Monday, March 30, 2020



Around 1860 or so (we can't be totally sure when because he gave different ages for himself through the years), a Chamorro-American boy was born on the island of Pagan.

In those days, all the Marianas were one political unit. Before the Spaniards came, all our islands, though not governed by a single king, chief or maga'låhe, were nevertheless one Chamorro homeland. There were no borders between our islands. Only in 1898 did the Americans take Guam alone, separating it from the rest of the Marianas.

In the 1850s, people believed much money could be made in Pagan and in some of the other northern islands, especially in the copra trade.

Chamorros and Carolinians from Guam and, later on, Saipan and a few from Luta and Tinian, went up to Pagan, employees of several companies that won rights from the government to make copra in Pagan. These efforts lasted a few years then shut down, everyone returning to their home islands. Only till much later did a small, permanent community of Chamorros and Carolinians form on Pagan.

Thomas San Nicolás Payne was the son of an American (so he says in the 1920 census) and a Chamorro mother, it seems, by the last name of San Nicolás. I wouldn't be surprised if father Payne went up to Pagan, wife in tow, to work on the copra plantations there and returned to Guam after a short while.

In a court case in 1911, Payne testified as a witness and gave this information about himself. Note that even in 1911 Chamorros were still calling themselves in the Spanish fashion, stating their father's surname first, then their mother's.

Payne was married to Ana Ulloa Aguon (familian Makaka') and his descendants live to this day.

Thomas San Nicolás Payne's signature in 1911

(Traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Un niño chamorro-americano nació en la isla de Pagan, alrededor de 1860 (no podemos estar totalmente seguros de cuándo, debido a que él se dio diferentes edades a lo largo de los años).

En aquellos días, todas las Marianas eran una unidad política. Antes de la llegada de los españoles, todas nuestras islas, aunque no estaban gobernadas por un solo rey, jefe o maga'låhe, eran, sin embargo, una patria común para los chamorros. No había fronteras entre nuestras islas. No fue hasta 1898 cuando los estadounidenses tomaron Guam separándola del resto de las Marianas.

En la década de 1850, la gente creía que se podía ganar mucho dinero en Pagan y en algunas de las otras islas del norte, especialmente en el comercio de la copra.

Chamorros y carolinos de Guam y, más tarde, Saipan y algunos de Luta y Tinian, se acercaron a Pagan, empleados en varias compañías que obtuvieron los derechos del gobierno para la copra. Estos esfuerzos duraron unos años y luego se cerraron, todos regresaron a sus islas de origen. Fue mucho más tarde cuando se formó una pequeña comunidad permanente de chamorros y carolinos en Pagan.

Thomas Payne San Nicolás era hijo de un estadounidense (eso dice en el censo de 1920) y de una madre chamorra, al parecer, por el apellido de San Nicolás. No me sorprendería que el padre, Payne se hubiera acercado a Pagan, para trabajar en las plantaciones de copra y regresara a Guam después de un tiempo.
En un caso judicial en 1911, Payne testificó como testigo y dio esta información sobre sí mismo. Tengamos en cuenta que incluso en 1911 los chamorros todavía se llamaban al estilo español, indicando primero el apellido de su padre, y luego el de su madre.

Tomás Payne San Nicolás. ¿Cuántos años tiene? 54 años. ¿Está usted soltero o casado? Casado. ¿Dónde nació usted? Nací en la Isla de Pagan, Marianas. ¿Dónde tiene su residencia? En Agaña, Guam, Marianas.

Friday, March 27, 2020


Humånao si José para u ali'e' yan i mediku-ña.

Mediko : José! Håfa na dies libras hao mås makkat ke ni ma'pos na biåhe. Hu tågo' hao para un "exercise!"

José : Ai lokkue'. Pine'lo-ko, Doc, na ilek-mo "Extra rice."

José went to his doctor's appointment.

Doctor : Jose! Why are you ten pounds heavier than the last time. I told you to exercise!

