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Homage to Chief Hurao and His Various Reincarnations

or A Cultural History of Matatnga


Vincent P. Diego

I. Prolegomenon to a Revisionist Historiography of the Chamorros

Who is Chief Hurao and what is matatnga? These questions will be addressed shortly.

For now, allow me to comment on what I perceive to be the state of the Guamanian Chamorro’s

knowledge of the relation between the ancient Chamorro Chief Hurao and the Chamorro word

matatnga. It is a sad circumstance that many Guamanian Chamorros might know the meaning of

the Chamorro word matatnga, if the language has not deteriorated completely with them, yet

would not know that Chief Hurao was once the living embodiment of the word; that he was

matatnga incarnate. The main goal of this article, therefore, is to remedy this situation. To

achieve this goal, I will construct a narrative of the historical development of the Chamorro

concept of matatnga. It will be shown that the development of this particular Chamorro concept

started with Chief Hurao—that is, as far back as we can tell using a combination of historical

documents and a projection into the past via extant oral tradition broadly defined1—and has been

fairly continuous. This narrative will be, in the main, motivated by critical commentary of

certain well-intentioned but misguided Western explanations of Chamorro moments of agency. I

start from the late pre-Spanish-colonial era of Chamorro existence, mainly focusing on the

1 Oral tradition broadly defined means the cultural concepts that have been relayed to me by my elders. The concept
to be discussed was taught to me by my father’s constant usage of the word. It was taught to him by his father’s and
grandfather’s constant usage of the word. Compare the sentiments of Finney (1999) who cogently argued for " . . .
the possibility of expressing a valid cultural identity based on a remembered past." Finney was speaking of "a
remembered past" as the historical collective consciousness of a cultural group "maintained" by the mechanisms of
historical texts, oral tradition, and re-invention. Regarding re-invention, he pointed to the Renaissance and the
Olympics as examples of how Europeans re-invented traditions by reviving them and expressing them anew. Sahlins
(1993: 7) had earlier made the very same point regarding the Renaissance about which he remarked “Nor should it
be forgotten that the West owes its own sense of cultural superiority to an invention of the past so flagrant it should
make European natives blush to call other peoples culturally counterfeit.”

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Spanish-Chamorro Wars, then move on to the Spanish-colonial era and then finally to the

American-colonial era.2 As regards the latter, I will focus on the two major historical events of

20th century politics on Guam, which are the period leading up to the signing of the Organic Act

of Guam in 1950 and the subsequent quest for commonwealth.

These periods correspond somewhat with McGrath’s (1984) forgettable typologicization

of the major indigenous social groups of Guamanian Chamorro history into Indios, Chamorros

and Guamanians, respectively. The former categorization of colonial periods is preferred here,

however, because McGrath’s categorization of what is, really, one temporally-stratified group of

people severely distorts the continuity of Chamorro culture, even if unintentional. 3 Despite the

sociocultural upheaval that must be associated with the successive establishment of two Western

powers, a much kinder McGrath (1984) argues that, “[t]hroughout these years of change a

persistent substratum remained with some modifications focusing on food sharing, language,

kinship, politics, patriotism, and reverence for the dead (p. 263; emphasis added).” I argue that

the Chamorro concept of matatnga is an important aspect of this persistent substratum of the

Chamorros, or what others would call “core values” (see below). Here, I focus on how this word

