Tuesday, April 25, 2023


Hagåtña in the early 1900s

By the 1890s, Japan started to take an increased economic interest in the Pacific, both in wanting to get things from the islands and nations of the Pacific Rim, and also to sell to them. Copra, the dried meat of coconuts, was one Pacific commodity in demand. The oil obtained from it could be used in many commercial products, and the meat used as a food product for both man and beast. 

The islands of Micronesia could supply that copra, but the Japanese could also supply the islands. Japan was closer to the islands than the US or other Western countries to sell Western products. Merchandise did make it to the Marianas from both east and west; goods could be bought in Manila and shipped to the Marianas, but ship transportation was not steady nor frequent. American and other goods did come from Hawaii and the US, but usually on whaling ships and the occasional commercial ship, but again these were not consistent nor frequent. But the Japanese could ship merchandise to the Marianas on a regular basis if the market proved successful.

The Japanese started to "open shop," as it were, in Micronesia in the 1890s. In 1899, Spain was no longer on the scene, having sold Guam to the US and the rest of Micronesia to the Germans. The Germans were initially not very pleased with the many Japanese merchants coming in and out of Micronesia, but the Americans on Guam were more accommodating. By 1899, Japanese merchant ships were already providing passenger transportation to and from Guam. By the early 1900s, the Japanese merchant presence on Guam was so strong that people claimed that the Japanese had a monopoly on trade on the island. While other races did operate stores, the Japanese were undeniably the strongest commercial force on island at the time.

One of the Japanese companies doing business on Guam in the early 1900s was the Hiki Trading Company.

Haniu was appointed Manager of the Guam branch in 1902

The full name of the company was the Nanyo Boeki Hiki Kabushiki Kaisha, which meant the Hiki South Seas Corporation, though it was called by slightly different names in English. Established in Japan in the 1890s, by the end of that decade the company had four boats that sailed around Micronesia selling various things then sailed back to Japan carrying products from the tropics.

The Hiki Company's schooners would also transport passengers up and down the Marianas. In the period 1900 to 1914 many Chamorros from Guam migrated to Saipan. The Hiki schooner was one way to get there. José Shimizu also transported passengers up and down the Marianas. Most of that migration ended in late 1914 when the Japanese took over the Northern Marianas from Germany.

Around 1900, the Guam branch of Hiki was managed by José T. Shibata, from Nagasaki. He had married a Chamorro, Vicenta Cruz Herrero. By 1902, the company had appointed a man from Tokyo, Hikoshiro Haniu, as manager of the Guam store. Haniu later married a Chamorro, Maria Deza Blaz, and was baptized a Catholic to do so, taking the Christian name José. His descendants, many of whom are better-known as the familian Desa, remain.


Tuesday, April 11, 2023



"ISAO!" "Sin!"

Those were the first words out of Tan Rosa, Mary's grandmother, when Mary got home.

Mary just started her nursing program at the College of Guam in the 1960s when she brought home her human anatomy book. Her professor had just passed them out to the nursing students earlier that day, and Mary had her reading assignment, to memorize the names of the different parts of the body, starting with the major bones.

In those days, many grandmothers were like a second mom, living in the household with everybody else. Since Mary's mom had a job as a cashier in a store not far away, grandma was the one who stayed home the whole day and night, supervising the cooking, cleaning and washing. When Mary got home some days, it was grandma she first met, not mom or dad.

Even Mary's mother had some misgivings about Mary going to the College of Guam. Mothers were very protective of their unwed daughters back then. Single females and males mixing together, even at school, spelled danger to them! Tan Rosa never even went to school and learned to read letters at an older age thanks to a brother teaching her. Mary's mom only went as far as the eighth grade. Before the war, a classroom education was thought unnecessary for girls after they learned to read and write.

Even the promise of financial stability as a nurse did not ease mother's mind at first. It was only when Mary's best friend, who married right out of high school but who was also studying nursing, agreed to drive Mary back and forth to the College (now the University) that Mary's mother relented. A married woman, she thought, could be trusted to make sure Mary walked the straight line.

But grandma was a different matter. With her generation, there was no talk of human reproduction or even parts of the body. When grandma saw the figures of naked humans of both sexes, albeit skeletal, grandma had a fit. She wanted to throw the books out of the house.

Mary's father had to intervene and explain what the charts and pictures were, pointing to bones in the book then showing on his own arm or shoulder what bones matched the chart.

When it came to the reproductive organs, Mary's father focused only on the uterus and explained that doctors and nurses needed to know all about the tuyan (womb) for the sake of the unborn child who might die if there is a problem. He explained that all the pattera (midwife) could do was limited to massaging, moving the baby in the right position and other such things, but that doctors could do more to save the life of a baby, with the nurse's help.

Thinking of saving babies' lives, Tan Rosa gave in.

Ironically, Mary, now a nurse of some years, assisted grandma Rosa on her death bed with her nursing skills.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023



María Lizama Tolentino Ignacio

She was perhaps the most influential person in Santa Rita in the 1950s and 60s. In the opinion of some, more powerful than even the village Commissioner (what is called the Mayor now).