José : Oh dear. I thought, Doc, you said, "Extra rice."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


We're used to thinking of Aniguak as just a section of Hagåtña and today it legally is.

But not so in the old days.

At one time, Aniguak had its own civil officials under the Spanish government. As one can see in the map above, made around 1913, there was actual empty space between Aniguak and Hagåtña in those days and before.

But the separation was not only legal or geographical. It was also social.

Despite the fact that we resent being looked down on for coming from the Marianas, many Chamorros have no problem marking other Chamorros because they come from a different village, island and even social class.

For Chamorros in Hagåtña, where 2/3 of the entire island lived for a lot of the time, everyone on Guam who lived outside of the capital city was GI SENGSONG.

GI means "at" and in this sense "from." Sengsong is from SONGSONG, meaning "village."

Additionally, people could be called after the village or island they were from. Someone from Luta (Rota) was called Gi Lita.

Someone from Yoña was Gi Ye'ña. From Sumay was Gi Simay. And so on.

It's also the case that people from Hagåtña were called by others Gi Hagåtña.

In many cases, people didn't mean any insult at all when calling someone Gi Lita or Gi Simay or what have you. But people from those places could be sensitive and be offended by being called such because, at times, it was meant as a put-down.

People from the rural villages and other islands sometimes felt judged as "lower" in status by Hagåtña people.

In 1911, we see a case where someone from the villages was labeled such, and it was clearly meant as a put-down.

Ana and Manuel had neighboring farms in Yigo, and they would butt heads periodically. Stray cows wandering into the other's fields, for example. Ana was from Hagåtña, and Manuel was from Aniguåk. Even though Aniguåk was literally a five-minute walk from the edge of Hagåtña, the social distance was greater than several hundred yards.

In one verbal argument between the two, Ana said,

"Ai ke puñetero. På'go un gi Aniguåk yo' u na' kieto gi lugåt-ho."
("What a nuisance. Now someone from Aniguak is going to put me in my place.")

"Tatpalo i taotao Aniguåk."
("Aniguak people are useless.")

Manuel said in reply :

"Hågo maolek ni gi Hagåtña; po'lo ha' yo' yan i gi Aniguåk-ho."
("You are good who are from Hagåtña; leave me be and my being from Aniguåk.")

Manuel showed, by his remark, that he was totally comfortable being from Aniguåk.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


during the Occupation 1942 or 1943

Some of the very hardships we are enduring now that the corona virus has made its appearance on Guam are the same hardships our elders endured during the Japanese Occupation (December 1941 to July 1944).

But the hardships may surprise you.

What we call "history" is often myth; a mixture of truth and untruth.

One such myth of the Japanese Occupation is that it was all misery and torture, starvation and massacre.

It wasn't.

As many an elder who went through the Occupation told me, "The worst part was the beginning and the end. The big middle was okay."

And it should make sense. When the Japanese first took over the island and then later when they struggled to keep the island, that's when the Japanese were the most brutal. But once the island was completely theirs and the nearest American was thousand of miles away, the Japanese could relax. They were human, too, and wanted to have as stress-free a day as possible and enjoy life. And when the Japanese relaxed, the Chamorro could, too. To some extent.

And so, one elder, who was 14 or 15 years old during the Occupation, said to me, "The hardest thing for us about the Japanese Occupation was the BOREDOM."

Doesn't that sound like a lot of what we're facing now? As schools are closed? When people avoid the movies? As Tumon is a ghost town?

This lady who told me about the boredom of the Occupation knew first-hand the miseries of war. She and her teenage sisters were physically and sexually abused by Japanese guards at Mañenggon. Her mother was an emotional mess worrying that her daughters would be raped (they weren't). Her younger brother got hit by American shrapnel and almost lost his foot. But that was at the end of the Occupation, she says, when the Japanese went crazy knowing they were going to die. But for all of 1942 and 1943, the main difficulty she said was boredom.

