dandan / fino' chamoru / kuttura

Chamorro by Another Faith

I have had many debates over the years over the relationship between Catholicism and Chamorro culture. For some it is clear that Catholicism was introduced, was once forced onto the people and can therefore never truly be part of the Chamorro culture. For others Catholicism is Chamorro culture. Chamorro culture lives and breathes because of Catholic spaces and Catholic rituals. The cosmology of the Chamorro people has been engulfed in a Catholic way of seeing everything. For the majority of people, the answer of course lies in the middle. In the way in which most Chamorros today feel their culture, it is tied to going to certain spaces and observing certain rites. The Gima’yu’us Katoliko becomes a central station in life’s many journeys. In the traditional way, you go there when you are born, when you become a religious subject, when you get married, when you become a godparent, when you have kids, when you die. For most Chamorros the current and most recent Chamorro cycle of life runs in and out of the church constantly. But at the same time, Chamorros are not zealots, there are ways they flaunt the doctrine of the church, there are beliefs they hold onto even though it goes against what the Church requires of them for their faith. There is an uneasy alliance for most Chamorros between aspects of themselves that they see as being native or tied to the land and then others where they see themselves as Catholics and tied to the rest of the universe.

All of this is very academic for me, because my Chamorro family hasn’t been Catholic for more than 100 years. Although I can attest to the Catholic flavor, the scent wafting in the air always, I have no investment in the Church, and for me personally don’t see it as being the beginning or the end of Chamorro culture. My family, the Kabesa clan, converted to Protestantism at the start of the 20th century and then after World War II converted to the Seventh-Day Adventist religion. So my Chamorro experiences had a sort of evangelical fundamentalist Christian tone to them. Growing up there wasn’t much Chamorro to my religious experience on Guam, but after I was able to speak things shifted.

On Saturday mornings at the SDA Church in Agana Heights, they would multilingual worship, where people could attend Bible study in Tagalog, Chuukese, English or Chamorro. There may have been other languages as well, these are the ones I remember though. I would sometimes follow grandma to these Bible groups and listen to her, her friends and her relatives in the Chamorro all talk about God and salvation in Chamorro, but from a SDA perspective!

The family of my Uncle David, my grandmother’s brother is so musically talented. They perform at funerals and sing at church. On Saturdays they often go to St. Dominique to sing to the elderly there. My aunties have made a habit out of taking SDA religious songs and translating them into Chamorro. It was a very different experience singing those songs versus kneeling or standing in a Catholic church and hearing those songs. In a later post I will write more on the emotional dimensions of each and the kinds of auras the songs of each conjure up, but for now, let me just say that I was captivated and enthralled by the idea of taking those American fundamentalist Christian songs and singing them in Chamorro. One of my favorite memories of my grandmother was when I joined her and several other Chamorro speakers and we formed a sort of loose Chamorro choir that I got to perform with once. The practices were hysterical because I was at least 30 years younger than the next person standing and singing. My grandmother was so proud that I was part of the group and everyone enjoyed teasing me.

When my grandparents passed away my Flores aunties worked with the youngest great-grandchildren (Sumahi and Akli’e’ included) to learn and perform some of those Chamorro evangelical songs. For my grandmother’s funeral they sang “Hunggan Ha Guaiya Yu'” which is “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” For my grandfather’s funeral they sang “Ha Guaiya Yu’ Si Jesus” which is the Chamorro version of “I am so glad that Jesus loves me.”

I am proud of my family and the way that they have kept the Chamorro language alive in the SDA church. My aunties have created beautiful translations which move with such vibrancy, you can almost feel the Chamorro language revived and coming to life when they are song. People forget that languages are living things, they breathe, they change as the speakers live and breathe. I hope that Chamorros, regardless of whatever religion they adopt or pass on, keep the Chamorro language alive, they find ways to incorporate it and make it integral in their chosen cosmology.

Here below are the lyrics to “Ha Guaiya Yu’ Si Jesus” translated by my auntie Elizabeth S.M. Flores with assistance from her father David D.L. Flores. I am not a particularly religious person in terms of SDA or Catholic, but I will always connect this song with saying goodbye to my grandfather.


Gof magof yu’ sa’ si Tata gi langhet

Ha na’tungo’ guinaiya-na

gi Lepblo ha na’i hit

Todu i manmagof gi Bipblia hu li’e’

Lao ini mas mannge’: Ha guaiya yu’ si Jesus!

Sen magof yu’

Ha guaiya yu’ si Jesus

Ha guaiya yu’ si Jesus

Ha guaiya yu’ si Jesus

Sen magof yu’

Ha guaiya yu’ si Jesus

Ha guaiya yu’ si Jesus

Tun Jack_0014


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