Chamorros of Guam

San Pedro Calungsod, patron of sacristans and overseas Filipino workers (0FWs), was a mere adolescent when he was killed in Guam by natives called Chamorros. Born in 1654, during the habagat season, Pedro was killed in the summer of 1672. He was barely 18. He died defending his master, Fr. Diego Luis Sanvitores, a Jesuit missionary of extraordinary zeal who was determined to Christianize and civilize the inhabitants of the Marianas Islands. Evidence of Calungsod thaumaturgic powers — through his intercession two Filipinos were healed– convinced Pope Benedict XVI to canonize him on 12 October 2012, after his mentor, Fr. Diego Luis Sanvitores, had become a saint.

I learned more about the Chamorros from the enlightening lectures of Dr. Floro C. Quibuyen, the foremost authority on Jose Rizal. He spoke at the University of the Philippines about Rizal’s 10-page translation of “Die Malaien” by German anthropologist Theodor Waitz. Apparently, some Filipino historians thought that Rizal’s translation were his notes for a book project titled Melanesia, Malesia and Polinesia. That was Dr. Quibuyen opening salvo, he continued with the “Flying Proa”, a simple sea vessel, so incredibly swift, it practically flew with the wind. European seafarers and pirates could not believe their eyes; the Spaniards quickly adapted the “flying proa” and used it to conquer the Marianas Islands. Quibuyen lectures are not mere rumblings of a fabulist but products of extensive scholarly research.

To many ship -wrecked travelers and corsairs, the Chamorros were the most gentle, caring and hospitable people they had ever encountered, generous with their food and drink and culture. However, Fernão de Magalhães’ encounter with the Chamorros was not at all pleasant. They stole a skiff from one of his ships so he ordered his soldiers to burn Chamorro dwellings during which some were killed. He named the place Isla de Ladrones, Thieves’ Island. Later, the galleons of the Acapulco-Manila trade always stopped in Guam for repairs and supplies before crossing the Pacific Ocean.

European travelers were astonished at how tall and well-built the Chamorro men were. They had amazing physical strength, yet they were quite gentle and that was attributed to the matriarchal system that ruled the Marianas islands. Chamorro women were not as big, but were just as good-looking and they were definitely in-charge. When a Chamorro man married, he left his parents’ home and moved in with his wife and her family. A wife could leave a husband who did not live up to her expectations, and marry another. Child-rearing was not a woman’s burden because the responsibility was shared with other members of the extended family. (Who was it who said that it takes a village to raise child?) A “single mother” suffered no stigma nor shame because in the Chamorro’s matrilineal society babies were gifts that assured the continuity of a community. Chamorros were fleet and free in their matriarchal society. They worshipped no idols but they venerated their ancestors, kept skulls of their elders in their homes. They offered food to their beloved dead and had great reverence for their graves.

According to Dr. Quibuyen the bedrock institution of Chamorro society was the guma’uritao, a house for young bachelors, something like a dormitory or boarding house. Each village had a guma’uritao. This served a crucial function because it was a Chamorro institution of socialization and education where pubescent boys learned vital skills like boat-building (the flying proa) sailing and navigating without instruments. They were taught how to build houses, make tools and weapons, trained in martial arts like wrestling and also in survival skills like hunting and fishing. At the guma’uritao, they were taught everything they had to know about protecting their villages. To complete their education, the young bachelors learned about their cultural traditions like dancing, reciting and chanting poems about their history and values cherished by Chamorros. The village elders were the teachers; the young Chamorro males learned how to bond with each other, and how to esteem their elders.

At the guma’uritao young males also learned how to relate to the opposite sex. Dr. Quibuyen wrote: “They learned directly from young unmarried but sexually experienced women called ma ’uritao who came from another village, pre-selected by their elders. For these women, it was considered an honor to be chosen as sex teachers to the young bachelors. They were showered with gifts by the bachelors ‘parents to compensate their families for their absence, while they were at the guma’uritao, other family members had to take over their assigned domestic chores and responsibilities. There was no shame to single motherhood so if the ma’ uritao became pregnant her village would welcome her back, or she could marry the father of her child. In essence, the guma’uritao prepared the adolescent male for adulthood and for married life.

Enter the Jesuits, Christ’s “light cavalry” eager to proselytize and harvest Christian souls for God and King. Fr. Diego Sanvictores, eminent theologian, followed by a faithful band of pubescent acolytes like Pedro Calungsod, were shocked beyond belief at the Chamorros. The guma’uritao shone with maleficence, it was the Devil’s lair created by a matriarchal society of “arrogant women”. Moreover, the Chamorros were stark naked, both men and women went about shamelessly in their birthday suits. Fr. Sanvictores immediately instructed his men to always fix their gaze above the heads of the naked Chamorros, never to look down which was what they usually did to show humility. Soon enough, the Chamorros noticed the strange attitude of the missionaries, so they began weaving palm fronds to cover themselves a bit just to make the Spaniards and their retinue of Filipinos less uncomfortable.

When Fr. Sanvictores and Pedro Calungsod arrived in 1668, the Chamorros offered no resistance, but when a hundred babies died after a mass baptism, the Chamorros were alarmed and began to object to Christianization and its strange rituals. Apparently, the missionary priests kissed the babies after baptism, inadvertently transferring pathogens to the unprotected infants. From 1668 to 1683 in the islands of San Juan and Santa Ana, 267 children died after baptism. Fr. Sanvictores wrote to the Queen Regent to neutralize the scandal. He said the dead infants went directly to Heaven as little angels and they would have been damned forever had the missionaries not arrived to baptize them.

As cultures and beliefs began to clash, the gentle Chamorros became belligerent. A Fr. Luis de Medina was attacked in Nishan village in eastern Guam; a Fr. Morales was ambushed in Tinian on his was to baptize a dying man; a Spanish sergeant and his Filipino servant were hacked to death in a boat to Saipan. Impaled with missionary zeal, the Jesuits who came with Sword and Cross relentlessly continued with Christianization with the help of Filipino conscripts.

Eventually, overpowered by superior arms, the Chamorros were forced to give up anything in their culture that was against Catholicism. The Jesuits destroyed the guma’uritao and matrilineal kinship, the matriarchy of “arrogant women “which had sustained the Chamorro way of life. Fr. Sanvictores was killed after baptizing the child of a Chief Matapang; Pedro Calungsod died in his defense. I think it was Jose Rizal who painfully observed that the arrival of the Christian faith was always accompanied with death and destruction.