2 It is no accident that these three periods of Guamanian Chamorro cultural history were chosen for Howard (1990)
has cogently argued that, in order to understand “ . . . the interplay between cultural paradigms and historical events
. . . (p. 260)” where major such events in Oceania are the establishment and de-establishment of colonial powers, one
must distinguish between three main periods of pre-colonialism, colonialism and post-colonialism. While it is not
yet possible to say that Guamanian Chamorros are in a post-colonial phase with respect to their political interactions
with the U.S., it is has been a over a century and a decade since the end of Spanish rule. In other words, and strictly
speaking with respect to Spanish colonialism, Guam has enjoyed a little over a century of post-colonialism. Yet it
does not make much sense, and would even pay insult to Guamanian Chamorros, to think of Guam as ever having
been in a post-colonial phase (for various Chamorro sentiments in this regard cf. Lujan, 1993; Souder-Jaffrey, 1993;
Cruz, 1993; Perez-Howard, 1993; Ada, 1995; Leon Guerrero and Salas, 1995; Ada and Bettis, 1996; Taitano, 1996).
Compare the instances of American Imperialism in the Pacific reviewed in Thompson (2002) and Weeks (2002).
3 Dr. Robert Underwood (n.d.) discusses the Hispanicization of the Chamorros from a Chamorro’s perspective. He
discusses the various ways in which the Chamorro culture was transformed but, just as important, he also discusses
the various ways in which the Chamorro culture both expressed its resilience and enduring vitality. Compare also the
remark made by Diaz and Kauanui (2001:318) who acknowledge " . . . the persistence of deep native "roots"

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was variously manifested and transformed throughout the three different eras of Guamanian

Chamorro history.4 This historical narrative of the various manifestations of matatnga during

said eras will also provide insights into the relation between agency and Gidden’s (1979)

“dialectic of control” (see below). From this partial treatment, it is concluded that the various

loci or “proas” of Chamorro agency, over the turbulent course of about three and a quarter

centuries of antagonistic interaction with Western powers, seem never to have lost a character

fundamental to them, that of being matatnga, their proverbial sails.5

II. Ingredients For a Cultural History of Matatnga

It is necessary to begin with a short list of the factors contributing to the genesis of this

project, as it will provide a rough intellectual road map of how to proceed. As with the

throughout up to three centuries of European and American colonialism."


4 How certain aspects of the “persistent substratum” of any culture manifest themselves and become transformed
through time is a central question of anthropology, history and sociology (Bourdieu, 1977; Giddens, 1979; Sahlins,
1981, 1985, 1991; Ortner, 1984; Karttunen, 1992). This, also, constitutes a major area of inquiry in the cultural and
historical studies of Pacific peoples (Howard, 1990; Biersack, 1991; Chappell, 1995; Campbell, 1997, 2003; Turner,
1997; see also, Sahlins just above). On of the main objectives of this area of inquiry is to document cultural
continuities (e.g., Turner, 1997) and to delineate their temporal dynamics (e.g., Sahlins, 1981, 1985, 1991). The
very idea of cultural continuities, however, has come under serious attack from what might be called the “Invention-
of-Tradition” paradigm that has been espoused in the main by anthropologists (for the Pacific see the volumes edited
by Keesing and Tonkinson [1983] and Jolly and Thomas [1992]; see also, Linnekin, 1983, 1990, 1991, 1992;
Linnekin and Handler, 1984; Keesing, 1988, 1991; Hanson, 1989, 1991; Norton, 1993). Proponents of the
Invention-of-Tradition paradigm tend to disregard or downplay any deep cultural continuities of Pacific peoples.
Some argue against the very existence of any cultural continuities. It is perhaps not such a curious observation that
these ahistorical views of culture are espoused largely by anthropologists who simultaneously emphasize the
ethnographic present! These views have been criticized on a number of grounds (see Trask, 1991; Holly, 1992;
Sahlins, 1993, 1999; Tobin, 1994; Turner, 1997; Finney, 1999). I find Turner’s (1997) critique of the Invention-of-
Tradition paradigm most effective. He argues for the reality of a deep cultural continuity present in Pacific cultures.
He focuses on Fiji for a specific example. Similarly, Trask (1991) focuses on Hawaiian culture to demonstrate such
continuity there. Sahlins (1981, 1985) discussed the historical dynamics of tapu in Hawaii. There he brilliantly
demonstrated a slow, almost-imperceptible shift from a conception of tapu being based on spirituality to a
conception of tapu being politically based. The shift towards a politicized tapu was not at any time, however,
invented anew but resulted from Hawaiian Chiefs consistently “bending” the principle in their favor. Here, we have
a traditional continuity with distinctive end-points yet, like the ship of Theseus, one cannot say precisely at which
point in time the old became the new tradition.
5 Proas were the great outrigger canoes once used by the ancient Chamorros. These have been used as a symbol of
Chamorro-rights movements for obvious reasons. I use them here as symbols for the various loci of Chamorro
agency scattered across the vast sea of history.

