Monday, December 13, 2021



They say that modern man doesn't know how to wait, and so we jump right into Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. In many homes, the Christmas tree comes down on December 26 and people find it odd when others continue to say "Merry Christmas" till January 6 or so.

We celebrate too early and we end it too early.

But the traditional Catholic way is to wait and to prepare, and then to extend the celebration of Christmas to January 6 (Three Kings) or later even.

Nothing told us kids growing up 50 or more years ago that Christmas was coming than to hear this song, Si José yan si María, being sung by the family kneeling before the family belen or nativity scene.

There are two melodies of this song. One, it is said, is older, perhaps we can say the original. The second, it is believed, is newer, and is the same melody used in a Saipan Christmas song, "Hingok i Dos na Saklestan." But, since we have no evidence one way or the other, which is the older, all we can say is that this is what people think or believe.

Here is the "older" melody.

Here is the "newer." I think this is the melody sung nowadays by most, but in my childhood it was the "older" melody that was sung more.


This song is meant to prepare us for the birth of Jesus. That story begins with the Annunciation by Archangel Gabriel to Mary at which Mary conceived Jesus in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not by man; the marriage of Joseph and Mary so that Mary would have the help of a husband and that Jesus would have a human foster father, and grow up in a normal family setting.

But Joseph had to take the pregnant Mary with him to his ancestral town of Bethlehem to register for the census, and it is there that Mary gave birth, fulfilling the prophecy.

So already we have the themes of a PILGRIM GOD, a God who leaves heaven and journeys to the earth, entering human life through the womb of Mary, which is like a gate for God to enter our world. In addition, the infant Jesus still in Mary's womb travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where He is born. So the refrain says "Oh Yu'us na pelegrino," "Oh Pilgrim God." We cannot go to God on our own power, so God comes down to us.

And when God comes to us, He doesn't receive a triumphant welcome. There is no room in the inn. The baby is put in a manger, which is a wooden trough for animal food, and thus we can assume there are animals around him, and was possibly in an animal shelter, and by tradition a cave. All He has for worshippers are humble shepherds, sent by an angel.

So the song has the message that the Chamorro faithful give the baby Jesus the welcome He did not get but which He deserves.

Si José yan si María / esta guennao man maså'pet.
(Joseph and Mary / are suffering there.)

Koro : O Yu'us na pelegrino / sugo' mågi giya hame.
(O pilgrim God / stop and stay with us.)

1. Taitutuhon na Tiningo' / taihinekkok na Finaye / takkilo'-ña i ta'chong-mo / ke i sagan mapagåhes.  Håfa na un dingo på'go / i ginefsagan i langet?
(Knowledge without beginning / endless wisdom / your seat is higher than the clouds.  Why now do you leave / the riches of heaven?)

2. Saina hao, Yu'us Lahi-ña / ni i bula mina’åse' / mama'taotao yan humuyong / Yu'us Taotao, che'lon-måme.  I Mesias hao, i Kristo / hagas ham man ma sangåne.
(You are Lord, God the Son / full of mercy / you were made man and became / God and man, our brother.  You are the Messiah, the Christ / which was told to us from of old.)

3. An humålom i chatanmak / ya ma chakchak i ha'åne / un na' sulo' gi sankattan / i atdao-mo, bula guåfe.  Hågo i ma'lak na åtdao / i mañiñila' na kåndet.
(When the dawn comes / and the day breaks / you make shine in the east / the sun, full of fire.  You are the bright sun / the shining light.)

4. Cha'-mo chåchågo' Asaina / guine gi fanågon-måme / gos manengheng i sanhiyong / meggai lokkue' i mañakke.  Maila' hålom, Påtgon Yu'us, sa' yan-måme dinanña'e.
(Don't go far, Lord / from our shelter here / it is very cold outside / there are many thieves as well.  Come inside, God Child, because we would like to join together.)

5. Guai fanhakman i gimå'-ta / yagin magof hao humåtme.  Maila' hålom giya hame / sugo' ya un ma adahe / kalan i ma'gas i gima' / yan Rai i lekka' na långet.
(Our house has a door / if you would like to enter.  Come inside among us / visit and be cared for / as the head of the house / and King of heaven exalted.)

6. Nangga nåya gofliion / in sangåne hao magåhet / i taotao-mo hao yumute' / sa' mañåguat manmandage.  Ti u cho'gue i Chamorro / sa' ti ennao påyon-mame.
(Wait for a while, beloved / we tell you truthfully / your people abandoned you / because they are insolent liars.  The Chamorro will not do that / because that is not our custom.)

7. Sugo', dikkike' na påtgon / maila' ya un ma dandåne / ni man na' magof na dåndan / guine gi åtpa yan låbet.  Hago ha' siña dumåndan / sa' manungo' hao yan faye.
(Stay, little child / come and we will play for you / joyful songs / here with harp and violin.  You alone can play / because you know how and you are capable.)


