fino' chamoru

I Maga’håga i Isla

As a second-language learner, and an outsider, who’s only been on Guam for about six years, I humbly believe there is much more for me to learn.  It is always fascinating to me to see the development of the language and its adaptation to new circumstances.  Here, I would like to share a little of what I’ve learned and heard in the use of Fino’ Håya and Fino’ CHamoru on Guam, recently.

In ancient days, the terms Maga’håga and Maga’låhi reflected the avunculate matrilineal social organization of the Chamorro people, modeled after the origin story of Pontan yan Fo’na (Puntan and Fu’una).  

Carl Gutierrez spoke of “the force of the matriarchs, the Maga’Haga” in Chamorro culture.  Today, I see a lot of references to (re)claiming the title of Maga’håga, for female leaders, or young women, bestowing a reminder of indigenous female power in contrast to patriarchal systems brought by European colonizers.

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 10.03.41 PM.pngThere is a girls’ soccer team called Maga’håga; a road was renamed Chalan Maga’håga; there is an Annual Maga’haga Award Gala on Guam, whose winner one year, by the way, made clear:

My husband and I are very young and have been influenced by modern concepts but our relationship is still very traditional. He is still the head of our household. But we’re not living in the early 1900s. . . .

As long as women still take care of their household responsibilities, it’s OK. It’s OK to go out and fulfill your dreams, work, and be a part of the workforce and business community.

As others before me have pointed out, conservative Spanish and American mores have certainly forced their way into the indigenous culture, alongside the respect for women and the strength of women that have never been extinguished.

Yet, maga’håga today still evokes, after centuries of colonialism, an embrace of the ancient practices of CHamoru ancestors and the strength and prominence of elite ancient CHamoru women.  It also reflects the significance of how different late-medieval Spanish views of women were from those of the indigenous CHamoru people (as recorded by the Spaniards).  The Spanish wrote of their shock at the power of important CHamoru women.

The “first daughter” (maga’håga, or most prominent daughter) of a clan would lead based on her birthright: her age, and her clan status.  As far as I’m aware, a maga’håga would always naturally be complemented by a maga’låhi (first or most prominent son), her brother or possibly close cousin, in the maternal line.  My understanding is that they would have been elders, not youth.  The two of them would lead their clan or village together, as a team.  They had different and not necessarily equal roles (but again, this is all filtered through heavily biased Spanish sources, so it must be taken with a grain of salt, at least).  I’ve read that the wise elders of the clan and the women of the clan would also (as groups) have important roles to play in decisions such as going to war.

An avunculate matrilineal society has important complementary roles for men and women related as brother and sister (not husband and wife).  Avunculate refers to the “uncle,” as a man would have a special obligation or relationship toward his sister’s children.  This is naturally common in matrilineal or matrifocal societies (like the CHamoru, and the Mosuo).  The maga’håga and maga’låhi were elite individuals within their clans, but they also represented a social order, and a worldview, that would have been reflected in every family unit.  I do not write this to romanticize the past, but to make a general statement about a foundational principle of ancient CHamoru society.

Do we see brother-sister teams in powerful families cooperating today to lead clans?  What has changed, and what has remained, to a greater or lesser extent?  Do women relate primarily to their brothers, children, elders, and blood relations (i.e., their clans) or to their husbands or significant others?

The Commission on CHamoru Language has released a statement identifying “maga’håga” as the proper term for the new female governor.  This is obviously a way to claim and honor CHamoru ancestry: in particular, the model of elite, upper-caste ancient CHamoru women.  The Commission also identified “asaguan maga’håga” for the husband of the governor, and “sigundo maga’låhi” for the (male) lieutenant governor.  All of these are specifically CHamoru terms and assert the primacy of the indigene.

These terms are not encoded in law, so far as I am aware, although there is a law establishing the Commission.  However, news media is already using these terms, so they will probably become widespread in usage.  “Sigundo maga’låhi” has been used before for a male lieutenant governor, when the governor was also male.  In the present situation, it somewhat begs the question “Håyi i primet (na låhi)?”  People should have no problem understanding exactly what it means, however, as used in context.