Here are three of those difficulties in a bit more detail :


The people were free to practice their religious devotions at home, but what the people really missed was Mass. Although Fathers Dueñas and Calvo said daily Mass, their Masses were not accessible to the majority. Father Dueñas said Mass mainly in Inarajan. Father Calvo said Mass mainly in his family chapel in Chochogo' in Toto. But this wasn't the same as the thousands who filled up the entire Hagåtña Cathedral, the large Santa Cruz church and all the smaller churches and chapels of Guam before the war.

The vast majority of people could not attend Mass at all for two and a half years, and they felt the sting of it. We're going through the same thing under the corona virus pandemic. Public Masses are suspended and many people feel the loss.

But it wasn't just Mass. It was the lack of interaction with the clergy and people. Church was also a setting which afforded social interaction. Various people were in charge of this or that. Techas lead the prayers. Lay teachers taught the catechism. People sang in the choir. Bachelors looked for their sweet hearts and tried to talk to them after Mass. Church was a key meeting point of many people on Guam. And it was gone for two and half years.

And it wasn't just Sunday Mass, or even just daily Mass. First Communions and Confirmations had to wait or were done without fanfare. Weddings were also celebrated with less festivity and fancy attire, if celebrated at all. Burials were done quickly and sometimes without the benefit of a priest.

Gone for that period were the fiestas that were observed with decorated arches and solemn processions, then by festive dinners in the homes.

Besides the absence of spiritual consolation, the lack of religious activities helped bring about great boredom for many people.

With a ban today on any gathering exceeding 50 persons, think of the implications for people wanting to celebrate funerals, death anniversaries, rosaries for the dead, christenings and so on. We face the same hardship as in 1942.


Nearly half the people living on Guam in 1941 resided in Hagåtña, a tightly compact city where some 10,000 people were squeezed in among houses, stores, bars, restaurants and offices. The capital was always busy with activity. To get anywhere inside the city, one just needed to walk. People were always visiting each other. Among the Naval officers and the local elite, parties and dinners, complete with live music and dancing, would be written up in the Guam Recorder monthly magazine.

The lady who told me about the boredom of the Occupation was from one such elite Chamorro family. She was used to going, even as a teenager, to dinners and parties where her influential father rubbed elbows with military brass and local statesiders who married Chamorro women. They dressed up, sang songs and danced. Stories, jokes and gossip took hours to relate.

That was mostly taken away during the Occupation. The military brass, of course, was deported but so were the local statesiders married to Chamorro wives. Even many of the elite Chamorros no longer had stores to run, since no goods were being shipped in to stock shelves. High ranking Chamorros sitting at desks in the American government were mostly now out of a job. So, almost all the local men, both high and low, had to survive by going back to the land and sea. People were too busy growing their food to carry on social events to the same extent they did before the war.

People had to be careful, too, about gathering in numbers or in circumstances that aroused Japanese suspicions. Ears and eyes were always on the lookout for anti-Japanese activities, real or imagined. With such fear and concern around, people didn't gather as much as they did before the war.

We're going through the same thing today. We're being told to keep three feet away from others, some even inside the same house. Gatherings of over 50 people are prohibited by the government. People aren't dropping by friends' homes for casual visits. And we've only just begun. Unless things change dramatically, we'll be sitting at home a lot for the next month. Now we know what the lady meant when she said boredom was the main difficulty of the Occupation.

Social events, and the American music often played at them, mostly disappeared


Despite Japanese reports and statistics during the Occupation, Guam's children didn't get much schooling during that period.

Japanese reports state that schools were running and teaching roughly 80% of the same number of school kids as prewar times.

But the older people would have told you that any schooling they had during the Occupation was brief and passing.

Even the Japanese reports have to admit the fact that classes were mainly to teach the children basic Japanese vocabulary, with lots of singing, physical exercise and social etiquette involved.

