I remember the times when life in Guam was sweet and simple--when everyone was happy and contented with his lot. The slow and easy rhythm of the island was a part of life; it was accepted for it was all that was known. No one ever rushed about doing this or doing that. While life entailed much toilsome and tedious work, it was never hectic, never demanding, and the people didn't go by the clock. It is well known even today that there are two kinds of time in Guam--the regular time and the Guam time. The Guam time consists of 'just whenever...' If you invite people to come to your house for a party at 12:00 p.m., don't expect them to come at 12:00 p.m. Expect them to come at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. or whenever. That's Guam time.
The bright smiles of the hibiscus and bougainvilla blossoms welcomed the warmth of the morning sun. The sound of hammering was echoing in the distance beckoning all able-bodied men in the surrounding region to come and help in the building of a house. As the sound of hammering continued, all able-bodied men within the range of the sound responded to the beckoning call--one by one, two by twos, they all came. Soon there was an army of workers willing and able to help build a house for a fellow neighbor. The men toiled from morning to sunset. The soon-to-be homeowner provided food and water for the workers. Within a few days, the house was erected and ready for occupancy. None of the men who had worked expected or took any compensation for their labor. At its completion, the house was free and clear. As a result of neighbors helping neighbors, there were no mortgage payments to deal with. No worries and anxieties of eviction were ever known of or experienced. Love and unselfishness prevailed in the island paradise. Hate, selfishness, indifference, and intolerance were virtually unknown. All were happy during this era of sweet simplicity.
Sharing with neighbors was a way of life. When people cooked something, half of it or part of it went to the neighbors. When my dad slaughtered an animal, all the neighbors received a good size chunk of the meat. When people caught fish, these were shared with family, friends and neighbors. Someone with a vegetable garden would be sure to share his bounties with neighbors and friends.
This sharing mentality was all consuming. It was love in action that was demonstrated over and over again especially to those who were faced with difficulties or unexpected adversity. When someone died, the obituary was printed in the newspapers and announced over the radio and television. A lot of people from all over the island came, not only to pay their last respects to the deceased but to pitch in and help the bereaved family with the unexpected funeral expenses. The money collected known as the eka was used to help defray the costs of the casket and other related expenses such as food, drinks and other refreshments that were provided for those who had come to pay their final respects. Sometimes the people who came might not have known the deceased personally, but they knew of someone, a relative or a friend perhaps, who had known the deceased. After the funeral, there would be a nightly gathering of people in the home of the family for the recitation of the rosary. This is called lesajo . Refreshments would be served at these gatherings. A year later, a lesajo would be held for several nights to commemorate the anniversary of the death.
There were no funeral homes in Guam when I was growing up. Some of the men just got together and made the casket. Now, the casket was not an elaborately ornate masterpiece, but plain, yet, decent looking. The casket was varnished and/or shellac applied. Some of the women sewed the lining for the coffin using satin material and lace, etc. All this labor was voluntary--a gift of love to the family of the deceased. There were no $5,000-$10,000 funeral expenses as are common today. Today, I know of one funeral home in Guam because it's owned by my cousin Jerry. I'm not sure how much Jerry charges for his services. But, when I was growing up, funeral expenses were virtually unknown for life was sweet and simple, and death was sad but still simple.
On a happier note, there were fun times in Guam especially during a fandango. A fandango is a wedding feast. It was a time for merriment for one and all. The band would be playing loudly; people would be dancing. Everyone was happy for the new bride and groom. When I was growing up, these fandangos were big events. Again, as with everything else, everybody pitched in to help. Many helped out financially. The monies collected for fandangos are called chinchulee. A temporary building (aka palapala) with a floor and roof to keep out the sun was erected. Long tables were made where the food would be served. The building would be large enough to accommodate the people and would serve as the place for the people to dance. Someone with experience would be in charge of the food department. He or she would be responsible for the 'menu' and to see that all went smoothly--that there was enough food for the throng of people that would come. He or she would be the one to give out orders as to what to peel, chop, slice, shred, grate and how much and when. People would be baking cakes, pies, and other pastry products; sometimes these items would be ordered from a bakery. Some people would be roasting beef, and barbecuing chicken and ribs. The foods served on fandangos were basically the same as those served on any party or fiesta. After the fandango, the left-over foods were distributed to family, friends, neighbors and workers. An interesting note that should be added here is that after the wedding feast, the bride and groom, still in their wedding attires, would go and visit elderly relatives who did not show up at the feast. They would kiss their hands (more on this later) and receive their blessings. The bride and groom would give them a piece of their wedding cake.
