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