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. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021



Someone asked me the other day how to say BONE MARROW in Chamorro.

The surprising thing is that the person is in her 70s; her first language is Chamorro (her parents didn't speak much English, only Chamorro) and she was born and raised in Saipan back when the Chamorro language dominated the land. English was spoken only in offices and schools.

But how often does the topic of BONE MARROW come up in conversation? Not much. Even though many of us like to suck out the bone marrow in our kåddo (stews).

Surprise, surprise. The Chamorro word for BONE MARROW is the same Chamorro word for BRAIN.


How did that happen?


To understand this, one has to go back to the Spanish word TUÉTANO, because Chamorro TÍTANOS comes from the Spanish word.

In Spanish, the tuétano means the marrow of the bone, or the inner part of a root or plant stem.

So, in the picture above you can see the marrow of bones, called tuétano. But these here below are also tuétano :

So we can note that some things all these tuétano have in common are :

  • they are the interior part of something
  • which are encased (surrounded on all sides)
  • and are fleshy, or pulpy, and can be softer than the exterior which encases them

So a brain has all those characteristics.

A brain is something soft and squishy, inside a skull, which encases the brain.

So perhaps that explains why our ancestors used the same word for brain and bone marrow, borrowing the Spanish word and changing its pronunciation.


In case one wanted to be extra clear that one is speaking about bone marrow and not the brain, one can say títanos i te'lang, or títanos to'lang, which means "marrow of the bone," to be very clear.


Many times when our ancestors borrowed Spanish words, they only used the plural form, even when it was a single item.

For example, "shoe" in Chamorro is sapåtos, whether it be one shoe or two. But, in Spanish, zapatos means "two or more shoes." One shoe is zapato; no -S.

It's the same for "onion." In Chamorro, it's seboyas whether it be one or a hundred onions. But, in Spanish, it's cebolla for one onion and cebollas for two or more onions.

And that's why, in Chamorro, it's títanos, with a final -S, even though the brain is one; no one has two brains. The original Spanish is tuétano for one, and tuétanos for two or more.


Our word for both brain and bone marrow is borrowed from Spanish.

Did our ancestors not have a word for them?

We can be pretty sure they knew these two things existed.

Maybe they did have a word for them, or maybe not. We need evidence to be able to answer this.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


 Alguien me preguntó el otro día cómo se dice MÉDULA ÓSEA en chamorro.

 Lo sorprendente es que la persona tiene más de 70 años; su primer idioma es el chamorro (sus padres no hablaban mucho inglés, solo chamorro) y nació y se crió en Saipán cuando el idioma chamorro dominaba la isla. El inglés se hablaba solo en las oficinas y las escuelas.

Pero, ¿con qué frecuencia surge el tema de la MÉDULA ÓSEA en una conversación? Pocas veces. Aunque a muchos de nosotros nos gusta sorber la médula ósea en nuestro kåddo (caldo).

Sorpresa. La palabra chamorra para médula ósea es la misma palabra que para cerebro.


¿Cómo ocurrió eso?

Para entender esto hay que ir a la palabra española TUÉTANO, porque la palabra chamorra TÍTANOS proviene del español.

En español, el tuétano significa la médula del hueso, o la parte interna de una raíz o tallo de una planta.

En las imágenes se puede ver la médula ósea, llamada tuétano. Pero también el tuétano de unas plantas:

Entonces podemos notar que estos tuétanos tienen algo en común:

-son la parte interior de al

-que están encerrados (rodeados por todos lados)

-y son carnosos o pulposos, y pueden ser más suaves que el exterior que los envuelve

Entonces, un cerebro tiene todas esas características.

Un cerebro es algo blando, dentro de un cráneo, que encierra el cerebro.

Tal vez eso explique por qué nuestros antepasados usaron la misma palabra para cerebro y médula ósea, tomando prestada la palabra del español y cambiando su pronunciación.


En caso de que uno quisiera aclarar que se está hablando de la médula ósea y no del cerebro, se puede decir títanos i te'lang, o títanos to'lang, que significa específicamente "médula del hueso".


Muchas veces, cuando nuestros antepasados tomaban prestadas palabras del español, solo usaban la forma plural, incluso cuando era un solo elemento.

Por ejemplo, "zapato" en chamorro es sapåtos, ya sea un zapato o dos. Pero, en español, zapatos significa "dos o más zapatos". Un zapato es zapato; sin -S.

Es lo mismo para "cebolla". En chamorro, son seboyas, ya sean una o cien cebollas. Pero, en español, es cebolla por una cebolla y cebollas por dos o más cebollas.

Y por eso, en chamorro, es títanos, con una -S final, aunque el cerebro sea uno; nadie tiene dos cerebros. El español original es tuétano para uno y tuétanos para dos o más.


Nuestra palabra para cerebro y médula ósea está tomada del español.

¿Nuestros antepasados no tenían una palabra para ellos?

Podemos estar bastante seguros de que sabían que existían estas dos cosas.

Quizás tenían una palabra para ellas, o quizás no. Pero necesitamos pruebas para poder responder a esto,