Brighter students who seemed to learn Japanese quicker than others were selected to undergo more vigorous language training in order to become Japanese teachers themselves one day. These managed to pick up some good command of the language, but the majority of Guam's children remained as incapable of carrying on a full conversation in Japanese after the war as they were before the war. 

Today, our school children have to stay at home, many of them complaining of the boredom. The difference now is that the older ones can still do their school work online.

during the Occupation
but classes were brief and passing

So as we "suffer" endless hours mindlessly scrolling on our phones, or searching for more engaging videos on Youtube, let us remember, "This is what grandma went through in 1942." Except that she didn't have Youtube.

So when people say our crisis today is "unprecedented," that it's the worst we've ever been through, the point can be debated, but one thing remains clear. Our parents and grandparents went through the Japanese Occupation which, besides the whipping, rape and murders for a lot of our people, did include a whole lot of boredom. There is a precedence for what we're going through now.

Monday, March 16, 2020



Not only did we have a word for QUARANTINE in the old days, we also had a place for it.

Due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) situation on Guam, some incoming passengers to the island will have to undergo mandatory quarantine, while others will have to self-isolate at home.

The English word quarantine comes from the Italian word for "forty," quaranta. Because of the Black Death, the port city of Venice in Italy mandated a waiting period of forty days for newcomers to enter the city. It was believed forty days were enough for a disease to manifest in the person, who would then not be allowed in and infect others. For forty days, the person had to stay on the ship or reside temporarily at a nearby residence by the port, but still outside the city proper.

So from the Italian word for "forty," quaranta, we get the English word quarantine.

Well, since we were under the Spanish, we used the Spanish word for it - cuarentena, and in Chamorro with a K - KUARENTENA.


Some people ask why we call it Cabras ISLAND when it doesn't look like an island. It seems connected to Piti.

Now it is, by a man-made bridge. But, in the old days, Cabras was really an island, unconnected to the main island of Guam and completely surrounded by water on all sides.

Thus, being so close to the landing pier at Punta Piti, where passengers and cargo who arrived into Apra Harbor landed, and yet separated by water, Cabras Island was a perfect place for a quarantine station where passengers suspected of having some disease could reside until they were all cleared, or had to get back on the ship and never land.

Cabras, by the way, is the Spanish name for the island. Cabras means "goats." The Chamorro name for the island is Apapa.

In 1910, the German head of the Catholic Mission of the Marianas, which at the time included Guam, was not allowed to even step foot on Guam by the American Navy, so he had to hang out for a brief time at the Cabras Quarantine Station till he found a ride up to Saipan. Rome had put Guam under the rule of German priests, but the Spanish-attached Chamorro people of Guam and the American Navy did not want German priests here.

His name was Father Paulus of Kirchhausen, and you can see in the picture above he gave permission ("Imprimatur") for the publication of a Catholic book for use in the Marianas on June 19, 1910 writing from Apapa, the Chamorro name for Cabras Island, where he was in detention at the Quarantine Station till he was forced to go back to Saipan.

The Cabras Quarantine Station was destroyed, along with almost everything else, in the American bombardment of Guam in 1944. But, many years later, when more building projects on Cabras necessitated field studies of the area, the remains of the foundations of the Cabras Quarantine Station were found and are probably still there.

Notice, not connected to the main island

Thursday, March 12, 2020



made by Rose San Nicolás

Before the modern age of salaries and minimum wages, how did many of our people make money?

If you're 50 years or older, you remember the almost daily voice of children going door-to-door in the village selling food made by their mothers or grandmothers : empanåda, donuts, buchi buchi and a dozen more things.

But in the old days, besides selling ready-made food or products, our people sold raw materials; things more or less in their natural state.

Just to give you an idea, the following is taken from statements made in court by witnesses about how they earned some cash in the early 1900s. Things sold included some products using human skill, and many things just from mother nature.