Guai. This is a word most Chamorro speakers, even older ones, are not familiar with and so they often change it to gai. But guai is an old form of the word gai, which means "it has, there is."

Fanhakman. This word, meaning "door" comes from FAN+HÅLOM+AN. Hålom means "to enter." The FAN and the AN make it "place of" or "time of" entering. Fanhaluman can be shortened to fanhakman.

*** Agradesimiento para si Señot Lawrence Borja para i dos audio na file.

Monday, December 6, 2021



This is a big favorite among many people. 

The nice melody has a lot to do with it, but the words are very meaningful and have a lot to say about who Mary is for us Catholics. I'll get to that later in this blog post. But first the audio :

And to share the way it is sung in Saipan, which is basically the same melody as Guam's but with some slight variations. The Saipan recording is special to me because this is the sound we all heard when we were kids; no organ, no piano. Just Chamorro women singing full throttle the hymns from memory :


1. Nina’huyong Yu’us Tåta, sinantusan i anti-mo, sen masåmai bula gråsia, tai isao i ha’ani-mo. Ennao mina’ man sineyo as Yu’us i taotao siha, ya ha ågang man sen magof ini na Abe Maria.
(O daughter of God the Father, your soul is holy, very beautiful, full of grace, your life is sinless. That is why the people were sealed by God, and they called out most joyfully this Ave Maria.)

2. Nånan Yu’us i Lahi-ña, iya hågo nai in li’e’ na gaige si Jesukristo i Yu’us i ginefli’e’. Hame nai in taitai på’go ayo na finiho siha na sinangan i Atkånghet as Gabriel: Abe Maria.
(Mother of God the Son, in you we see present Jesus Christ the God of love. We now pray those words spoken by the Archangel Gabriel : Ave Maria.) 

3. I Tetsero na petsona i Espiritu i Tata ha na’huyong iya hågo i patgon-mo ni Saina-ta. Ennao gue’ man ga’chong-måme i tres na Petsonas siha ya in sangan gi me’nå-mo ta’lo i Abe Maria.
(The Third Person the Spirit of the Father brought forth in you your child who is our Lord. Those are our companions, the Three Persons, and we say before you again the Ave Maria.)


This hymn is about Mary in relation to the Three Persons in one God; the Most Holy Trinity.

Mary is DAUGHTER of God the Father. That is why, in the first verse, she is called Nina'huyong Yu'us Tåta. Nina'huyong means "creation." Mary is sinless and most holy, but she is not God. God is uncreated and existing from all eternity, without beginning or end. God created Mary, just as God created all of us. We are God's sons and daughters, and He is our Father.

Mary is MOTHER of God the Son, and so she is called in the second verse. Mary is not the Mother of God in the sense that she gave Jesus His divinity; of course not. But Jesus was conceived in her womb; lived there for nine months, nourished by her body; and was born of her. And since Jesus is fully God, in that sense we can say she is Mother of God. Mary gave Jesus His blessed humanity, His human flesh; and brought Him into the world.

Mary is SPOUSE of God the Holy Spirit. The conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary was not accomplished with the help of a human father, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. So Mary is in that sense the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

When the Archangel Gabriel greeted Mary with his "Ave," or "Hail," he was speaking the words of God, for an angel is God's messenger and only says and does what God instructs him to say and do. So when you and I say, "Hail Mary," we are only repeating what Gabriel said, and what the Three Persons in One God said through Gabriel. God Himself chose Mary to be His daughter and spouse, and prepared her from her conception to be the sinless Mother of Jesus. God honored Mary, and when we honor her, we only do what God Himself did.

*** Agradesimiento para si Señot Lawrence Borja para i audio files.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021




In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution outlawed the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. It came into effect in 1920 and was known as Prohibition.

It was not a success.

Make something illegal and its popularity doubles.

People made liquor themselves (moonshine), sold it illegally (bootleg) or smuggled it in from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The Mafia's power and income were propelled thanks to Prohibition, as they made millions of dollars in the illegal sale of liquor.

During Prohibition, booze didn't disappear. It went into hiding. And many people found it.


Yes and no.

When Guam came under US power in 1898 through the Treaty of Paris signed between Spain and the US, the US Congress was supposed to determine the civil rights and political status of the people of Guam and the other territories taken from Spain. 

The US Congress did so right away for the Philippines, passing Organic Acts in 1902 and 1916. Guam didn't get an Organic Act till 1950.

In the Philippines Organic Act of 1916 (also known as the Jones Act), it was determined that American laws did not apply to the Philippines unless the American law specifically mentioned the Philippines. The law putting the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) into effect was called the Volstead Act, and the Volstead Act failed to mention the Philippines. So, while you could not buy a glass of Scotch legally in the US, the booze freely flowed in the Philippines.

American newspapers commented that Prohibition would have been fiercely opposed by most Filipinos. 

On Guam, the Naval Governor was king. It was debatable whether the Volstead Act (never mentioning Guam) was applicable to Guam. But it didn't matter. The Naval Governor could outlaw all liquor if he wanted to. And the Naval Governor of Guam in 1920 wanted to.