Perhaps one of the best known Guamanian dish that was served on fandangos and fiestas was the chicken kelaguin which consisted of chopped up barbecued chicken mixed with shredded or grated coconut, seasoned with spicy hot peppers, black peppers, lemon juice, chopped green onions, and salt to taste. The kelaguin would be spread on a piece of warm or hot tortilla and eaten open-faced style. Guam's tortillas were different from tortillas over here. Ours were big having a radius of about 12-15 inches and had a thickness of at least a quarter of an inch. These were cut in quarters, then eighths and served on a platter.
Another favorite delicacy in Guam was the fritada. This was usually made from pig. When the pig was slaughtered, nothing of it got wasted. Everything was utilized--the fats, the heart, the kidneys, the liver, the intestines, and even the blood. The intestines were thoroughly cleaned and 'disinfected' with garlic and vinegar. All the meats and entrails that were used for the fritada were chopped up into bite size chunks. Onions and garlic were sauteed, and the meats were dumped into a big pot to cook. After a while the blood was poured into the pot, and the mixture was allowed to simmer for hours. The end product was very dark, almost black, in color. If you did not know what it was, it really looked disgusting on the table and you wouldn't dare eat it. But everyone in Guam knew what it was, and everyone (those who ate pork) liked it.
Guam was predominantly Catholic, and it had customs and traditions that were strictly observed by its people. The various districts or villages held fiestas in honor of their patron saints. Each village had its fiesta fall on a date different from the dates of the fiestas of the other districts. There would be a flurry of activities as people prepare for a whole weekend of festivities. Every household in the village would provide food and drinks for their guests which would be their friends and relatives from the other villages. Around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, after everyone had eaten and were satisfied, the church bell would be pealing forth its sweet melodious tones inviting people to the church for mass and other church-related activities. Later, they would have a procession where the statue of the patron saint would be carried around, and an entourage of parishioners would follow it. After all the religious activities were finished, everyone attended the secular, carnival-type activities which usually were held on the church grounds. The highlight of this event was the drawing of the raffle where someone could win a brand new car. These raffle tickets were sold months prior to the fiesta. The proceeds from the raffle tickets sale would go to the church. In the village where I came from, Mangilao, the patron saint was St. Therese or Santa Teresita in the local language. October was the month where the Santa Teresita fiesta was celebrated. I think this fiesta tradition was so ingrained in the people of Guam that even my family, who were staunch Protestant, provided foods and refreshments on this occasion for those who just happened to drop by. Nobody would be turned away or go hungry on this day. Of course, we did not participate in any of the religious activities.
Around Christmas time, some people would go door to door singing 'O Come O Ye Faithful' in the local language and carrying a statue of the baby Jesus wrapped in a soft blanket. The baby was dabbed with a touch of perfume. The people knew they were to kiss the baby Jesus and give a donation to the church.
A Christmas and New Year tradition on the island was the making of a delicacy called bunealos dago. A doughnut-type mixture was made from taro, a root product similar to potato or yam. The taro root was grated and mixed with white flour. The dough was shaped into inch-size balls and deep fried. The bunealos dago was eaten with molasses used as a dip. Some people used karo, honey, or just plain white sugar. Somehow, without these bunealos dago it would not seem like Christmas or New Year.
More custom and tradition - In Guam, the young people were taught to respect their elders. One of the things they did to show respect for their elders was whenever they see an aged person, if female, they would gently take her hand, kiss it, and say 'Nora'. This word 'Nora' is written with a wavy line placed on top of the letter 'N'. It would be pronounced 'Kno-ra'. To an older man, they would say 'Not' ('Knot') with a long 'O' sound. The older person's response would be Dios Ta Judi meaning 'God bless you'. I think this is a beautiful custom. When I was in Guam, I had my share of kissing the hands of our beautiful, older people. I've been away from Guam for three decades, and I don't know if this custom still exists today. I think, Guam is too westernized, too Americanized today, it could be that this custom has stopped altogether. If not, then, should I ever go back to Guam, the younger folk would take notice of my grey hair and take my hand and kiss it and say 'Nora' to me. Hmmmm, I think that would be strange.
A favorite past time in Guam with the women was weaving and embroidery. In her younger years, my mother taught weaving and embroidery in the public schools. Rugs, sleeping mats (guafac), baskets, hats, fans, and other items were skillfully made by loving hands.
Story telling was also a favorite for everyone. Lying on the soft green grass under the canopy of a velvety blue-black sky with millions of bright twinkling stars or lying on sleeping mats by an open window before bedtime, young folk would gather around an older person telling a story or a legend. I remember two of the most popular legends in Guam. One was Sirena and the other was the two lovers.