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development of all ideas or theories, the works of previous scholars must play a crucial role. I

succeeded in whittling this potentially-immense list to five major causal/motivational factors.

The idea of writing a historical narrative of cultural entities, designated factor one, was first made

attractive to me after having read Sahlins (1981, 1985, 1995). While Sahlins’s work has come

under considerable fire both from Hawaiian natives (efforts and works mentioned in Borofsky,

1997) and Obeyesekere (1995, 1997), I can still accept his theoretical orientation towards

understanding the historical reproduction and transformation of certain aspects of culture.6 No

doubt there are numerous writings in this genre but his works stand out most in terms of their

effect on me. The works by Vicente Diaz (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, n.d.), the indefatigable

interrogator of colonialism and established Western-modes of muddling up major historical and

contemporary events experienced by the Chamorros, has had a major influence on me in regard

to the way I view Chamorro history. Chamorro history, like the history of all Pacific islanders, is

hotly contested ground (Diaz, 1994; cf. the various combatants and diplomats in the Pacific

Theater, Howe, 1977, 1984; Thomas, 1990; Munro, 1994; Chappell, 1995; Borofsky, 1997;

Campbell, 1997, 2003; Denoon, 1997; Neumann, 1998; Thaman, 2003). The histories of

indigenous peoples are contested grounds desperately in need of indigenous combatants to do a

good deal of fighting.7 And if the populist histories that these indigenous combatants propound

be “ . . . usually three or four removes from . . . academic workspace . . . (Hezel, 1988: 104)” then

6 In defense of Sahlins’s work he is at the very least trying to discover Hawaiian agency (cf. Thomas [1990] on the
cultural approach to history). This is an admirable and major advance in comparison to classical “fatal impact”
historiography. If his work is ultimately judged as a failure his attempt to bring the issue of indigenous agency into
the main of current thinking must be judged as a victory for anthropology, history and indigenous peoples.
7 Compare Diaz (1996: 198), who urged, ". . . we need histories and historiographies that can fight the tyrannies of
colonial and neocolonial rule, whether in context or text. In Guam and elsewhere, we must begin by scrutinizing any
narrativization of the past for its unwitting participation in the tyrannies of that ongoing past. "

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let the onus be upon them to see how much better, how much more combative they can be.8

This combative Orientalist approach (sensu lato Said, 1978, 1985, 1993) turned Micronesianist

àla Diaz, we will call factor two.9 Factor three is due solely to Petersen’s (1993) brilliant

analysis of the Pohnpeian concept, Kanengamah. This paper made the idea tangible to me that

very interesting work could be done by analyzing the multifarious meanings of a single word and

their respective sociocultural ramifications. Factor four is due to Sellman’s (1994) penetrating

analysis of core Chamorro values (for similar treatments cf. Cunningham, 1992; Stade, 1998;

Underwood, n.d.). This particular paper inspired me to look more deeply at the core values

instilled in me since early childhood. The word matatnga means “brave; mighty; powerful;

strong; courageous; capable” when used as an adjective or adverb, and “hero; a man of

distinguished courage” when used as a noun (von Preissig, 1918) or “strong personality or

fearless” (Topping et al., 1975). The fifth factor is my conviction that matatnga is a core

Chamorro value comparable in importance to inafa’maolek, which means “making it good for

each other” (Sellman, 1994) or “helping each other in an agreeable fashion” (Underwood, n.d.).