Governor William W. Gilmer, Governor from 1918 to 1920, outlawed the making and consumption of tuba (coconut wine or toddy), except for use in bread and for vinegar.


So yes, Prohibition did happen on Guam for a time, but thanks to the Naval Governor's supreme and uncontested power to make such a law, whether the 18th Amendment or Volstead Act applied to Guam or not.


But, just as liquor only went into hiding in the US, liquor didn't disappear from Guam either, no matter what the Naval Governor said.

An American visitor to Guam in 1926 wrote in a newspaper that he had spent just a few hours in Piti, and a few hours in Hagåtña and still a few more hours in Sumay, and before the day was done he had heard that tuba was available, despite the law. More than tuba; åguayente or agi, which can be made from tuba and distilled into clear and stronger alcohol, was also available.

The problem enforcing Prohibition on Guam was the remoteness of the agi stills and the tuba collecting. Guam had very few automobile-worthy roads, especially in the southern and northern rural areas. Deep river valleys in the south hid many illegal agi or tuba sites. Law enforcement would need to get to these locations by animal or on foot. Policemen tried their best; they had a reason to. Out of the $5 fine bootleggers paid, $1 went to the policeman who discovered the illegal still or tuba tree. But it was hard for the police to find the hidden ones. There were only some 20 patrolmen anyway; not enough to poke around every corner.

In 1926, a gallon of tuba, or a gallon of åguayente, sold for 50 cents. All hush hush, so it was said. But how hush hush could it have been when a short-term visitor heard all about it on his first day?


Local alcohol wasn't the only illegal liquor available during Prohibition.

An American civilian worked for a trading company on Guam in the 1920s. He had never been in trouble with the law on Guam before. But he made the mistake of firing his Chamorro cook, who went to police to report on his former boss, as a form of revenge. The American, the Chamorro cook said, owned booze smuggled from overseas shipped on the Gold Star.

When the police went to the American's house to investigate, they found crates marked ginger ale, only to find a tin inside each crate and inside the tins 6 quarts of whiskey. The American was cited for making a false customs declaration and for receiving illegal and smuggled alcohol.

In 1933, Prohibition ended with the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Guam once again had saloons, bars and restaurants serving liquor. But, the whole time they were illegal, the tuba and agi never dried up.


It should be said, for completeness regarding all Chamorros and all the Marianas, that Prohibition never happened in the Northern Marianas which were under Japanese jurisdiction. Research needs to answer the question whether the Japanese imposed some restrictions on tuba and/or agi production, such as licenses (probably) or quotas. But the sake, beer and other liquors freely flowed under Japan.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021



If you walk around Hagåtña and also if you look up in the direction of Agaña Heights, you will see more than one Spanish-era structure all thanks to one man.

Governor Manuel Muro, Governor of the Marianas from 1794 till 1802.

Perhaps more than any other Spanish Governor, Muro built a lot and much of it we can still see.

He built Fort Santa Águeda, also known as Fort Apugan. He built the Spanish Bridge in Hagåtña, more properly known as the San Antonio Bridge and colloquially by our own people as the Tollai Åcho' (stone bridge).

There are walls behind the Azotea at the Palåsyo (Governor's Palace) that he built. All these have survived war and natural calamities and you can still see them.

But there is more that Manuel Muro built which you cannot see anymore, having fallen victim to both natural and manmade destruction.

Later removed by the US Navy

He built Fort Santa Cruz, which used to be in Apra Harbor. He built another fort, San Rafael, closer to the Hagåtña shore near the main Bank of Hawaii building today. And, besides these, he built even more, smaller projects, which have since disappeared.

Muro built all these things, naturally, with Chamorro muscles, obliged to work on government building projects so many days a year in place of paying taxes. The people thought Muro worked them to death.

Fort San Rafael - 1799
Fort Santa Águeda - 1800
Fort Santa Cruz - 1801

Why all these forts? And in a short period of time, 1799 to 1801, or just three years?


For many years, England and Spain were historical enemies.

Think of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Conflict between the two nations continued, and often involved British pirates harassing Spanish ships laden with Latin American and Asian wealth. Some of the British privateers even made it to Guam, such as William Dampier and Woodes Rogers.

In 1762, while England and Spain were at war, the British succeeded in conquering Manila and stayed there for two years till the war ended, then left.

Thirty-four years later, in 1796, Spain and France united against England. Napoleon Bonaparte was already a military star in France, and would soon be ruler of France and went on to conquer much of Europe, fighting the British as well. France was another historical rival of England, so Spain and France wound up on the same side against England.

So, when Manuel Muro was Governor of the Marianas, Spain wanted her Asian and Pacific territories to prepare for possible attack from the British.

In the Philippines in 1800, the Governor-General there ordered all able-bodied men to form a militia, to pick up guns and use them against the British if necessary. According to the newspapers at the time, all of the Philippines was in fear of another British invasion. Seacoast towns were emptied as the population moved inland. 

