Tuesday, August 31, 2021



Tan Båcha' (u såga gi minahgong), pictured above, was a good friend of my nånan biha (grandma) and my grandma's sisters, the aunties who raised me.

She was born in 1909 so she grew up at a time when the Chamorro language dominated the island. English could be heard in far fewer places on Guam in the 1910s and 20s than in the 1950s. Tan Båcha' could speak basic English, but she was one of those older Chamorro people who would stick to Chamorro if she knew you were Chamorro, no matter how poor your Chamorro was.

That's my point in this blog post.

There was a kind of Chamorro in the past, and some probably remain to this day, who will speak only Chamorro to you, another Chamorro, even though your grasp of Chamorro isn't strong.

That's your problem, so to speak! LOL

Her sister, Auntie Kita (María Salas) was two years older than Auntie Båcha', and was the same way. Even though my Chamorro was at best the knowledge of 50 words, which I could hardly string into a sentence, in my teens and 20s, Auntie Båcha' and Auntie Kita would only speak Chamorro to me. It was my problem to figure it out, remember how they spoke, remember words I didn't know and go find out what they meant.

These two sisters weren't the only man biha (older ladies) to do that to me. Tan Ebe' (Nieves San Nicolás) from Sinajaña would look at me, a white-faced tanores (altar boy) in church and tell me to go do something (turn on a light, open a door) and only in Chamorro. Na' fañila' i kandet. Baba i petta. It was my problem to figure it out, and in so doing learn how to say those things in what was supposed to be my language. Auntie Ebe' could have said those same things to me in English, but she chose not to.

My face was white, but she only spoke Chamorro to me

Even though I had a white face, Auntie Ebe' knew who I was and more importantly who my family was. She considered me Chamorro, because my mother and grandmother and all my maternal side were Chamorro. Therefore, she would only speak Chamorro to me even though I could hardly reply to her in Chamorro. 

There was another white face in church, our pastor from New York, but she treated the two white faces, his and mine, differently. When she had to say something to him, she would say it haltingly in what little English she knew. Both the New York priest and this young kid from Sinajaña (me) had about as much Chamorro language between them, but she laid her Chamorro on me, and not on him.

This rose to a whole new level when I went to Saipan in the 1990s, and would stay for short periods in Luta and Tinian. There. a whole segment of the older population had almost no grasp of English, except for some words, and could only speak to you in Chamorro. If a non-Chamorro speaker came to the door, a child or grandchild would have to come along and act as interpreter. To a lesser extent, this also happened in Malesso' and Humåtak on Guam, where I was also stationed for a time in the 1990s.

But in Saipan I met more than a few middle-aged Chamorros who spoke English but who, when they found out I was Chamorro, immediately switched to Chamorro, even if I was only beginning to improve my Chamorro. These people could have continued speaking English to me, but they switched to Chamorro when they asked me, "Kao Chamorro hao?" and I responded "Hunggan." They didn't ask me next how good were my Chamorro speaking skills. They just switched to Chamorro and it was my problem if I couldn't catch every word.

Not only was this a way to learn Chamorro, it was a better way for them to communicate with me. They were much more open, more telling, more expressive when speaking their mother tongue.

If there had been more Auntie Båcha's and Auntie Ebe's, we might have more Chamorros speaking Chamorro today. My own nånan biha spoke mainly English to me. She was a teacher and school principal under the US Naval Government most of her early life before the war, so that could have been a factor.

People can say, "But we should do this now! Speak only Chamorro to other Chamorros!"

I'm all for it, with two caveats or cautions.

First, I would hope that it would be people who DO speak Chamorro speaking Chamorro to other Chamorros. It's sad but true that today, on Guam, there are many who at times speak incorrect Chamorro but think they're just fine. Sadly they can pass on their errors to those who know even less and won't know they're learning erroneous Chamorro. And as this effect ripples over time, we will find ourselves in a deeper hole I'm afraid. 

My advice to those who have some grasp of Chamorro is to, first of all, not be over-confident and to triple check what they have to say in Chamorro with a first-language speaker, meaning someone who learned Chamorro in childhood in their family environment (while we still have them!). Someone truly fluent, and not someone who guesses and "thinks" they're right. A language is passed down from the community that speaks it; books encapsulate only a part of the language. Books and videos cannot stop you and say, "Sorry, that was a mistake," or, "That's not how it's said."