Manuel, a single man still in his early 20s, sold the following, sometimes partnering with his father :

Copra - the dried meat of the coconut. This was, depending on the period, in high demand. It was the oil contained therein that was marketable. The oil was used in cosmetics, soaps, candles, cooking and many other purposes. Agents, often Japanese, would buy from local farmers and send off to Japan and elsewhere. Copra was a great money-maker for even the poorest Chamorro in those days. At other times, for different reasons such as over-production, the price of copra fell on the world market and local producers were less inclined to make copra.

Corn - the main staple of the Marianas until imported rice overtook it. It was mainly used to make titiyas but could be made into soups and other dishes.

Monggos - the mung bean.



Mañåhak - the juvenile rabbit fish. This fish was seasonal but in great demand. It was prepared in several ways and could be eaten whole without worrying about the tiny bones.

Marcela, just 16 years old, being smaller in frame, sold things she was better suited to make or harvest.

Rope - Our islands had the resources to make ropes and cords locally. Fibers from the coconut tree or from the pågo (wild hibiscus) plant, besides other plants, were used. Her older sister and sometimes her brother would help her operate the crank which twisted the fiber strands into rope. Marcela sometimes sold the fibers alone and let the buyer make the rope him or herself.

Fadang - The nuts of this plant are so poisonous that one has to soak them in water and change the water repeatedly to get the poison out. If chickens drink the first water thrown out, they will die! Despite this danger, and the inferior flavor compared to corn and other foods, our elders used fadang to grind into a flour and then make titiyas when nothing else was available. The flour could also be used as a starch but it wasn't very white and its odor was not pleasant to most people. The flour could be made wet and used as a paste. To give you an idea how offensive fadang is, when used as a paste the insects would avoid the area where it was smeared.

Asiento (starch) - Starch can be made from a number of plants in the Marianas, but the most favored was gapgap. It produced a brilliant white starch. A white shirt was starched splendidly using gapgap. But starch could also be obtained from mendioka (tapioca) and other sources.

Dukduk - A variety of breadfruit.

Huto - These are the seeds of the dukduk tree and were boiled or roasted as a snack. Cooks of old prized the oil from these seeds.

Lemmai - Or breadfruit. When in season it was eaten in abundance in a variety of ways. It was cut into chips and dried (essok) for storage to enjoy it when the lemmai season was over.

Asiga (salt) - Families living near the sea could send the kids to bring home buckets of salt water, the further away from the beach the better. This was boiled to evaporate the water (the slower the boil the better) and leave behind the salt residue. This was then left out in the sun to bleach it as white as possible. Then the salt could be sold to families who, for whatever reason, couldn't make their own. It was used not only in cooking; it was also used to preserve meat.

Washing - Besides selling things obtained from the land, some of our female elders made money by washing people's laundry. A washerwoman was called a labandera, from the Spanish word for the same thing. Washing could be done at home or in the river or in the few public water troughs built by the Spaniards. Drying (ma tåla) could be done by spreading the clothes out on palm branches or woven mats put on wooden platforms or hung on a line. Ironing could be done using a charcoal-filled iron, using starch made from local plants. Some labandera were "under contract" to wash the clothes weekly of some American military officers.

Monday, March 9, 2020


My favorite line in this song recorded by Alfred Saures from Saipan is,

"Hu fa' eskusa un pugua' yan pupulu."

It means "I made betel nut and pepper leaf an excuse."

The man singing the song is attracted to a lady he has just seen for the first time. Apparently there is no one to introduce them, as he sees her at a social gathering. So, he goes up to her (and the friends she is with) and asks for a betel nut and pepper leaf. Just like people bum a cigarette off of others.

In the act of asking for betel nut, the guy can strike up a conversation with the woman he fancies. The betel nut was just a pretext, an excuse for making contact with her.

This is very cultural, and is vanishing. How many young people bum pugua' and pupulu off of others nowadays? Maybe still in the Northern Marianas, but less so on Guam.