British newspapers spoke of the anxiety felt by Spanish leaders in Manila, and of the poor state of the military, militia and Spanish warships. The British were already in India, and the Spaniards in Manila believed a British attack could be launched from there. The British were not just in faraway Europe; they were already in Asia.

So Muro's busy building projects on Guam from 1799 to 1801 were all about the same thing; preparing Guam for a British attack, which, in the end, never came.

The British defeated the Spaniards and French at Trafalgar, Spain in 1805. Spain itself was occupied by France in 1808, thinking it could do a better job running the government of their ally. Spain revolted against this occupation and war between France and Spain began. Spain continued to decline, losing most of her territories in Latin America by 1821. The British didn't need to worry about Spain at all.

Yet, because of the fear of a British attack which never came, Spanish forts were built on Guam, which never saw battle.

Remain Guam Icons

So the next time you look up to Fort Santa Águeda (Apugan), you might remember that all that was built because the Spaniards on Guam in 1800 were thinking of the British.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


Si caminamos por la ciudad de Agaña y miramos hacia arriba en dirección a los Altos de Agaña, veremos más de una estructura de la época española, todo gracias a un solo hombre:

Manuel Muro, gobernador de las Islas Marianas desde 1794 hasta 1802.

Quizás más que cualquier otro gobernador español, Manuel Muro construyó mucho y todavía podemos ver bastante de todo aquello edificado.

Levantó el Fuerte Santa Águeda (abajo en la foto), también conocido como Fuerte Apugan. Construyó el Puente Español en Agaña, más propiamente conocido como el Puente de San Antonio y coloquialmente por nuestra propia gente como el Tollai Åcho' (puente de piedra).

Hay unas paredes detrás de la Azotea en el Palåsyo (Palacio del Gobernador) que él construyó. Todas estas obras han sobrevivido a guerras y calamidades naturales y todavía se pueden ver.

Pero hay más de lo que construyó Manuel Muro que ya no se puede apreciar, habiendo sido víctima de la destrucción tanto natural como provocada por el hombre.

Construyó el Fuerte Santa Cruz, que se encontraba en el Puerto de Apra. Construyó otro fuerte, el San Rafael, más cerca de la costa de Agaña, cerca del edificio principal del Bank of Hawaii, en la actualidad. Y además de éstos, construyó otros proyectos más pequeños, que desde entonces han ido desapareciendo.

Manuel Muro construyó todas estas cosas, naturalmente, con mano de obra chamorra, obligados a trabajar en proyectos de construcción del gobierno un número determinado de días al año, en lugar de pagar impuestos. La gente pensaba que Manuel Muro los hacía trabajar hasta la extenuación.

Fuerte San Rafael - 1799

Fuerte de Santa Águeda - 1800

Fuerte Santa Cruz - 1801

¿Por qué fueron construidos todos estos fuertes? ¿Y en un corto período de tiempo, de 1799 a 1801, es decir, solo tres años?

Durante siglos, Inglaterra y España fueron enemigos.

Pensemos en la Armada Española en 1588. El conflicto entre las dos naciones continuó, y a menudo involucró a piratas británicos que acosaban a los barcos españoles cargados con riquezas de Hispano-América y Asia. Algunos de los corsarios británicos incluso llegaron a Guam, como William Dampier y Woodes Rogers.

En 1762, mientras Inglaterra y España estaban en guerra, los británicos lograron conquistar Manila y permanecieron allí durante dos años hasta que terminó el conflicto, luego fueron expulsados.

Treinta y cuatro años después, en 1796, España y Francia se unieron contra Inglaterra. Napoleón Bonaparte ya era una estrella militar en Francia, y pronto sería gobernante de ese país pasando a conquistar gran parte de Europa y luchando también contra los británicos. Francia fue otro rival histórico de Inglaterra, por lo que España y Francia terminaron del mismo lado contra los ingleses.

Entonces, cuando Manuel Muro era gobernador de las Islas Marianas, España quería que sus territorios de Asia y el Pacífico se prepararan para un posible ataque de los británicos.

En las Filipinas, en 1800, el gobernador general ordenó a todos los hombres aptos que formaran una milicia, que recogieran armas y las usaran contra los británicos si era necesario. Según los periódicos de la época, todo Filipinas temía otra invasión británica. Las ciudades costeras se vaciaron a medida que la población se trasladaba tierra adentro.

Los periódicos británicos hablaron de la ansiedad que sentían los líderes españoles en Manila y del mal estado de los militares, milicias y buques de guerra españoles. Los británicos ya estaban en la India, y los españoles en Manila creían que se podía lanzar un ataque británico desde allí. Los británicos no solo estaban en la lejana Europa, ya estaban en Asia.

De modo que los ajetreados proyectos de construcción de Manuel Muro en Guam desde 1799 hasta 1801 eran casi sobre lo mismo; preparar a Guam para un ataque británico que al final, nunca llegó.

