the Chamorros, the Filipinos and Madre España

“Three way relationship is too sexual, you don’t know who’s in charge! My wife suggests a different metaphor [to describe Spain, Chamorro and Filipino historical relations]. She said there are two daughters, both trying to survive, but naturally, both developing separate identity.”

-“Contours of Chamorro National Identity and Filipino Contributions” lecture by Dr. Underwood

Chamorros or Filipinos?

This remarkable relationship had an interesting origin. It all started when Filipinos became the answer to the islands sparse population. To remedy the situation the Spanish sent Filipinos to Marianas. From skilled obreros, to religious and even criminals. Dr. Underwood notes, “in the 1850’s it was decided to bring Filipinos that were skilled, so the Spanish brought every single prisoners in the Philippines to Guam! As soon as they landed…some of these men decided to take over the islands”.

Not too many people know that these large waves of migration diluted the Chamorro core in the past. According to Dr. Underwood there was point in their history that “the Chamorros themselves could no longer distinguish what is Chamorro from Filipino.”

When the Spanish left, the Americans  adopted the same policy in the 1900’s. Sending Filipino laborers to help build their new colony.

Interesting is that for the Chamorros in 19th century, “all Filipinos are Tagalogs…he’s a Tagalog from Iloilo, or he’s a Tagalog from Cebu!” Dr. Underwood.

Even our Carabaos and Philippine Deers found their way to the Marianas. These deers, endangered here, are thriving in Guam. These animals were brought there as game by a Spanish governor.

Chamorros saved Magellan, the Filipinos killed him!

If it weren’t for the Chamorros, Magellan would’ve never made it to our islands. So, we have to them to thank for sending Jesus our way!

It was Magellan’s expedition that gave the islands its notorious sounding name, “Isla de los Ladrones” (literally, island of thieves) after the natives, according to Pigafetta, robbed some of their ships.

I don’t quite get it with these White men. They took their life saving provisions from that abundant land and repaid it with the name “Ladrones”!

The Blessed and the Saint

Christianity was brought to the Chamorros by a brave Spanish Jesuit, Diego Luis de San Vitores, who personally requested from the Spanish monarchs to be granted permission to evangelize Marianas.

Padre Diego was killed after attempting to baptize a local chieftains child. But these deaths, no matter how horrific, and Padre Diego’s was, are counted as accomplishments for these missioners.

One of Padre Diego’s assistant, Pedro Calungsod, recently became a saint before his boss who brought him to the Marianas. He was martyred along with the Jesuit.

Dr. Underwood said, “they’re going to make a movie about it, in it the Chamorros would be savages being saved by this 17 year old, angelic looking young man from the Visayas.”

Interesting is that these same Spanish missions, in local dramas and films, are portrayed as invasions. But with Filipino participation,  the religious mission all of a sudden becomes holy, noble and great.

The Yndios and the Mestizos

During the early 19th century there was “a distinction between the mestizo and indio in Marianas” according to Dr. Underwood. When the policy was enacted to

Dr. Underwood explore[s] the nature of Chamorro-Filipino relations during the course of the Spanish colonial period (especially the 19th century) and their impact upon Chamorro identity and the current practice and conceptualization of Chamorro identity.

“give tax breaks for the Indios,” the mestizos all applied to be classified as Indios. Before the mestizo class was strongly desired but people would only hang on to social status until it cease to serve them. We see this with local elitist politicians who all of a sudden become “masa” during elections. After winning, they go back to their ivory towers and jeers at those who voted for them.

After the Mexican revolution, the Philippines became a province of Spain. So this “change the dynamics,” the Philippines became responsible for Marianana’s administration. This is why when Aguinaldo declared independence, he was ready to exclude Mindanao but not the Marianas.

In the 19th century for most Chamorros, Manila was “the center of the universe.” Dr. Underwood recalls a game in Guam where little children would be lifted up by open palms pressed on the side of their head by their older siblings and then asked, “could you see Saipan?” He found out that children in Saipan had the same game, only the question changed, “could you see Manila?”

Mabini and the Revolution

By the late 19th century, there were groups of Chamorros that had been educated in the Manila. Then the deportados (expelled political descenders) came to Marianas. The local elites would get their revolutionary ideas from these Filipinos.

Dr. Underwood recalls an incident in 1881: “the Spanish governor was assassinated…where would they get that idea?”

The “enlightened” Filipino deportados had inspired a freedom movement among the Chamorros. Dr. Underwood continues, “Filipinos today are not aware that the Filipinos [revolution] was also fighting for the independence of the Chamorros.”

The most famous of these political prisoners was Apolinario Mabini. Dr. Underwood pointed out a link between the hero and his family, “My grandfather, a Marine, who came from the states, was one of his guards.”

Let’s not forget about, General Ricarte, also a Guam detainee. The only revolutionary leader that has the distinction of never accepting America’s legitimacy.

Separation of Marianas from the Filipinos

When American captured Manila, control for the Marianas was next. In less than a generation after the American came, the Chamorros had developed a totally different identity.

In the 1900’s Filipino politicians pass a resolution to annex the Marianas. The Chamorros passed their a counter resolution to disallow this annexation. They no longer want anything to do with the Philippines. This after only 27 years of separation.

Chamorro Language

I asked Dr. Underwood what the lengua franca was during the Spanish rule, he said, “It’s Chamorro, the missionaries studied it and that’s how they communicated.” With the coming of Americans came English as mode of instruction. But like Hiligaynon and Tagalog, it has been profoundly influenced by Spanish and, not surprisingly, Filipino words. To this day you could hear them greet each other in Spanish.

Increasing Historical Awareness

I was really surprised to see so many college students (from nearby schools) attending the lecture.

This increasing interest in our history by the younger generation is an exciting development. A decade ago, I would have never thought this to be possible.

Last month, in Instituto Cervantes, most in attendance were young people. A few years ago, when I attend lectures about history in the Instituto, I’d see the older generation in attendance.

This is not the case anymore–Ambeth Ocampo’s lecture I heard are always packed to the rafters.

Exciting times for someone who enjoys Filipino history.

Dr. Underwood is a former Member of Congress (1993-2003), Professor Emeritus of the University of Guam, and a distinguished educator with many publications and presentations to his credit.

From National Museum of the Philippines FB Fanpage


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