Sumåsaonao yo' mangonne' taotao
(I went along bringing people)
para guato Memorial Hall.
(over there to Memorial Hall.)
Guaha masusede ya ti bai maleffa
(Something happened and I won't forget it)
sa' i eksperiensia sumen båli.
(because experience is very worthwhile.)

Annai todo monhåyan i okasion
(When the occasion all was finished)
eståba yo' yan i man ga'chong. (1)
(I was with companions.)
Annai hu atan guato gi halom homhom
(When I looked there into the darkness)
esta ti hu hongge i dos matå-ho.
(I couldn't believe my two eyes.)

Eståba gue' nai si neni lokkue' yan man ga'chong.
(Baby was there as well as with companions.)
Hu fa' eskusa un pugua' yan pupulu. (2)
(I made an excuse of betel nut and pepper leaf.)
Annai hu tungo' i na'ån-ña
(When I knew her name)
esta ti siña yo' nai kontento
(I already couldn't be content)
gi hinanao-ho yan gi maigo'-ho guihe na puenge.
(on my way and in my sleep that night.)

Maloffan dos semåna ni sikiera kåtta
(Two weeks passed and not even a letter)
masea dilingding telefon.
(not even a ring from the telephone.)
Bula hu siesiente tåddong gi korason
(I felt a lot deep in the heart)
pot ha' si neni man nanangga.
(waiting just for baby.)

Hu resibe kåtta man ma kombibida ham
(I received a letter inviting us)
para fiestan san kattan. (3)
(to a fiesta in the north.)
Annai tumunok yo' gi karetå-ho
(When I got down from my car)
såbe Dios sa' hu li'e' ta'lo. (4)
(God knows I saw her again.)


(1) Ga'chong. The literal meaning of ga'chong is companion. That is why we can ask someone what he or she is eating steak with; rice or potatoes? Håfa ga'chong-ña? But it can also mean "friend," in the sense that one is usually accompanied by friends and not strangers or enemies. "Friend" is more properly amigo (male) or amiga (female), or the indigenous word åbbok.

(2) Fa' eskusa. Fa' is a prefix meaning "to make." Eskusa is the verb "to excuse." Hu eskusa hao. I excuse you. Eskuso is the noun "excuse." Håfa eskusu-mo? What is your excuse? But, many times, speakers use the verb when they mean the noun. Everyone understands what is meant.

(3) San Kattan. The singer is from Saipan and there kattan is "north" whereas on Guam most people say lågo for north. The problem comes from the fact that, in Chamorro, we don't think of north, south, east and west. We think of towards the sea, away from the sea, to the left of the sea and to the right of the sea. Kattan means to the right of the sea. Lågo means towards the sea. So these words will take on different meaning, depending on where you, the speaker, are standing in relation to the sea. On the western shore of Saipan, where most of the population lives, to go "north" to Tanapag and San Roque, one goes to the right of the sea, thus kattan. It's the same in Humåtak, Guam. To go "north" from Humåtak to Hagåtña (or even Hågat) you go to the right of the sea, thus kattan again.

(4) Såbe Dios. A phrase borrowed directly from Spanish. It means "God knows." "God knows that I love you." Såbe Dios na hu guaiya hao. Or, if someone asks you a question and you don't know the answer, you can say, "Såbe Dios!" "God knows!' as in He's the only one who does.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020


It was because of a science project in 8th grade that I first came to know something more about the suruhåno and suruhåna (folk doctors) of our islands.

I chose for my topic traditional Chamorro medicine, made up mainly of herbs, flowers and roots, and put together by the suruhåno. So I asked an aunt to take me around to a few suruhåna to learn more about this art.

It was then that I learned, "We must choose our suruhåna carefully."

"What does that mean?" I asked. My aunt replied, "Some suruhåno have ga'chong. You can also say these suruhåno are gai' taotao. These are spirit friends who tell the suruhåno information that ordinarily cannot be known, or who give the suruhåna powers ordinary people do not have."

"Like what, for example?" I asked further.