Los británicos derrotaron a los franceses y españoles en Trafalgar en 1805. La propia España fue ocupada por Francia en 1808, pensando que podría hacer un mejor trabajo dirigiendo el gobierno de su aliado. España se rebeló contra esta ocupación y comenzó la guerra entre Francia y España. España siguió decayendo, perdiendo la mayor parte de sus territorios en Hispano-América en 1821. Los británicos no tenían que preocuparse por España en absoluto.

Sin embargo, debido al temor de un ataque británico que nunca llegó, se construyeron fuertes españoles en Guam, que nunca presenciaron batalla.

Así que, la próxima vez que miremos hacia el Fuerte Santa Águeda (Apugan), quizás recordemos que todo eso fue construido en Guam porque los españoles en 1800 estaban pensando en los británicos.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021



This is the last bridge over a river you will pass if you're heading north from Hagåtña. Past this point, there are no more rivers to cross. The flat, limestone terrain of northern Guam doesn't allow for the flow of rivers, since the rain percolates straight into the porous rocky soil and forms a huge, underground lake from which a lot of us get our tap water.

A strong, reliable bridge crossing the Hagåtña River going northwards was much more important to the US military in 1944 than before the war. Once Guam was back in American hands from the Japanese, the US still had a whole extra year to finish the entire war with the Japanese.

That was to end in August of 1945, but not before the US bombed Japan with great destruction, largely thanks to the air strips built on Guam, Tinian and Saipan which put American bombers close to Japan. Thus, the port of Apra Harbor in the south and the air fields in the center and north of Guam had to be linked securely. Trucks carrying supplies and bombs had to travel smoothly from naval base to air base, crossing the Hagåtña River.

So, it's no wonder that the American military made building this Hagåtña Bridge a priority and got it done by March of 1945. And it had to be solid, able to take on truck after truck of military arms and equipment.

The bridge still remains, though it has been improved and redone over the years.

What used to be just a few vehicles in the 1950s and 60s has become congested with heavy traffic. And, in the background of the photo, what used to be a few single-story, wood and tin roof buildings has become two or three-storied concrete commercial buildings.

Before the war, that area you just enter after crossing that bridge was the barrio of San Antonio. Hagåtña was divided into half a dozen barrios or districts.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021



The above is a photo of the inside of the Hagåtña church around the year 1900. Notice anything?


You see some benches, but there are curious things about these benches.

First, there are too few benches to seat the entire congregation, at a time in history when that church would be filled to capacity on Sundays. Even on weekdays, there were large crowds at Mass. Secondly, the benches are not facing the sanctuary (altar space). Thirdly, the benches are not uniform. They look as if they were obtained from different sources, at different times perhaps. Lastly, the benches have no kneelers. Everyone knelt on the floor, or remained seated/standing if you were unable to kneel due to old age or infirmity.


No pews, no seats

People might be surprised to find out that pews are a "new" thing in the Church. When a Church is 2000 years old, as is the Catholic Church, "new" doesn't mean last year. "New" can mean 500 years ago. That's still "new" compared to 1500 years before that.

In the ancient Church, people stood and knelt. There was no idea that one was to be "comfortable" attending Mass. One stood at some parts of the Mass, and one knelt at other parts of the Mass. Standing was a posture of respectful attention, and kneeling was a posture of adoration, humility and sorrow.

Of course some people found it a physical challenge to do either, to stand or to kneel for long or for any length of time at all. The old and infirm who could not stand or kneel often didn't come to Mass, then, since they were excused on account of their situation. If they came to Mass, they could sit on stools or chairs. Some of them brought their own if the church didn't have enough or any at all.

Just a few benches facing each other

By and by, people who could afford to buy or have made their own benches brought them to church. Not everyone had the money or lumber to do that. But in time the people who did bring their own benches left them in the church, rather than carry them back and forth each Sunday.

As time went on, more and more people began to think everyone should be able to sit during some parts of the Mass and that pews should be available for everyone. Providing pews for everyone meant an additional expense for the church, and I imagine that's why our churches in the Marianas were without pews at least some of the time, as evidenced in the photo at the top.

Some churches did without pews for practical reasons, too. In this photo of the Catholic Church's headquarters, so to speak, Saint Peter's in the Vatican, benches and chairs are brought out only when needed. Otherwise the church is laid bare, as seen in the photo. Too many things happen in the Basilica and permanent pews would limit the movement of the different things that go on inside.

No permanent pews


If you notice in this photo of the Garapan Church in Saipan around the year 1900, all the women are in one group on the left, and all the men are separate in their own groupings behind the women and more on the right of the photo.

This reminds us of the fact that Church Law in the old days recommended that men sit (or kneel/stand) on one side of the church (if there was a statue of Saint Joseph, usually on the right, then in front of him) and the women on the opposite side (if there was a statue of Mary, usually on the left, then in front of her).

