"I Ilun Pale'"
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
This week, a very intriguing, almost ironic historical twist will be visiting Guam, with the arrival of the skull of Påle’ Manuel Solorzano, a Jesuit priest who was killed by Chamorros in 1684 during the period when some Chamorros were still resisting the Catholic intrusion into their lives.
I say ironic for many reasons, but chiefly among them is the fact that the preserving of this skull represents the precise thing that the Spanish priests were so keen on eradicating. The Chamorro religion of this time was centered around ancestral worship, or the revering of the spirits of your relatives who had passed away. By revering them Chamorros believed that these spirits, these aniti or manganiti could help Chamorros by protecting them and help them in their day to day activities such as making it rain for crops, helping catch fish, or being brave in battle. For Chamorros, their spiritual anchors to their manganiti were bones. From men who had passed on, the bones of their legs would be carved into spear tips, so that when a warrior went into battle, he didn’t fight alone, but with the spirit of a hopefully brave deceased relative at his side, in his very hands. The main bone which was kept by Chamorros was the skull. It would be kept in the home and treated with great respect, sometimes Chamorros would talk directly to the skulls, never raising their voice. They would ask for their counsel, their protection and even offer them food at meals.
As part of forcing Chamorros to accept a new religion, new way of life and new regime, the Spanish forces targeted these skulls among other things. By crushing them they and hoped to weaken the morale of Chamorros resisting Spanish rule and also hoped to turn them away from what the colonizers felt was devil worship. As the Spanish were scattering and destroying the sacred relics of Chamorros, they were keeping skulls of their own. Påle’ Manuel Solorzano was killed during the uprising of Hula (who is sometimes referred to as Yura, Yula or Yoda). This was the last large battle of the Chamorro Spanish Wars in Guam. It took place long after the Spanish had thought Guam to be pacified and considered the only real resistance to their rule to exist in the islands north of Guam. Hula and his fellow rebel Chamorros attacked the Spanish presence in Hagatna hoping to take advantage of the fact that most of their forces were off-island. Here is a passage of the speech attributed to Hula:
“The ones who are healthy or strong are not here in this land, and those who remained in Hagåtña are the cruel, the disabled and sick. It is not difficult to attack and eradicate them. If we do not make use of ourselves now, we cannot triumph over them tonight and they will crush us in an unfavorable place, and we can no longer live our own way of life, because if they succeed to control the other islands to the north, our hopes are gone. Where else are we to flee? Follow me and be praised forever, because we will be able to enjoy our land.”
Hula’s attack was an initial success, but did not lead to the expulsion of the Spanish that he had hoped for. Påle’ Solorzano was killed during this period, after being stabbed in the head several times as well as the throat. His skull (with the marks of the attack that killed him very apparent) was preserved however and sent to the Philippines and later to his family in Spain. In the Catholic Church there is a common practice for keeping artifacts and relics such as this. It is intriguing that as they were condemning Chamorros for keeping skulls, there was no thought to the irony of keeping the skulls of their own fallen missionaries. After Chamorros stopped fighting and began to accept the new religion and life forced upon them, a slow realization took place. Many of the beliefs that Chamorros held, bore a similar structure to things the colonizers were compelling them to live by.
After the 1671 insurrection by Maga’låhi Hurao and his allies failed, a priest reported that Chamorros were appearing to willingly converting because they had seen the failure of their ancestral spirits and the success of the spirits that protected the priests and soldiers. Chamorros saw that there were similarities, between their manganiti that they talked to and asked assistance from and celebrated, and the saints that the priests were always talking to, celebrating and asking assistance from. Although at first you can argue most Chamorro did not agree with the Catholic and Spanish intrusions into their lives, they eventually after decades of resistance in both quiet and violent forms began to accept Catholicism, after seeing as a community the ways that the new spirituality was similar to the old.
This Saturday at 11 am in the UOG CLASS Lecture Hall, there will be a dialogue over the historical issues surrounding the Solorzano skull. UOG President and scholar Robert Underwood, UOG Anthropology professor David Atienza, Father Francis Hezel and myself will be on a panel to discuss the legacy of that conflict and also the way the tragedy of that time continues to ripple into the present. The Chamorro Spanish Wars was a pivotal point in terms of the trajectory of the Chamorros as a people. It remains something that is far distant for some, but still very intense and intimately present for others. Given the way that Chamorro culture has evolved to become closely intertwined with Catholicism, it is important that we look to that moment where this religion came into Guam and have stark, real, conversations about what took place. If you are able to, please come and join us on Satruday. The Solorzano skull will also be on display in the CLASS Lecture Hall from 12 pm – 1 pm.