Monday, April 5, 2021


We all know it as Camel Rock.

It only looks (vaguely) like a camel if you look at it from a certain angle. Otherwise, it just looks like a flat rock, with jagged edges. lying on the reef.

It was only called Camel Rock during American times. Our own people call it GA'PAN and sometimes GA'PANG. Some might call it Åcho' Ga'pan (Ga'pan Rock) and others might call it Isletan Ga'pan (Ga'pan Islet, or very small island).

Since the name  "Camel Rock" has become so common, there are older people who even call it Åcho' Kameyo which is "Camel Rock" in Chamorro, but Ga'pan is the actual Chamorro name.

I wasn't sure about the accurate pronunciation of Ga'pan till recently. The maps and documents just spell it Gapan and sometimes Gapang, but is there a glota in the way it is pronounced but just doesn't show in the old spelling? Is one A really an Å, which sounds different, like the two vowels in HÅGAT? Since the maps don't indicate any of these, the best thing is to hear the name pronounced by older residents of the area.  It took me some time, but I found someone very active in the community, who knows fishermen who know the area, and he's always heard the fishermen and man åmko' (elders) say Ga'pan, with the glota and the two As being the same kind of A that sounds like the A in "cat" and not like the A in "far."

OLD MAPS (1819 and 1900) SHOWING GA'PAN

We have no camels in the Marianas, but many Chamorros in the old days would have had some idea about them and how they looked because camels are often featured among the different statues in the belén or nativity scene. Not every Chamorro family had belén in their homes in the old days, but even those who didn't have them would have seen camel statues in those families that did have them or even in pictures. At the very least, a priest could have explained what a camel was, since camels are part of the Christmas story, especially with the Three Kings which Chamorros celebrated joyfully.

Still, our people did not call it Camel Rock, nor did they think of camels when they looked at the rock. It was always Ga'pan or Ga'pang. Calling it Camel Rock was an American idea.


If you wanted to know how the rock got there in the first place, I would reply by asking "Which legend do you want to hear?"

There is more than one legend, and they differ a lot but also contain a few details common to all versions of the story.

Let me start with the oldest one I have found so far.

FROM 1927

I'll summarize the legend as published in the Guam Recorder in 1927. No author and no source is stated. 

The people of Hagåtña were tired of being raided or invaded by warriors of other villages, who would attack Hagåtña sailing their canoes through the opening in the Hagåtña reef.

Maps as old as 1819 and during the war show the break in the reef in front of Hagåtña. Today, thanks to dredging by man and machine, the channel has been deepened and widened.


So the chiefly class of Hagåtña decided that everybody, young and old, would solve the problem by collecting rocks and dumping them at the break in the reef to seal it up. Enemy canoes would no longer be able to come in, so they thought.

The problem was the rocks they collected and dumped were small, so when the tide changed, the rocks were washed out to sea. The break in the channel remained open.

Obviously they realized they needed a bigger rock, one big enough that the flow of water when the tide changed couldn't move. But they didn't know of any rock big enough in the Hagåtña area. But the maga'låhe (chief) of Orote was a friend of the maga'låhe of Hagåtña and said they could find one in Orote. So, off some men of Hagåtña went in their canoes to Orote, where they found a nice big rock and loaded it onto one of their canoes and headed back to Hagåtña.

Now the problem was Asan. The people of Asan had a grudge against the people of Hagåtña who raided their village from time to time. When the maga'låhe and people of Asan saw the Hagåtña canoes passing by and one loaded with a huge rock, they knew what it was for and that it would prevent them from attacking Hagåtña by sea. The time to act was now. So the Asan warriors got in their canoes and attacked the Hagåtña canoes, whose men hadn't planned to fight when they made their voyage to Orote. Lacking the proper weapons for battle, the Hagåtña men easily succumbed to the Asan attack.

The Asan warriors decided to break up the Hagåtña canoe just enough so that the big rock it was carrying would submerge it. And so it happened, and all that was left on the reef outside Asan Point was the rock from Orote the men of Hagåtña intended to bring to their village.


Justo Quitugua Chargualaf was a life-long Asan resident, who was interviewed in 1961 at the age of 86 years. That means he could have heard the legend of Ga'pan as a child in the 1880s, which would predate the 1927 Guam Recorder article. But, since we don't know how old Justo was when he heard the story about Ga'pan, I'll have to place him after the Guam Recorder story to be safe.

In his version, it was the people of Piti and Hagåtña who were at odds. In Spanish times, the people of Piti actually lived in Tepungan, a little closer to Asan. It was a taotaomo'na of Piti (or Tepungan) who decided to block the Hagåtña channel with a big rock so he got one from Apapa' or Cabras Island. He did it at night, as taotaomo'na generally are not active during the day. But, before he could reach Hagåtña with the big rock, the sun started to rise so he threw the rock down on the reef outside Asan Point.


In another version, seen in print more recently, two boys, only four years old, from the Aguada clan, were sent to get the rock from Orote for the same purpose, of sealing the Hagåtña channel to prevent enemy attack. The detail that the two boys were only four years old means that Chamorros were so strong back then that even two children that young could fetch a huge rock. Their clan had a rule never to be out past a certain time at night. So, on their way back to Hagåtña, they saw a twinkling star which they mistakenly believed meant that the sun was soon to rise and they would break their curfew. So they dropped the huge rock on the reef at Asan Point to hurry back home in time.

On account of them being tricked by the twinkling star, the story is sometimes called Dinagi Laolao, which means "The Lie of Quivering," meaning the quivering or twinkling star.


In yet another version, the two men who fetched the rock were sons of Chief Gådao of Inalåhan. He sent them for the same mission, to seal up Hagåtña's opening in the reef. He told them to get the job done and return home before sunrise. They saw the twinkling star and, fearing sunrise, ditched the rock on the reef at Asan Point and beat a hasty return to Inalåhan.

There are a few more versions, some of them even giving the names of the two boys, or the name of their father. 

But, as you can see, the versions are wildly different in many ways, but let's see how all versions say the same thing in some respects.


1. The mission was to seal up the break in the reef at Hagåtña.

2. That would be accomplished by taking a big rock from somewhere else to Hagåtña to put in the break and seal it up.

3. The mission was not successful and the rock was dropped on the reef outside Asan Point.

Because the job was not accomplished, some people say that ga'pan means "unfinished work," but I cannot substantiate that from older dictionaries. The word doesn't appear even in the 1865 Chamorro dictionary.

So these three points are the heart of the story that appear in all the versions. But then the different versions of the legend add to the skeleton of the story in the different ways you see here. Who knows what newspaper article or book of legends in the future will add even more new elements to the story. And of course there may be old versions of the legend not passed down to us, or hidden somewhere on a piece of paper at MARC.

Ga'pan is a better name for this rock because it doesn't always look like a camel, but it always looks like a Ga'pan to me.

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