Second, promoting the Chamorro language by speaking only Chamorro to other Chamorros will work only if it's done long enough and with people who want to learn. If a non-Chamorro speaker is "forced" to hear Chamorro once or twice a month, little will be gained. If a non-Chamorro speaker could care less, or think it's just too hard to learn, and the Chamorro goes in one ear and out the other, little again will be gained. Sure, a non-Chamorro speaker will have to learn a Chamorro word now and then if they hear it often enough, but they'll probably never learn to speak the language if they could care less or think it's just too hard for them to even try.

But, it could be, and probably there will be, cases where someone begins to learn to speak their language because people like Tan Båcha' came along and refused to speak English to someone they identified as Chamorro. Ta li'e'.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021


Courtesy of Mayor Hofmann


Growing up in Sinajaña, I've always heard of Senator Gibson Drive.

It's one of the village's main streets, taking you down to Hagåtña or out to Route 4 to Ordot and beyond. When Route 4 to Hagåtña is blocked or slow for some reason, Senator Gibson Drive is an alternative route.

But who was Senator Gibson? I always paid attention to elections since the 1970s, and never heard of anyone named Gibson running for the Legislature. 

Since the street was in Sinajaña, I thought there was a Senator named Gibson who was from Sinajaña, but I never heard of any Gibson family in Sinajaña.

Well, here's the story.


Ernest Willard Gibson, Sr was a US Senator from Vermont. He represented that state in the US Senate from 1933 till his death in 1940.

He was Republican, but a progressive one and backed many efforts to fund Guam projects and extend civil rights on the island, such as representative, civilian government and US citizenship for Guam's people.

So it was at Gibson's doors that BJ Bordallo and Francisco B. León Guerrero knocked when the two Guam spokesmen went to Washington, DC in 1937 lobbying for US citizenship. Gibson introduced a bill but it died in the face of Navy opposition.

Still, the Guam politicians considered Gibson a friend of Guam and showed their appreciation in the usual Chamorro ways; sending him an ifit wood cane with the Guam seal on the handle; a lamp with a shade made from transparent sea shell fetched at a depth of 1500 feet; a machete with accompanying sheath.

But the highest gift bestowed on Gibson by Guam's politicians in the Guam Congress was to have the island's only highway named in his honor in 1938.

That highway was perhaps Guam's longest stretch of road, starting in the capital city of Hagåtña, passing through Sinajaña, Ordot, Chalan Pago, Yoña, Talofofo, Inalåhan, Malesso' and ending in Humåtak. That is one long road, now called Route 4. No wonder they called it a highway, although it was just a two-lane road.

It was the first time a Guam road was called a highway.

We moderns think of wide, paved roads with four or more lanes and higher speed limits when we hear the word "highway." But the older meaning of highway was the main road from one town to another. Guam in 1938 didn't have modern highways. The older meaning was meant in "Senator Gibson Highway."

If you look at the pre-war map, you can see how the highway leaves Hagåtña and goes through Sinajaña, just a small, one-street village at the time.



After the war, what was known before as Senator Gibson Highway became Route 4. Only the Sinajaña portion of the highway was still called Senator Gibson, but often times Road or Drive. This remnant of the prewar highway was residential and could not be a modern highway, with high speed limits.

In 1978, Senator Antonio M. Palomo introduced a bill, later passed into law, renaming Senator Gibson Drive Pale' Kieran Hickey Drive in honor of the Sinajaña pastor who built Saint Jude Church.

And yet, though many people do call it Pale' Kieran Drive, other people to this day still call the street Senator Gibson Drive. Old habits die hard.

FROM 2001

Twenty-three years AFTER the name of the street was changed, some people were still calling it Senator Gibson Drive.

Only the tail end of old Senator Gibson Drive, which ends in a cul-de-sac, retains the Vermont Senators' name, called Senator Gibson Court up to this day. At least the half-dozen families who live on Senator Gibson Court will know why their street is so-named, if they read this blog.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021



Tough guy Hollywood actor Lee Marvin performed in over 50 movies from the 1950s till the 1980s, often playing villains, criminals and Western gunmen. Besides many other awards, he won an Oscar for the 1965 Western comedy film, Cat Ballou. He also had a career in television.