There are various ancient terms for leaders.

Ma’gas means leader, although it does not have the particular historical resonance and relatively widespread familiarity of maga’håga or maga’låhi.

Kama’gas means the second-in-command, an assistant to the boss, or a lower-level leader, according to the Topping/Dungca/Ogo dictionary.  Peter Onedera used this word recently in a newspaper column to refer to the heads of government departments or agencies.  Kama’gas uses the prefix ka- which typically indicates proximity or movement toward something (as in kahulo‘, the command to move upward or rise upward).  So in this case, it would be proximity to authority or power.

The term “lieutenant” is a little difficult to translate exactly.  It could mean a second-in-command or a substitute.  Tahgue means to substitute for another person (as a verb).

Maga‘ (as a prefix) can mean great, special, predominant, etc.

Pilong means (according to Topping/Dungca/Ogo) “great chief, most influential person in a community, champion.”  I first came across this term when researching an article with Miget.  We wrote the following:

Trini Torres, who, though never officially recognized as a maga’håga’ of Nasion Chamoru, was often thought of as one by the community because of her fierce and fiery rhetoric, left the group in disillusionment and went on to become the Pilong Maga’håga’ (great or champion maga’håga’) for another activist organization, the Taotaomo’na Native Rights Task Force.

The Topping/Dungca/Ogo dictionary lists “maga’håga” as “first lady, in old Chamorro society the wife of the highest ranking male.  Lit. daughter of the chief,” but this does not appear to match other sources I’ve consulted.  Instead, the maga’håga would be the maga’låhi’s sister or close cousin, and a co-ruler.

That dictionary definition also does not accurately represent the brother-sister relationship at the heart of ancient CHamoru society, as exemplified by the legend of the brother and sister who created the CHamoru people by working together.  A severe gender hierarchy prevailed in Spain and the rest of Europe, and Catholicism has touched Guam with elements of that as well, where the wife of the ruler is important.

Maga’håga appears to be considered synonymous with matriarch for some (as Carl Gutierrez said, or as Vivian Dames writes).  This is accurate in one sense, in that a maga’håga was a female ruler in a matrilineage.  Ancient CHamoru society was not a matriarchy, per se, however, due to the significance of the manmaga’låhi.

The same dictionary lists “maga’låhi” as “ruler, the highest rank of a state, as president, governor, mayor, magistrate, chief, chieftain.”  Actually, it would be a parallel rank to maga’håga, and always complemented by a maga’håga, at the local or clan level of a village.  Historically, it would not signify the leader of a centralized government, a president or governor, because the ancient Chamorros did not have an islands-wide government (or an island-wide government, for that matter).

The reappearance of maga’håga on the rhetorical scene on Guam has been coming for some time as younger women have (re)claimed it for themselves as a term of empowerment and cultural pride.  Now that Guam has elected its first female governor, maga’håga is a very timely title indeed for her.  It embodies the spirit of the age.

Asagua, or spouse, is one of several gender-neutral terms in CHamoru (although maga’håga and maga’låhi are definitely not gender-neutral, several other very common terms, like che’lu, are).

Sigundo Maga’låhi (or Sigundon Maga’låhi?) reflects the familiarity of the term maga’låhi in the sense of governor today.  Although Josh Tenorio will not be secondary to any other man on Guam, it is a way of signifying his importance as the lieutenant governor.  This was probably the simplest and most familiar way of conveying that role for our commission today, balancing the linguistic and cultural concerns with social context.

I’ve been serving as a “special assistant” in the office of the governor for some time now.  I wanted to use Fino’Håya to convey this role, rather than Espesiat Asistente or whatever.  It was difficult for me!  I asked around for help and finally ended up using the maga‘ prefix with a‘ayuda, which, reduplicating the first syllable, turns a verb into a noun: Maga’Å’åyudan Tinige’ (special assistant in media / communication).  This is all with the object of promoting CHamoru language use as much as possible, in our daily lives as well as special occasions.  And also, just for the joy of playing with living language.


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