Her name was María Tolentino Ignacio, but everyone called her Tan Maria'n Mak, after her father Máximo Tolentino, married to her mother Tomasa Lizama. She was the village nurse and midwife (pattera).

What gave her all that power and influence was her constant, direct contact with all the families in Santa Rita, right into their living rooms and bedrooms. She didn't wait in her village dispensary for the people to come to her. They did come to her, but she also went into the homes of the people. She knew everyone in the village; their particular health concerns; their habits and lifestyle; their vices and flaws.

She was a health enforcer. She got into people's faces and told them what they needed to do, whether they liked hearing it or not. But people respected her for it. They listened to her and sought her advice on many things.

She told parents, "Ennaogue' na man malålångo i famagu'on-miyo sa' man sin dodogga." ("That's why your children are sick, because they go around without footwear.")

"Na' fan o'mak åntes de u fan maigo'." ("Shower them before they sleep.")

Parents would warn their children when they saw Tan María walking or driving in their direction, telling the kids to run into the house and put on shoes or slippers.

Tan María would administer the inoculations to infants and children, and give them their anti-worm medicine. As a pattera (midwife), she assisted in many births right in the home. Whenever there was a problem birth, she baptized the newborn right then and there, and later told the village priest about it for the records.

She drove a jeep to visit the homes, and even conduct sanitary inspections. She also had an "ambulance" of sorts; not the hi-tech ones we have today but something to transport people to the hospital when needed. Her ambulance wasn't used just for emergencies; she'd drive villagers to their medical and dental appointments up north in the ambulance or at times her jeep. One day the brakes gave out on her ambulance and it was going downhill in that hillside village of Santa Rita. Her options were limited, so she jumped out of the ambulance and allowed gravity to take the ambulance into a home where no one was at the time and there it stopped. The crashed ambulance was taken away and never seen again nor replaced.

Her daughter Emilesia, now in her 80s, told me, "Guihe na tiempo, yanggen håfa ilek-ña si nanå-ho gi sengsong, ma gof osge." "At that time, whatever my mother said in the village, they really obeyed her."



Tan María was always interested in sickness and healing since she was young. She had the disposition for nursing, too. Her daughter Emilesia said, "Ti måssa' si nanå-ho ha pacha i chetnot para u espia håfa." "My mother did not hesitate to touch sores to find out something." She was willing to get blood on her, handle bedpans, bandage wounds, put up with unsightly wounds and foul odors. While others shrieked in horror at these things, Tan María said, "Mientras mås hao askurosa, mås hao chetnot." "The more repelled you are, the more diseased you become." Even back then, they knew a thing or two about exposure to viruses and building immunity.

She learned from older pattera and the Navy also gave her midwife training and by-and-by she learned basic nursing skills and obtained her license to work as one. 



Taking care of people was more than taking care of their physical health for Tan María. She was almost like a priest or nun in the way people took all kinds of problems to her. A husband once was mistreating his wife and they called on Tan María to intervene. She went to talk to the man and he did not resist. He listened and his behavior improved.

When she assisted at the second or third birth of an unwed mother who was still connected to the father of the children, she would tell the man and woman, "Esta dos pat tres famagu'on-miyo. Håfa na ti malago' hamyo umassagua?" "You already have two or three children. Why don't you two want to get married?" and she herself would bring the matter to the village priest to get them married.

One time she was called to talk to a young lady who was pregnant for the first time. The young lady was not only not married; no one could even identify a boyfriend. The young lady refused to name who impregnated her. Tan María tried to coax it out of her, but she still refused. So Tan María finally said, "Hu tungo' håye muna' mapotge' hao. I cha'kan guma'." "I know who made you pregnant. The house rat." The startled young lady said, "Åhe' ti i cha'kan guma' na si....." "No, not the house rat but rather...." and she let the name of the man slip out. Tan María knew reverse psychology before she ever heard the name for it.

She considered herself a full-time servant of the village, 24 hours a day, and she gave up her own home to help others when needed. She had a man who became a widower move to her house and stay on the kahida (front porch). When a pregnant woman from a far away village came to her because they feared a breech baby (humuyong dågan), after she moved the baby to a normal position inside the womb, she would say, "Mungnga humånao sa' yanggen barångka i chalan siña i nene tuma'lo ha' tåtte." "Don't leave because if the road is bumpy the baby might go back again." So, the pregnant lady, even with the husband at times, would move into Tan María's house for the night.


At least one young Santa Rita girl, Rosalia Tolentino (married name Perez) was inspired by Tan Maria'n Mak to become a nurse herself. She frequently talked with Tan María about being a nurse and pattera; about how hard the work was, especially since the villagers were very åguaguat (stubborn) about health issues. But, Tan María said, the work was very satisfying. She made a positive contribution to people's lives; what a great example for all of us!

Tan María passed away in 1974 from breast cancer at the age of 67.  She had been married to Luís Taitague Ignacio who passed away after her in 1982. May they rest in peace.

Photos courtesy of Emilesia Anderson and Terry Concepcion