But he also played soldier, even disguised as a German one in The Dirty Dozen, and for war movies Marvin could draw on real life military experience. Marvin served as a US Marine in World War II, actually fighting in the Battle of Saipan and getting wounded in it.

In 1942, Lee Marvin enlisted in the Marines and was placed in the 4th Marine Division. By early 1944, Marvin had already seen combat in the Marshall Islands. But he had a funny feeling about his next battle, that over Saipan which was set to begin in June. He sensed he would be carried out of battle lying on a stretcher.

And Lee Marvin's Objective

Mount Tapochao, 1500 feet high and even taller than Guam's Mount Lamlam, was Saipan's highest point and militarily valuable. The Americans had to capture it, and Marvin was his company's point man, whose job it is to be the first out front and scout the area.

Sure enough, as Marvin walked forward, Japanese bullets tore apart his sciatic nerve, which runs from the hip down to the leg. Then Marvin's foot was shot by a sniper. Marvin lay on Saipan's ground, an easy target, except that, according to him, another American soldier coming up the high ground was also hit and fell on top of Marvin, as dead as can be. This fallen soldier's body shielded Marvin from further wounds. Marvin screamed till he nearly lost his voice for someone to take him to safety.

In another account, Marvin says he somehow dragged himself to the beach, where he was rescued. 


What is remarkable is that only six Marines in his company of 247 men were not killed or wounded. Marvin had cheated death, but he was seriously wounded, and was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds on Saipan.

It took 13 months for Marvin to recover from his wounds, and the war was only a few more months away from ending. He was given a medical discharge and received disability payments.

That night after being rescued from the battle, Marvin lay on a hospital bed on a ship outside Saipan. "I felt ashamed," Marvin said, because there he was safe and comfortable while "all the guys were still fighting it out." He said he felt like "a coward and a heel."



In 1967, Marvin was asked to star in a World War II movie called Hell in the Pacific. The movie's production team decided to film it on Palau, then a part of the Trust Territory headquartered in Saipan. Needing the permission of the Trust Territory government to film on Palau, Marvin and some of the movie's production team flew to Saipan.

Marvin and the movie's director went around Saipan seeing if they could find a filming location there as well. Tony Benavente and Manuel "Kiyu" Villagómez were some of the local residents who accompanied them throughout their time on Saipan.

Marvin was very nervous about going back to the place where he was wounded and could have lost his life. After the war, he said he would get vivid nightmares now and then about his battle experience on Saipan. Now he was going to the very source of the nightmares. After the meeting with the government officials, when Marvin and the others went around the island, Marvin said he came upon the actual site where he was shot, and claimed the tree he hid under was still there!

He was uneasy about sleeping that night, but he actually slept peacefully. When he awoke, he felt that he had healed his psychological scars from the war. "That was one of the greatest personal triumphs of my life," he said.


Tuesday, August 10, 2021




Perhaps he was the first Chamorro showman.

By that I mean more than a singer, musician or dancer. I mean someone who puts on an entire production. To the extent of creating a full showman's persona, complete with a stage name. Duke Navarro.

In the US, he was a member of the Actors Guild, TV and Radio Guild, Showman and Show Folks of America and Dancing Masters of America. He said he appeared in ten movies, but I can't find a record of which ones, so maybe he was an uncredited extra. But the record does show he was very active chairing stage shows and the entertainment portion of various California social events.

He was born Jesús Pascual Blas Manibusan in Hagåtña in 1917, the son of Benigno Camacho Manibusan and Joaquina Cruz Blas.

Manibusan was showing his flair for entertaining as early as 1937 when he was working for the Pan Am hotel on Midway Island. He wrote a poem playfully praising the Pan Am boss on Midway.

By 1940, Manibusan was back on Guam, living with the priest of Sumay, along with the priest's house boy and cook, styling himself an "artist" as his occupation.

When the Americans came back to Guam in 1944 to take the island back from the Japanese, Manibusan was hiding at Monsignor Calvo's family's property at Chochogo in Toto when he met a company of US Marines. He was impressed when the Americans didn't ask where the Japanese were but where the Chamorros were (to take them out of harm's way).