The former term, however, and to my knowledge, has hitherto not been discussed in any

major historical or anthropological work on the Chamorros. Indeed, what at first glance might be

8 The fuller quote from which the partial quote derives is from page 104 in Hezel (1988) and reads as follows: “The
fact that Pacific peoples have their own populist histories, usually three or four removes from our rarified academic
workspace, should not, of course, cause us to abrogate all responsibility to move toward a historiography that takes
serious account of island people.” Happily, indigenous populist histories substantially improved four years after that
article because Hezel (1992: 63) wrote: “Every island group in the Pacific has a wealth of indigenous wisdom
embedded in its unique cultural legacy, the experience of a parade of foreigners . . . that crossed its shores to bring
the mixed blessings of what Westerners called ‘civilization,’ and, of course, colonization.”
9 While I do not agree entirely with Orientalist discourse, I can accept modifications of this method such as those
discernible in Diaz’s work. My main problem with Said’s Orientalism is the fact that the locus of human agency or
what others call action is taken from the individual by virtue of the fact that large-scale entities (e.g., nations,
governments, etc.) are emphasized. That is, the locus of agency, according to my reading of Orientalism, is
purported to exist at the level of macro-structures. A sufficient critique, however, is beyond the scope of this paper.

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considered the term’s antithesis, namely, the passiveness of Chamorros somewhat described by

the Chamorro concept of gáimamalao which means to be humble or to exhibit humility, has

enjoyed much discussion (cf. Cunningham, 1992; Sellman, 1994; Stade, 1998; Underwood, n.d.).

It should be emphasized, though, that the terms matatnga and gáimamalao are not binary

opposites similar to, for instance, good and bad or hot and cold. In fact, the most desirable

personality, according to the Chamorro value system, would be characterized by being both

matatnga and gáimamalao. Put another way, Chamorros are normally expected to show the

characteristic of gáimamalao but, when confronted by an oppressor of some sort, be it a

“democratic nation” fulfilling the White Man’s Burden or some snot-nosed school-yard bully,

showing the characteristic of being matatnga is highly valued.

As I just implied, matatnga means something much deeper than what is given in either

von Preissig (1918) or Topping et al. (1975). It is a specific form of courage. It describes a

person who stands up for himself or herself with a certain fierceness and/or staunch

determination, which is encapsulated by the modern slang “attitude”. Attitude is an established

word of the English language, to be sure, but how it is currently used in popular culture is what

slang refers to just above. Thus, for instance, a woman who stands up for herself “with attitude”

would be described as matatnga. Other ways of defining it may be the courage to stand your

ground or not to back down when under not-so-favorable conditions, such as, for example, when

a scrawny, physically-weak boy (kid A) stands up to a bigger, and much stronger, school-yard

bully (kid B). Not only would kid A be considered matatnga by Chamorros, he would be much

liked by them for the very reason that he is matatnga. Even if he succeeds in manhandling kid A,

kid B would quickly fall out of favor with adult Chamorro observers and be promptly punished.

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I will now commence with my documentation of the various manifestations of matatnga

and their crucial roles in Guamanian Chamorro history and contemporary Chamorro society.

III. The Birth of a Cultural Hero: In 1671, Chief Hurao Fights Back Against the Spanish

Detailed treatments of the Spanish-Chamorro Wars can be found in García (1683), Ibáñez

y García (1887), Hezel (1982) and, most recently, Rogers (1995). Further, relevant primary

documents have been translated and are made available in Lévesque (1995). In the last

paragraph of Hezel’s (1982) article, he criticizes Western historiography for creating and then

perpetuating the European-derived myth that the Chamorro resistance was a sort of “nationalistic

struggle for independence against a foreign colonizer (p. 137)”; quite similar in this regard to

Obeyesekere’s (1990, 1997) charge against Marshall Sahlins for importing the European-derived

myth of European-explorers mistaken for gods (but see Sahlins’s [1995, 1997] defense).

