Thursday, May 06, 2010


Gof ya-hu pumenta i pilan.

Ti tu tungo' sa' hafa, sa' ti meggai i tinigo'-hu put i pilan yan i kinalamten-na.

My daughter is named after a phase that the moon takes each lunar month. But I will admit that when I first heard the word many years ago, I didn't know exactly what it meant when the moon "waxes."

I know also, that the moon was very important to ancient Chamorros, like so many cultures. It played a huge role in organizing their yearly schedule. It was the means by which they made their yearly calendar, with thirteen months, for the thirteen moons in a year. They also noted that different moons symoblized different ideal moments for different activities. A certain type of crab is best hunted after a particular moon, and the arrival of a certain moon means that people should prepare for a period of heat or regular rain.

The moon was so important that "moon talk" or "fino' gualafon" or "talk of the full moon" was what was known as love language amongst Ancient Chamorros. This was a mysterious language even to the Spanish who were there to hear it in the late 17th century. It was said to be a secret language which young bachelors would speak to each other, especially when they were staying together in the guma'uritao. But it was also a language best expressed through love songs, meant to help develop the communication and presentation skill of the young men. They would write songs and perform for each other, before taking their act public, to other young men and women from the village.

Last year I was working on the research and writing for an exhibit on the food practices of Chamorros during and before World War II on Guam, for the Guam Humanities Council. For that project, I had to conduct a bit of research on whether or not Chamorros in the American colonial period before World War II, still used the moon as a factor in when they would plant, harvest or hunt.

As I suspected, there was plenty of sources out there, all of which pointed to Chamorros, up until the eve of World War II, still being very reverent and respectful of the moon, and still using it as a guide for their actions.

In my research I came across two short articles written by Chamorros before the war, who were attending the Guam Normal School, which was a teachers training school. Some of the essays written at that school were printed in the Guam News Letter or the Guam Recorder, which were two of the three prewar newspapers on Guam, both of which exclusively in English, and meant to be vehicles of further Americanization. A number of the essays were also gathered in the Hale'-ta series volume Hemplon Nana Siha: A Collection of Chamorro Legends and Stories. For those who are interested in learning more about these essays, you can find them all in the achives at the Micronesia Area Research Center at the University of Guam. The most interesting and revealing ones can be found in the Helen Paul Collection there.

In the Hemplon Nana Siha, there are two short articles which deal with the hinenggen Chamoru put i pilan antes di gera, or the beliefs of Chamorros about the moon before the war. In the hopes of helping keep alive, these ideas at least as knowledge if not in practice, I've decided to share them below. Just a warning to those reading. One of the articles shows more clearly than the other, the effect that Americanization was having on school children at the time. Miguel Salas' short article begins with the idea that Ancient Chamorros believed that the moon was in fact a witch. He then proceeds to discuss the knowledge they attached to the moon, which belies the idea that they lived in desperate fear of it. This sort of denigration of his own culture's beliefs could be attributed to his youth, but it could also be a result of him comparing the scientific modern knowledge that he was being taught about in school with the homegrown, primitive beliefs that his family held at home:


Moon Superstitions

By Juan Rosario and Felix Camacho

Fishermen, hunters and farmers are guided by the moon. The fishermen know the conditions of the tide by the moon and they can tell the best time to start fishing.

At the first appearance of the moon, Sinåhi, it is a good time to fish lobsters and crabs as they come out of their holes to wash their bodies. Sinåhi is also a good time for animals to be castrated because, it is said, the wound will only swell slightly and less blood will run from the cut.

The best time to hunt crabs is during gualåfon umang (the night before the full moon), gualåfon (full moon), and atahgue (the fifteenth night of the moon), because the crabs leave their holes to venture to the seashore.

The farmer always waits until the gualåfon and mina’te (low tide) to plant their seeds, as they believe that the full moon and low tide make the fruit full and perfect.

When the moon becomes smaller and smaller until it takes the shape of its first appearance, Ginekok, the farmers cut wood, bamboo and coconut leaves for use because during this time, they are more resistant to bugs and they are slow to decay.

When the moon is full, “Gualåfon,” it is a good time to plant all kinds of plants because their fruit will be very large. It is also a good time to hunt deer who roam the jungle at night.


The Moon

By Miguel Salas

The old inhabitants of Guam believed that the moon was a witch and they were afraid of the moon shining upon them as they thought it would make their hair turn gray. They counted using the moons. For instance, if they wanted to explain when they planted their corn, they would say, “We planted our corn two moons ago.”

They said that crabs are abundant at the Gualåfon Umang (night before the full moon), because the baby crabs were hatched and the mother crabs took the babies to the ocean to bathe them.

They believed the moon had something to do with the plants and planting crops such as corn, coconuts, bananas, yams, taro and sweet potatoes. When the moon is full and the tide is high, the crops will produce big fruits, nuts and roots to imitate the big fullness of the moon.

Cutting wood of any kind, particularly wood used to build a house with, when the moon is full is bad. Wood cut during the full moon rots much faster than wood cut during the first and last quarter of the moon cycle.


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