"A suruhåno who had a taotao or a ga'chong could tell the person what he did exactly, and where, to anger the taotaomo'na (ancient spirits). That way the suruhåno can tell the person exactly where to go back and apologize to the taotaomo'na."

"Or, the ga'chong can give the suruhåno the power to heal, or catch an unusually large quantity of fish, or find a medicinal herb in the jungle hard to find."

But the main power of the suruhåno with a spirit friend, the reason why they were often sought out, even by practicing Catholics, is that these suruhåno with spirit friends could ask their spirit friend to lift the punishment inflicted on a person made sick for offending the taotaomo'na in the jungle or near rocks or latte stones or the trongkon nunu (banyan tree).

When western medicine didn't help, and when it was certain that the sick person, often young, misbehaved in those places known as sagan taotaomo'na (spirit places), or didn't ask permission to pass through the jungle or, worse yet, urinate in the jungle, parents were more convinced that a suruhåno with a spirit friend was needed.

So, the suruhåno would speak to his spirit friend as mentioned above. Sometimes, his taotaomo'na would have to fight with the taotaomo'na who made the person sick. If he prevailed, then the sick person got better. If he didn't beat the other taotaomo'na, the sick person stayed sick.

I once asked a practicing Catholic why she went to a suruhåno with a spirit friend, because her grandson was sick. "Ti isao i para ta gågao i taotaomo'na ni ayudu-ña?" "It's not a sin to ask the taotaomo'na for his help?"

She replied, "Ti guåho gumågao na i suruhåno. An isao pues isao-ña, ti isao-ho." "It wasn't I who asked, but the suruhåno. If it's a sin then it's his sin, not mine."

When people feel helpless and think they have no alternative, this is how they reason.


"But the suruhåno who agrees to receive the help of a ga'chong has to pay a price,: my aunt said.

"What is that?" I asked.

"That suruhåno has to give up God."

"Oh my!" I said with some fear.

"That is why," my aunt said, "we have to chose our suruhåno carefully."

And so I heard for the first time that there were some suruhåno who never went to church.

One suruhåno, who died just 20-some years ago, had a religious wife who made sure the whole family, even he, went to Mass on Sundays. While the whole family sat inside the church for Mass, he stayed outside the church, close enough to the front door to periodically see what was going on. This suruhåno said nothing bad about God, or religion or the church. He didn't try to dissuade anyone from their Catholic faith, and if he was conversing with someone and the other person spoke about God or prayer, this suruhåno would nod his head in agreement and utter some supportive words. But he himself sat outside for Mass.

He was the exception. Most suruhåno/suruhåna who had a spirit friend avoided going to the church altogether. If the suruhåno couldn't avoid going to church, let's say because it was the funeral of a close relative or friend, the suruhåno with a taotao or ga'chong just stayed outside the church door, looking in. He would never enter the church door.

In fact, it was said that there was this one suruhåno who, even if he attempted to put one foot inside the church, was physically prevented from entering, pushed back by an invisible force.

"Not all suruhåno are gai' taotao or gai' ga'chong," my aunt said. "And even some who have a spirit friend still go to church. But some who have a ga'chong, who have a spirit who tells them secrets and gives them power, some do not go to church. Because it's the devil's knowledge and power."


Besides the forsaking of Christianity, the gai taotao supposedly couldn't eat salt, either. They couldn't eat salty dishes, add salt to their food or dip fruits in salt as we often do. This might have something to do with the worldwide recognition of salt as a purifying agent which evil spirits detest.

Because the gai taotao communed with these spirits, there was a certain air or demeanor about them. You noticed right away that these suruhåno gave off a different feeling from ordinary people. They weren't the smiley type nor friendly in the normal way. They weren't belligerent either, but they were somewhat stoic and grave.

It was said that they couldn't look another man in the eye. They were often feared by their own people and by their neighbors. You kept a respectful distance from them.

