 1970s and even 80s. Can you imagine 1900?

So many Chamorros just didn't bother with the hassle of explaining. Many Chamorros just said they were Spanish or Filipino.

Monday, November 4, 2019


People on Guam were able to enjoy imported German beer very early in the American administration, at least for a year or so.

A German entrepreneurial adventurer from Dresden named Paul Ferdinand Gustav Dachsel was already in business selling German beer on Guam in 1905. He sold it out of a restaurant he ran on Calle de la Soledad in Hagåtña called the Palm Garden. He served German beer in his restaurant, but he also sold beer to other businesses and private customers.

He sold German beer to the Hiki Trading Company, a Japanese business which probably sold the beer retail in its store. He sold beer to the Service Club for military patrons and also to two private clubs for the American colony on Guam, the Agaña Club and the Civil Club. He supplied the hospital mess hall with beer and one of his private customers was none other than Padre José Palomo, who once bought 200 pesos worth of beer. Be aware that a case of beer cost 14 pesos. Either Palomo liked beer or entertained a lot of guests, or both.

Dachsel bought the beer in Yokohama, Japan and had it shipped down to Guam.

Some of the specific brands he sold were Kaiser Pilsner, Kieler Tafelbier (a "table beer" lower in alcohol than the others) and Hofbrau München.

Prior to coming to Guam, Dachsel had tried to make a go of farming in Saipan in 1904, after hearing from Hermann Costenoble, the first German private citizen to move to Saipan in 1903 to seek his fortune. Both Dachsel and Costenoble experienced the opposite, having disagreements with the German colonial authorities and soon leaving Saipan for American Guam.

Whereas Costenoble stayed on Guam for a while, Drachsel didn't. By 1908 he was running a restaurant in China, in the port city of Tsingtao which the Germans controlled. If you've ever heard of a Chinese beer called Tsingtao, now you may have figured it out. That brand was founded by German and British businessmen in Tsingtao, China.

Another brand sold by Drachsel on Guam

Thursday, October 31, 2019


Even today, despite much Americanization and loss of the older culture, a Chamorro funeral is not quite the same as a funeral in the US mainland. Unless, of course, the funeral in the US mainland is that of a Chamorro; then it is possible, to some extent, to have the same feel there as a Chamorro funeral in the Marianas.

But many people are not aware of all the aspects of the old-time Chamorro funerals.

Take, for example, the way children were buried a hundred and more years ago.

To give us a little glimpse of that, let's hear from the pen of a German Catholic missionary in Saipan, writing around the year 1910. What he describes would have applied to Guam, as well, since the Chamorros in Saipan originated in Guam. Some of them in 1910 would have just moved from Guam to Saipan a few years before. And, the missionaries on Guam during the same period have the same things to say about children's funerals on Guam as this German missionary says.

Before I share what he said, a few remarks are necessary to prepare you for it :


1. This is written from a foreigner's perspective, so expect him to be shocked by what you and I may have considered completely normal had we lived 100 years ago. That's just human nature. You and I do the same this very day. If we were to watch old news clips of the days when Russian Communist leaders, all male, sometimes kissed on the lips, you and I would be shocked and we might come up with some very inaccurate conclusions about what we just saw. So when a German missionary describes Chamorro customs, keep that in mind.

2. Our Chamorro grandparents and great grandparents were very knowledgeable about Catholic teaching concerning the death of a baptized child. According to Catholic belief, a baptized child is free of Original Sin, the sin of Adam and Eve which closed the door of heaven to the human race. Since the child is not old enough to commit his or her own sins (lying, stealing and so on), the child is not guilty of sin that would send him or her to hell, nor even Purgatory which a place of purification for those who die in the state of grace but who need cleansing from imperfections. The baptized child who dies goes straight to heaven and is like an angel. Thus, there should be happiness that the child is in the perfect joy of heaven. Furthermore, there is no need to pray for the soul of the child.

Our great grandparents expressed this happiness that a child has entered heaven in a manner that faded in time, such that even you and I would find it strange, as you will see when you read on.

3. What follows now is a LOOSE TRANSLATION of the German article written by Father Gallus Lehmann in 1910 about the funeral of a child in Saipan. It is not an exact translation since my knowledge of German doesn't allow it to be exact. But, I can assure you it is faithful to the general ideas expressed by Father Gallus.

German Father Gallus and some children of Saipan

by Father Gallus, OFM Cap

Surely one of the most good natured people living on this bumpy world are the Chamorros in the Mariana Islands. They do not make life difficult for themselves or for others. In all circumstances they know how to find their way quickly and contentedly. The Europeans often want to envy this people on account of their adaptability. While we Nordic civilized people ponder, grumble and worry about unavoidable occurrences, there the Chamorro goes quickly to the day's affairs, with the same indifferent attitude as if nothing had happened.