After the American return, Manibusan was on the stage, performing with other Chamorro entertainers for the American troops. Some of those he performed with were Joaquín Arriola, later an attorney, and the Ploke sisters.

By 1954, Manibusan had adopted his stage name, Duke Navarro, and was organizing stage shows in the San Francisco Bay Area where he now lived. 

After many years in the US, where he was regularly performing as well as staging shows, he returned to Guam in 1965. He continued his entertainment activities, performing here and there, as well as trying to beef up local talent, such as for the Allen Sekt TV show. He died in 1970. U såga gi minahgong. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021



Most people don't even think twice about the name AGAFA GUMAS. It's just a name, and of a place that is somewhat out of the way for most people. It's way up north. So north it's even past Yigo Church.

Some people think the name sounds funny. As if trying to be Chamorro but not quite getting there.

The fact is, AGAFA GUMAS is not a Chamorro name, and it's not the local name for that location. There was no name Agafa Gumas until 1946, and in fact it was Agafo, not Agafa at first.

According to a military wife living in Agafo Gumas in 1946, Colonel Douglas Pamplin, who lived two houses down from her in Agafo Gumas, was the one who came up with the name. Agafo stands for Army Garrison Force and Gumas is an American corruption of the Chamorro word guma' which means house or houses. We do not add an S to Chamorro words to make them plural.

Some people say that GUMAS also stands for something, and is not "houses," but the military wife living at Agafo Gumas in 1946 and who knew Colonel Pamplin specifically states in her new article that the Gumas added to Agafo came from the Chamorro word for "houses." If some official documentation from the early years shows up stating that Gumas stands for something, I will add that information to this blog.

Army GArrison FOrce

So, if the military wife's story is accurate, Agafo Gumas was Pamplin's attempt to say, in Chamorro, AGAFO HOUSES, or maybe HOUSING. 

The problem is, from a Chamorro standpoint, gumas is not a Chamorro word. A house or two or a thousand houses, in Chamorro, are still just guma'. No S.

But, lest we be too hard on Pamplin, look at all the younger generations of Chamorros on Guam who say things like

MAN ÅMKOS, when it should be MAN ÅMKO'

CHE'LUS, when it should be MAÑE'LU

SAINAS, when it should be MAÑAINA

Americanization has made its mark!

So the area was Army housing in the military heyday at the end of World War II and right after it. The military wife talks about jeeps and jeeps and more jeeps. The area was surrounded by roads leading to military bases, and military traffic was endless on those roads. Trucks and bulldozers made noise all day, as well as other machinery used in construction. Guam was being built into a fortress.

There was a mess hall and an Officers Club.


As early as 1949, it was being called Agafa Gumas instead of Agafo Gumas. A newspaper article about the wedding of a military couple whose reception was at the Officers Club there called it Agafa, not Agafo, Gumas.

It was just easier to say, I imagine. Keep it all the same vowel.

Language is in the mouths of the speaker, and not all mouths were created equal.

There are even those who call it AGAFU Gumas, with a U.



At some point, the Army didn't need housing in Guam anymore and the land in Agafa Gumas was turned over to the Department of the Interior.

They, in turn, handed it over to the Government of Guam. In 1966, the Department of Land Management made the former military lots at Agafa Gumas available for lease or purchase, and local residents began moving into the area. In time a Catholic chapel (Santa Bernadita) was built by the people and recently a new concrete church there has become a parish church.


As the Agafa Gumas community kept expanding, and as people wondered more and more about the name, people began to think about dropping the name Agafa Gumas. A growing community was looking for an identity, and name, they could be more comfortable with.

First of all, the Army Garrison Force is there no more and hasn't been for a long time. Second, it's not the actual, Chamorro name for the area. Third, it's not a Chamorro name for anything. Fourth, the name actually uses a Chamorro word badly (gumas).

So some people say the Chamorro name for Agafa Gumas is Machananao. In fact, they named the public school right next to the Santa Bernadita Church Machananao Elementary School, and underneath the school name the location - Machananao.

But other people wonder, "Is it Machananao? Or Machanao?" And other people wonder, "Isn't Machanao/Machananao in another place?" Pre-war maps of Guam seem to indicate that Machanao/Machananao was further north of Agafa Gumas.

So, we'll have to investigate more and write another blog post just on Machananao/Machanao.