They were usually willing to help you, and many people sought their help when a loved one, especially a child, was sick and western medicine didn't help. But even if your loved one got better, you didn't become best friends with the suruhåno who had a spirit friend. These suruhåno lived almost in a world of their own.


Just as knowledge of herbal medicine was often passed down from parent to child, in many cases, a suruhåno with a spirit friend tapped one of his sons to follow in his path. The father usually enticed the son to join him when the son was a teenager. Sometimes the son struggled with the offer, whether to accept or not.

If a son didn't follow his father's footsteps, the suruhåno might take another boy under his wings, again usually in his teen years. The suruhåno's spirit friend or friends would then also adopt the young man as their own.


Some people were really impressed by these suruhåno with ga'chong.

One man admitted this when he went to see a suruhåno because of a swollen foot. He thought it might be gout, but he never had gout before. Still, he went to a western clinic and got tested. His uric acid was fine. The pills he was given did nothing to alleviate the swelling and the pain. So, he decided to "go Chamorro" and "go suruhåno."

A certain suruhåno was recommended, one the suffering man had never met nor heard of. In fact, he had never gone to a suruhåno before. He met the suruhåno, who told him,

"Five Saturdays ago you parked at the back of Guam Memorial Hospital to visit someone in the hospital. You parked there because you couldn't find any other parking. As you parked, you felt the need to urinate. There was no one around. The sun was setting and it was getting dark. There were coral rocks in front of you, covered with tångantångan and other bushes. You thought you could easily pee there and no one would ever know. Nobody saw you, but the taotaomo'na were right there. You were urinating on their territory, and you didn't even ask permission. So they punished you with the swollen foot you have now."

The man's jaw hit the floor. How could this elderly suruhåno know this? Every detail was completely true! Other people are impressed by the suruhåno's identification of the ailment and the speedy cure of it.

But others would say, "They have knowledge and power, but from the devil. In the end, they get you into worse problems than the problems they cure."


If you needed more evidence, would you take it from an American Navy radioman who hid in Guam's jungles, avoiding capture by the Japanese, all due to the help he got from Chamorros, many of whom were punished and even killed?

If a man ever needed super human powers, it was George Tweed, often just an inch away from death at the hands of the Japanese.

And one Chamorro woman, probably having a crush on Tweed, was ever-ready to suggest a super human solution.

The story comes from Tweed himself, so take it for what it's worth. It is probably based on fact, but whether the story was embellished for the sake of book sales or not is anybody's guess.

The Chamorro lady of 19 was worried for Tweed. He needed to stay safe from the Japanese. Her uncle knew a man who had a ga'chong. The ga'chong gave this man the power to carry heavier loads and swim farther than other men.

These spirits, she said, were very powerful and could protect Tweed. The spirits could even hide Tweed so that the Japanese would never find him. Was she implying he could receive the power to suddenly become invisible to Japanese search parties? Stand right there and not be seen?

What must he do, Tweed asked? She replied, "Give up God and pray to the devil!"

This was a Chamorro girl speaking, certainly baptized Catholic. And yet this is what she told Tweed, according to him. Tweed declined her suggestion.

Even after almost 300 years of Catholic influence, not every Chamorro gave up old beliefs in spirits. Some even turned to demons, so it was said.

Contrary to what some think, the Spaniards did not make our Chamorro ancestors into little Spaniards. And not all of them became or remained genuine Christians.


Ga'chong in Chamorro means "companion." It does not really mean a friend, although many people think it does. But a friend can and does accompany his or her friends at times, so then the ga'chong is also an åbbok,  amigo or amiga (friend). When you see someone eating chicken but nothing else, you can ask the person eating, "Håfa ga'chong-ña i na'-mo månnok?" "What is the companion to your chicken?" Companion; not friend.

Taotao can mean "person" or "people." A suruhåno who is gai' taotao has the spirit of a person long-dead assisting him.

For some reason, it seems that more male suruhåno had spirit friends than female suruhåna, as far as I have heard all my life. Not that it's all suruhåno who have them.