Sirena was a beautiful girl with flowing black hair. More than anything in the world she loved the sea. Everyday, the sea beckoned her to come. Everyday, she came to the sea. She walked along the pearl-dusted shore, and in the emerald-colored waters with the sun on her face, she swam and floated and reflected upon the beauty of her care-free world totally oblivious to everything else around her. Oh, she could swim all day for she was an excellent swimmer. The sea was enchanting. The sea was her world. And the fishes were her friends.
Mother was a busy woman trying to do all the chores around the house. When she called for Sirena to help, she was nowhere in sight for she was out swimming in the sea. One day she needed Sirena to get some coals going for the iron, but as usual, Sirena was not there. She was out swimming with the fishes. Exasperated, Mother spoke words that Sirena would turn to a fish. Sirena's godmother, who happened to be visiting at the time and heard the mother's curse, counteracted the curse by saying that her half of Sirena would be human. The curse came true for it was reported by many a fishermen to this day that a mermaid, with the face of a beautiful young woman with flowing black hair was swimming and frolicking alongside their fishing boats.
Here is The Two Lovers legend: During the time when the Spanards were occupying the island, there lived a proud and wealthy Chamorro Chief, his wife, and a lovely young daughter who was their pride and joy. The Chief and his wife wanted their daughter to marry a Spanish Captain. The daughter did not love the Spanish Captain and would not marry him. She loved someone else. She loved a native Chamorro whom she had met. Her parents did not care for this native lover. They wanted her to marry the Spanish Captain. As plans for her marriage with the Spanish Captain were being formulated, she and her native lover decided to run away where they would not be found. This news leaked out, and when the two lovers ran away, the girl's father and some of the men of the village were ready and waiting to pursue them. They found them near the top of a cliff, one of the highest points in the island. With the cliff before them, and the men surrounding them on all sides, there was no place to go. They were trapped. The father, thinking that her daughter and her lover would now give up, watched in horror, as the two lovers tied their hair together, embraced and kissed each other, then leaped to their death. Today, this site is a famous landmark in Guam and is called Two Lovers' Point. Here's a picture.
During this era of sweet simplicity, the people were happy and easy going. There were some who were more simplistic in their thoughts and habits than others. It is very interesting and sometimes hilarious to note how some of these people reacted when something new was introduced to the island. Take, for example, ice. They had never in their whole entire life seen ice, but living in a hot tropical island, they saw and loved what it did to their drinking water and other beverages. It became evident right away that ice was a welcomed and precious commodity. One man, exuberant over his newly-found treasure, hauled a block of ice to his home, put it in the backyard and covered it with coconut leaves to save until the morrow. Or, when ice cream cones were first introduced, one dear lady was using a spoon to eat the ice cream and kept wondering why her cup was getting soggier by the minute. Or, when the television sets were first introduced, many expressed apprehension as to what these one-eyed monsters would do to the people. Some expressed fears and speculated that they would swell the people's heads (not figuratively, but literally) to twice or more their normal sizes.
Our neighbor had a nice frame house about a half a mile away from us. For years, her parents lived in a thatch-roofed house about a stone's throw away from her and situated near the bottom on a hill surrounded by a coconut grove. A thatched roof was made up of layers and layers of coconut leaves specially weaved to keep the sun and the rain out. I've never been inside a thatch-roofed home, but they said that it was nice and cool inside. I think my neighbor's parents home was the last of the thatch-roofed homes in Guam, and it marked the beginning of an era when life was to take on a more varied and complex nature.
Somewhere in time, nobody knew for sure when because it was subtle and imperceptible at first, but life on Guam took on a dramatic change. It was as if the island had shifted to a higher gear and swung unto the faster lanes of life's highway. Keeping up with the Joneses is now the theme of the era. People are having contractors build them more expensive homes. They are buying new and better cars. Mortgages and car payments are high, and credit cards are being used to the max in the craze to keep up with the Joneses. The compound interest, that should work for them in their bank accounts is now working against them through their credit cards, draining every ounce of their financial lifeblood out of them. Now husbands and wives have to work in order to meet their financial obligations; babies and toddlers are being farmed out to day care centers to have other people care for them while both parents work. People are too busy working, and making a living and are too tired at the end of the day to even think or care about their neighbors. Many are anxious about their future and their children's future. The tension and anxiety thus created cause people to become selfish and less tolerant of their fellow human beings. Love for one another wanes just like the sun when it sets in the west, and night comes upon the weary and famished land. The beckoning call of the sound of hammering is silent. The love and sharing mentality of a generation dissipates in the cool ocean breeze. Like a vanishing specie, the sweet simplicity of life has vanished completely and forever.