This custom was codified in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Church Law) which said, in Canon 1262 (1) : "It is desirable that, in harmony with ancient Church order, the women in church be separated from the men."

This was not a strict rule, but it was recommended. Thus it was not always followed. It depended on the priest at the time or on the custom of the place. The current Canon Law of the Church says nothing about men and women occupying opposite sides of the church.


Clockwise beginning with top left

One way for churches to cover the expense of providing pews in church was to rent out the front pews to whoever was willing to pay the rent. This rent ensured that that family got to sit in that pew. Pew rents were a thing in some Protestant churches, as well, in the old days.

in a Protestant church in the US in 1897

I am not sure this was done in Guam, but what I do know for certain is that four prominent families had the right to sit in the first two pews on either side of the center aisle in the Hagåtña Cathedral before the war. Whether they paid a rental fee for this or not, I do not know. These four families were already such big financial contributors to the Church that I wouldn't be surprised if there was no fee at all.

The four families were those of Pedro Pangelinan Martínez, Pascual Sáez Artero, José Martínez Torres and James Holland Underwood. All four men, and sometimes their wives, were very active in supporting the Church. They all had some financial means, from businesses, ranches or government positions. Martínez and Underwood were brothers-in-law. Underwood had been raised a Baptist in his native North Carolina, but became Catholic when marrying his Chamorro wife. Artero was a Spaniard, close to the Spanish priests before the war. Torres was a merchant, a musician and related to Pedro Martínez and Martínez's wife.

Four families, four pews; the first two on either the left or right of the main aisle.

I don't think this was done in the other churches of Guam or the other islands of the Marianas. And, after the war, the custom was discontinued in the Hagåtña Cathedral, which was destroyed anyway during the American bombardment of 1944 and wasn't rebuilt till 1959.

At the time, no one made an issue of the privilege of sitting in the front pews going to certain families. And I think the newer generations of those same families wouldn't want the custom to be revived. Even pew rents, which did cause bad feelings in the past, were discontinued many years ago as people's thinking changed.


It is always a temptation to think our times are better than the past.

But if we point fingers at the past when sitting up front in church, in a few cases, was reserved for the few, think about our modern mindset where some people choose what church to go to based on how cold the church air conditioning is.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021



Rosa de León Guerrero Cepeda, whose signature appears above, was a 43 year old married woman in Hagåtña who decided to register her property with the Spanish government in 1897.

When she submitted her documents to do that, she described herself as being married to a man who had already been absent "overseas" for FIFTEEN YEARS without knowing his "whereabouts."

This left her with four children to raise on her own, although typically Chamorro families had aunts and grandmothers to lend a hand. When her husband left island, her oldest child, a daughter, was just entering her teenage years but her youngest was just born, perhaps even about to be born.

Rosa was married to a man named Manuel de Castro, but she remained Cepeda, because in the Spanish system, married women kept their birth names.

Another woman filed her papers with the government stating that her husband had been "ausente de la isla," "absent from the island," for TWENTY-ONE YEARS.


These wives and mothers were, to be honest, abandoned. It would be nice to think that their far-away husbands were sending them money, but I haven't come across any document showing that and, instead, I have found a number of documents suggesting the opposite. So many women wrote that their husband was away and his "whereabouts are unknown."

In one case, two minor children got the attention of the court, because their mother had died and their father was "absent and his location is unknown." These two children already lost their father to the big world and wide open sea, and they now lost their mother to the small confines of the grave. The court had to call a council of relatives together to provide for the minors.

Some women had to file petitions with the court about house and property ownership, which sometimes were in their absentee husbands' names. Writing wills, paying debts, property boundary disputes, providing for minor children when the mother died....all of these were left to the woman and/or the court.

The biggest legal complication was the inability of the woman to marry a new husband. Since there was no proof of death for the current but absent husband, neither the Church nor the government wanted a bigamous marriage, and divorce was not permitted at the time. So, some women just had a new man live in the house without the benefit of marriage.


We cannot be certain why Rosa's husband, Mr Castro, left Guam and, from all appearances, never returned. But a good guess would be to serve on the whaling ships or some other kind of commercial ocean vessel.

In another case, it is very clear that the absentee husband left on a whaling ship.

María Rivera Gogue, born on Guam, married José Barcinas, also from Guam. In 1898, María, living in Luta (Rota), filed a petition with the court for legal recognition of her land ownership.


She wrote in her petition,

"That my mentioned husband is found absent from this province for nine years, his whereabouts being unknown. That he left on one of the whaling ships that arrived at this port and since then no word from him at all has been had."

At least for some years, the Spanish Government on Guam made whaling captains sign promises to bring these Chamorro whalers back to Guam after a specific time, but this promise was routinely ignored and the Spanish Government had no way of enforcing its fulfillment anyway.

The thing is, many, if not most, of the numerous Chamorro men who left Guam to sail the seas, numbering in the hundreds, were bachelors. Some were as young as fourteen. So most of them left behind parents and siblings, not wives and children.