But please, do not misunderstand me. My flock here is not stupid and cold, without any thinking. We'll hear right away when people feel an obligation to show feelings and thoughts. It doesn't especially take a long time to get to the heart. This is shown particularly when there is a death in the family.

How deeply does it cut into the soul of a European at the passing of a dear one! The tear, the wound in the heart often does not heal after years. When I tell this to a Chamorro, they find it hard to believe. He says: why? People have to die, no one can change that; there is nothing to wonder about if the wife, a child or a brother passes away.

Thus is his behavior when it comes to death. Especially when a child dies, he loves to hear some more cheerful music. A typical case is mentioned here.

My neighbor over on the other side of the street experienced the death of  a two-year-old child. At the moment of death, the mother let out a loud scream heard on all sides. That was more or less "official." That scream was to let the neighbors know that someone had died. (1)

It was soon seen that the sadness, though, was not so deep. Because dead bodies rapidly decay in the tropics, they are buried soon, usually in the first 8 to 12 hours, and so it was in this case. (2)

The father of the child immediately set to work to make a coffin. He did that in the same room where the dead child lay. The sawing, planing, tapping, testing was all done in the presence of the mother. She looked on, with a double-sized cigar, (3) going in and out, chatting with whoever about the most mundane things of this world. Much less did the coffin maker display his emotion.

In the evening at 5 o'clock was the funeral. At the house, the clergyman and his five altar boys picked up the body. The interior of the Chamorro hut was full of grieving women, mostly relatives. The men were outside. The corpse was blessed in the usual way, and now four children were getting ready to carry the deceased to the cemetery. (4)

At this moment, the custom appeared as it always has to for the mother to show her emotions a second time, in a totally pagan manner. (5) When the four children put the stretcher on their shoulders, the mother raised a wild howl, waving her hands in the air. Then with her disheveled but beautiful, coal-black hair, she gestured as if to throw herself out the window. The relatives held her back, trying to calm her. Of course, the fuel was already in the fire of tragedy and she behaved even more desperately, calling her child all sorts of nicknames and....then suddenly the soothing funeral music.

This consisted of 3 violins, a triangle, a beat up drum and an accordion. So these 6 musicians were doing their best to give the funeral a different look. They succeeded completely. They played with an airy touch, "I must, I must leave the town."  (6) Yes, that's what they played. I could not believe my ears when I first heard it. Since then I am as used to hearing it as I was used to hearing Chopin's famous funeral march. I had to exert all my power to keep serious.

When the song was over (they played it a few times), the noble musicians then played an even funnier waltz, making the listener itch visibly in the feet. (7)

And so it ended at the cemetery, under cheerful wise men, the dead child was tucked into the earth. Meanwhile, this little one is smiling up in the sky, shaking his head as he looks down on this strange funeral.


(1) Chamorro women traditionally (even before European contact) expressed emotions at the death of a family member in very loud and dramatic ways, as can be seen also in many other cultures. Some people think it can be just a lot of show, at times. It is suggested by Fr Gallus that, in this case, the loud screaming was a way of notifying the neighborhood that someone had just died. It was a custom to leave the house lights on all night, inside and out. When people passed by at 2AM to see a house all lit up, it was a sign that there was a death in that house. Since in this case the child during the day, a scream was needed.

(2) Thus not even a funeral Mass was celebrated many times in the old days. This was because the body had to be buried soon, and one couldn't wait till the next day to arrange a Mass. A priest could be called more quickly for a simple burial. In those days, too, the priest had to say Mass early in the morning (4AM even) because the rules for fasting before Mass or communion were more strict than today. From midnight on, a priest could not even drink water before saying Mass. So a funeral Mass at 1PM was unthinkable.

(3) Many foreign observers in the 1800s mentioned the particular fondness Chamorro women had for smoking cigars. They didn't mention the men (who also smoked, but the women stood out). The tobacco was grown locally.

(4) Apparently an old custom was for children to carry the corpse of a child to the cemetery.

(5) Fr Gallus is using a judgment here, calling the wild actions of the mother "pagan" or "unchristian." Christian grief is supposed to be tempered by hope in the resurrection. Those who do not believe in the resurrection from the dead through Christ's resurrection (the pagans) can go overboard all they want, but the Christian can't. But there is something cultural, not theological, going on here Fr Gallus may not have been attuned to.'

(6) The shock is that the Chamorro musicians were playing a totally non-religious German folk song at a funeral. Here are some of the words of that song :

Do I have to, have to

Leave the city, leave the city
And you, my dear, stay here
When I come, when I come
When I come again, come again
I come, my dear, to your house
Can't I be with you for a while right away
I really enjoy you
When I come, When I come
When I come again, come again
I come, my dear, to your house.

No one was singing any words to the song, but Fr Gallus knew what the song was! Here's a link to the song. I'm sure some of you will recognize the tune, known by the English version "Wooden Heart," and that it has been put to Chamorro words.

