“I Pilan Yanggen Sumåhi…”
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The simple answer is, I pilan yanggen sumåhi…which in English translates to “when the moon waxes.” These are my favorite words from a famous old Chamorro love song called “Dalai Nene.” The word “sumåhi” always stuck with me. It shares the same root word “såhi” with another well known word on Guam now, “sinahi.” This word is most famous as the Chamorro men’s necklace made of hima shell, but is also the word for “new moon.” The tragic lyrics combined with the imagery of the moon stuck with me so, influencing me to name my first child Sumahi.
Like many cultures, the moon has been very important to Chamorros, especially in helping mark the passage of time throughout the year. The Ancient Chamorro calendar had 13 months, one for each moon. In the naming of their months, they noted that different moons symbolized 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' gualåfon" 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 that 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 the rest of the village (and potential love interests).
In pre-World War II Guam, the importance of the moon was still apparent. For example, in my research I came across a short essay entitled “Moon Superstitions” written by Juan Rosario and Felix Camacho, who were students attending the Guam Normal School, which was a training school for teachers back then. The article discusses the beliefs that Chamorros had about how the changes of the moon affected when you should harvest crops, cut wood, or even castrate animals.
For most Chamorros who were educated in the prewar American school system, they were taught very little about local history or culture, because the system was blatantly colonial and designed to strip the children of their language and identities as Chamorros. But interestingly enough, those who went on to become teachers were often given more latitude in their personal intellectual endeavors. In other essays collected from Guam Normal School Students, you find discussions on local history, legends and culture. There were even essays where Chamorros were asked who they preferred as their colonizer, the Spanish or the Americans? A number of these essays were collected in the Hale’-ta series, as part of the volume titled “Hemplon Nåna Siha: A Collection of Legends and Stories.”
The essay by these students is short and so I’ve included it below, because it gives a nice insight to some enduring aspects of Chamorro culture and the moon.
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.