But Rosa's and María's situation reminds us that some of these Chamorro seafarers were married and did leave behind wives and children, without communication or financial support. In the Guam Census of 1897 there are many single mothers named and identified as "married," not "widowed," but their husbands' names are nowhere to be found. The government documents of the time show us the reason why, for at least many of them. Their husbands simply got on a ship and never came back.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021




Two things about Tutuhan or Triangle Park that I remember as a child : the pine trees and the rock.

Having grown up in Sinajaña and then lived most of my adult life in Agaña Heights, I have passed this park almost every day for the major part of my life. 

As a child in the 1960s, though, this triangular patch of land looked much different than it does today. It looked larger, as a matter of fact. There were no man-made structures like we have today; no parking lot or walkways; no fence or decorative wall. It was just a large, wide open, triangular piece of land punctuated with tall Norfolk pine trees that we, as kids, just called Christmas trees, even in July. They stood out because they were the only trees (that I recall) in that place, most numerous at the top of the triangle.

But there was also this rock, at the bottom tip of the triangle, at the fork of the road where the one road from Hagåtña splits into two, with one road going up to Sinajaña and the other road going up to Agaña Heights. You couldn't help but notice the rock as you moved up the hill on either side, whether going to one village or the other.  It seemed off. What was a rock doing sticking out of the ground all by itself at the bottom of a large, grassy triangle that didn't have so much as a bump, except for this one rock?

The Park in 1981


There had always been two "roads" leading up San Ramón Hill; one going to Sinajaña and the other to what we now call Agaña Heights but, before the war, was known by the various little areas that now make up the village.

But after the war the populations of both villages soared with former Hagåtña residents unable to return to their war-devastated city. The roads up to Sinajaña and Agaña Heights would have to be widened and paved; a far different thing from the narrow dirt roads before the war.

But the terrain wasn't easy and the people in charge decided they needed to blow up some land to level the area and make road-building easier. And so they did. But they forgot one thing.


The designers and builders were not locals, and they couldn't know that people claimed there was a taotaomo'na trail going up San Ramón Hill. When they blew up the area, they wrecked the taotaomo'na trail. The ancestral spirits were furious. First, no one asked their permission and, second, their trail was destroyed.

One solitary rock was left over from the explosion, and for some reason it was never removed. It still lies at the tip of Tutuhan Park.


Today, hardly anyone knows the story of the taotaomo'na trail blown up by road builders.

But in the 1950s, enough car accidents happened in the area to cause some people, who did know the story, to wonder. Were car accidents happening in an area where taotaomo'na were angry at what happened?

These are just three stories of car accidents on San Ramón Hill and they're all from the 1950s.  There were other stories, as well., and they weren't always about two cars colliding either.

One lady skidded and her car spun around, and now, facing the opposite direction, rolled backwards, hitting an embankment in the process. 

A woman was going downhill and when she made a turn, the passenger door opened and two children riding with her tumbled out of the car.

A third lady was driving down the hill when the gas pedal jammed, stuck to the floor. She felt she had no choice but to veer to the right, off the road and into a gully. 

Strange occurrences, indeed, and only God knows what really happened, but in the 1950s and 60s, older people who knew the hill's reputation tried to drive past the rock as quickly as possible.


In 1981, a stolen pickup truck was crashed into the rock, seen on the right.
Courtesy of the taotaomo'na???

Wednesday, September 22, 2021



This song was recorded more than twenty years ago by the Singing Bus Drivers of the Department of Public Works.


I puti’on kahulo’ åntes de hu maigo’.
(The star rises before I sleep.)

I pilan sumåhe gi uriya. (1)
(The moon nearby wanes.)

Ya bai hu sodda’ i kayon ya hu dalalake. (2)
(I will find the path and I will follow it.)

Osodda’ si nene ni hu guaiya. (3) (4)
(Go to find the baby whom I love.)

Ya i kamå-ña gaige gi fi’on bentåna.
(And her bed lies by the window.)

Na ini’inan i pilan hålom.
(Where the moon shines in.)

Ini’inan i pilan mampos triste.
(The shining of the moon is so sad.)

Ha na’ fåtto piniti-ho.
(It brings my sorrow to me.)

Ya desde ayo na momento nai hu hasso
(And from that moment is when I remembered)

fina’tinås-ña si nene nu guåho. (5)
(what baby did to me.)


(1) Uriya literally means either the edge of something or the immediate vicinity of something . It is borrowed from the Spanish orilla which means the edge or outer limit of something (the edge of a table, the banks of a river, the rim of a cup, the hem of a garment). From there Chamorros broadened the meaning to include the immediate vicinity or surroundings of a thing because the edges of things are in the vicinity of the thing, just not at the center.

(2) Sodda'. Because the recording is from many years ago and probably a copy of many copies, the audio quality is rough at times and the words not entirely clear. So there is a possibility that the singer is saying SOTTA instead of SODDA'. Sotta means "to let go of." In this case, the song says the singer will leave the road (the path of life he is on) and follow the star which will lead him to the one he loves.