What happened at this burial was not an isolated event. Even on Guam, the Spanish Capuchin missionaries who first came to the island in 1901 complained that church choirs were playing non-religious, secular songs that didn't belong in church. 

(7) Meaning the waltz was so lively it made the listener want to dance (itchy in the feet). Perhaps Fr Gallus so some people tapping their feet as the band played on at the funeral.

Monday, October 28, 2019


The well-known singer Candy Taman took the Beatles' original Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da and gave it a Chamorro twist, making it a song about an åpbladora, a woman who talks too much and who talks about other people's business.

The word åpbladot (for a man) or åpbladora (for a woman) is borrowed from the Spanish, based on the Spanish word hablar which means "to talk." We also get from there the word åpbladurías, meaning "gossip, rumor, hearsay."

Humånao yo' machocho tåftaf gi ega'an;
(I went to work early in the morning;)
gaige i asaguå-ho gi besino.
(my wife was at the neighbor's.)
Tinane' de umåpbla yan si kumaire
(She was occupied gossiping with comadre)
ya i gimå'-ña mampos mutung kochino.
(and her house was overly stinking dirty.)

Obladi oblada åpbladora.
(Obladi oblada gossiper.)
Ti måtto tåtte gi ora.
(She didn't come back on time.)

Sige de tumånges sa' ma trompåda;
(She kept crying because she was punched;)
todo man ma botcha matå-ña.
(all her face was swollen.)
Trinikos ni asaguå-ña sa' ha såsångan
(She was hit in the face by her husband because she was saying)
i mina' tres na påtgon otro tatå-ña.
(the third child had a different father.)

Obladi oblada åpbladora.
(Obladi oblada gossiper.)
Hågo lao pot mudora.
(You alone are stupid.)

Yanggen esta tåya' para un cho'gue, kieto.
(If you already have nothing to do, keep still.)
Maolek-ña un fama'gågåsi masea un fan lålåkse.
(Better for you to be washing or sewing.)

Maolek-ña mo'n pendeha ennao un cho'gue;
(It would be better silly for you to do that;)
laksiye famagu'on magågo.
(sew the children clothes.)
Tulaika i kostumbre-mo båsta umåpbla
(Change your ways, stop gossiping)
sa' i probecho puro ha' para hågo.
(because the benefits are all yours.)

Obladi oblada åpbladora.
(Obladi oblada gossiper.)
Hågo ha' bai adora.
(You alone I will adore.)


(1) Kumaire comes from the Spanish word comadre, or co-mother. The mother of a baby and the godmother of that baby are co-mothers or kumaire. But in this song the lady isn't necessarily gossiping with her kumaire. Kumaire can mean, at times, a woman with whom you are close, as if you both are kumaire.

(2) The idea here is that the lady is gossiping about other people's dirty laundry and yet her own house is filthy because she neglects her duties in order to gossip with others.

(3) I am unsure if these lines refer to the gossiping lady, or do these lines represent the kind of gossip she engages in? In any case, the first two lines talk about a lady, I assume, being physically abused; she is crying because she is punched and her eyes are all swollen. Why? Possibly on account of the next two lines. Her husband has been deceived because the third child is not his but another man's.

(4) She should give up gossiping because she herself will benefit, not just those she is gossiping about.

(5) "You alone I will adore," is meant sarcastically. A gossip makes everyone else look bad, as if he or she is perfect and worthy of adoration.

Monday, August 26, 2019


One of my favorite singers of Marianas music

A song of blessing for someone leaving home. This happens a lot in the Marianas. People leave for the military. People leave for work in the US. Some come back; many never do.

Si nanå-mo un inecha (1) bendision-mo (2)
(May your mother pour your blessing on you)
masea måno hao guato.
(wherever you may go.)
I Saina-ta un binendise gi karerå-mo.
(The Lord bless you on your journey.)

Karerå-mo ti u chågo';
(May your journey not be far;)
fottunå-mo siempre un sodda'.
(may you surely find your fortune.)
I Saina-ta un binendise gi karerå-mo.
(The Lord bless you on your journey.)

I karerå-mo i atdao u inina;
(May the sun illumine your path;)
kåten påharo siha gi aire;
(the cry of the birds in the air;)
freskon månglo' siempre un guinaife
(a cool breeze blow on you)
masea måno hao guato.
(wherever you may go.)

Todo gåtbo siempre guinifi-mo;
(May your dream surely be all beautiful;)
tåya' siempre parehu-ña.
(surely it will have no equal.)
I Saina-ta un binendise gi karerå-mo.
(The Lord bless you on your journey.)


1) Echa. Comes from the Spanish word echar, meaning "to chase out, fire from work" but also "to pour out." So "echa bendision" means "to pour out a blessing."

2) The traditional expression is "Si nanå-mo un inecha bendision-ña." "Her blessing," because she is pouring on you a blessing from her.