(3) Osodda'. I am not 100% positive this is what the singer is saying and he has passed away so I cannot ask him. But I can think of no other word that comes close to what I am hearing him sing and it does make sense, though it is the first time I have heard this word used, if in fact it is the word he is singing. Sodda' many of us know means "to find." When we attach an O or an E in front of a word, it can mean "to be in search of." To OPÅNGLAO is "to go in search of land crab." So OSODDA' would mean "to go in search of finding something."

(4) Nene literally means "baby" but it's also a term of endearment, just as we say in English, "Baby darling."

(5) Fina'tinas literally means "something made" but here it means what someone did, because our actions are what we make happen. The Chamorro term for "Act of Contrition" is Fina'tinas Sinetsot.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


It certainly looks like a turtle, but no one called it that till modern times.

People in the recent past looked at the island and called it Turtle Rock. In Chamorro, that would be Åcho' Haggan, or maybe Isletan Haggan (Turtle Islet). There is only one reference to Turtle Rock in the Pacific Daily News in the 1970s, and none in the 1950s and 60s. We'd have to check the prewar Guam Recorder and other prewar literature to see if there was anything called Turtle Rock, but I'm skeptical. So it seems the name "Turtle Rock" became standard only after the war.

So what did the Chamorros call this island or rock?


Two older people, one from Hågat and the other from Sumay, told me that, in Chamorro, the rock is called Nihi.

Perhaps, then, Åcho’ Nihi (Nihi Rock) or Isletan Nihi (Nihi Islet). I have no idea if Nihi is the same as the Chamorro word nihi which means “let’s.” Or, if the name Nihi comes from another source.

But Nihi is what these two elders, both just recently deceased, heard their parents and elders call it before the war. They were Art Toves from Hågat and Marian Babauta from Sumay (Santa Rita). U såga gi minahgong. Thank God I asked them before they passed, because other Hågat and Sumay people, even around their age, couldn’t remember the Chamorro name, but they did.

Both were born before the war; Art in 1928 so he was a teenager when the war broke out, and Marian in 1935, but being from those two villages they saw Turtle Rock every day and their parents, elders and fellow villagers would have mentioned the island in their youth using the local name.


Just to complicate things, for two hundred years, possibly more, old maps said that Turtle Rock was called NEYE ISLAND.

We have maps above from 1814 by the Frenchman de Freycinet, and two US Navy maps from 1902 and 1913 that all call Turtle Rock Neye Island.

But when I asked Art Toves and Marian Babauta if they had ever heard of a Neye Island, I might as well have been talking Ancient Greek to them. Neye Island was totally unknown to them.

Obviously, then, the name Neye was known only to non-Chamorro map makers who copied older maps. The oldest of the bunch, from 1814, was done by Frenchmen, who spelled Chamorro names the way it sounded to their French ears. You can see that they spelled Sumay Soumaye, and Haputo is spelled Apoutou. The small W-looking letter is an old form of OU, which in French sounds like English OO. Bonjour sounds like BON - ZHOOR.

Could Neye be a French rendering of Nihi? Who knows? And if an older Spanish map called it Nihi, it would have been spelled NIJI, with a J.  The reason for this is because, in Spanish, the H in Nihi would have been silent. When we say "hi" in Spanish we say "Hola!" but it sounds like "Ola!" The H is never voiced. But, in Spanish, a J before a vowel sounds like a voiced H. Think of José and Juan.

I can just imagine someone seeing NIJI and mistakenly writing down NEYE. And on and on the mistake is continued in newer maps, made by people who didn't even live here.

I'd be looking for even older maps to see what they call Turtle Rock.


Funny I should say that because there is an older map, from 1676, that calls a rock or a small island off the coast of either Hågat or the Orote Peninsula FUÑA.

What if Fuña is Nihi (Turtle Rock)?

It's possible, and we shouldn't be surprised if later on people stopped calling it Fuña and called it Nihi instead. The names of places don't always stay the same over the many years. That happens all over the world.

Was Fuña the same islet as Nihi (Turtle Rock)? Like many things in Guam or Marianas history, it's hard to say. It's always good to have hard evidence for the things we say are true, and many times hard evidence has disappeared through the passage of time.


During World War II, the Japanese suspected that the Americans might land at Hågat's beaches, as well as at other spots. They used Turtle Rock as a natural blockage of the view of the artillery the Japanese had on the shore behind the Rock. The Americans were irritated that they couldn't see the position of those Japanese guns firing at them, flying above Turtle Rock and landing on the Americans. There were a few Japanese guns on Turtle Rock itself, too.

All along these waters are many remnants of wartime armaments and machinery dumped into the ocean when the war was over.

Today, divers go out to Turtle Rock where they, amusingly, find turtles to play with.

But, if you venture out to Nihi Island, just remember that turtles are not the only critters in the ocean. Just west of Turtle Rock is the Shark Pit.