This criticism, however, begs the question of what then was the reason (or reasons) for

Chamorros to fight? The question is made all the more pressing by the fact that Chamorros were

considered to be a docile and peaceable folk. Indeed, Hezel (1982) makes reference to this

characteristic of the Chamorros at least twice: “The Chamorros were, according to all early

accounts, a gentle and hospitable people, who were by European standards extremely tolerant of

foreigners as the presence of several castaways among them shows (118-119; emphasis mine).”

and “Choco’s [a Chinese castaway] calumnies were poisoning the minds of the Chamorros and

inflaming a simple and docile people to the point of outright belligerency . . . (121; emphasis

mine).”

I will formulate an answer to why the Chamorros fought by way of a brief critique of

Hezel’s latter quote. There is no doubt that Choco’s program of misinformation concerning the

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Spanish played a role in these earliest of Spanish-Chamorro relations (see also Rogers, 1995). I

doubt, however, that Choco was so industrious or that his lies were so potent so as to effect a

widespread armed-resistance on the part of the Chamorros throughout the inhabited reaches of

the Marianas archipelago. Moreover, even if Choco’s lies concerning the ulterior motives of the

Spanish were catholicized throughout the Marianas, pardon the pun, the lies, in and of

themselves, cannot be used to explain the Chamorros’ consistently violent reaction to them. That

is, at best, the lies may be seen as the spark that sets off the blast but they cannot serve as an

explanation of the violent energy of the blast. Moreover still, and from a Chamorro’s

perspective, placing a large portion of the blame on Choco’s actions is repugnant for it detracts

from the accountability of the Chamorros and their very expression of agency. Indeed, the

paternalistic, Western historian seems to want Choco to be blamed for so much to the extent that

the Chamorros of that time are absolved of any “wrong-doing”. Traditional Western

interpretations of Choco’s role read very much like the Chamorros were malleable, little children

and Choco was contributing to their delinquency (cf. the latter quote from Hezel [1982] just

above). To the extent that this kind of insidious discourse emanating from “academic

workspaces” is believed, Chamorro agency is thereby rendered either non-existent or greatly

diminished.

I suggest that a major reason why all the Chamorros that fought against the Spanish chose

to fight in the first place has to do with the effect of the concept of matatnga on the outcome of

those early Chamorro-Spanish encounters. To fully explain this line of reasoning I need to

introduce the Chamorro concepts of manhihita and emmok. Strictly translated the word

manhihita means that the understood form of you and I are involved in active solidarity and the

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word emmok may be described as a kind of revenge but, and this is important, is not fully

coextensive with revenge. Manhihita is very similar in connotation to the Western phrase

“We’re in this together to the end.” Thus, it is easy to see how harm inflicted upon one member

of a clan A by a member of another clan B can erupt into a full scale feud between the two clans.

By extension, it is even easier to see how harm inflicted upon a Chamorro by a Spaniard, be it

suggested or real, can erupt into full scale warfare between the two cultures. Such a hypothetical

scenario would be rendered much more volatile and predisposed to eruption if we were to

introduce into the system the characteristic of matatnga, especially if it is introduced specifically

into the side first receiving harm.

There is some evidence to support this contention. For instance, Hezel (1982) argued

that, “[e]ach of the killings of missionaries that occurred between 1674 to 1676 is clearly

attributable to revenge for an affront suffered by some of the people shortly before: a public

scolding, an accusation of cheating, the execution of a chief, and a harsh remonstrance (p. 136;

emphasis added).” But revenge by itself, we must remember, is a Western concept, with which

the Chamorro counterpart emmok is not fully coextensive. As Kane (1997) eloquently put it, if

we want to do justice to the participants of historical theater (sensu Dening, 1992, 1993, 2002),

“one must also try to see the world of the participants through their eyes . . . (p. 266; emphasis in

original).” While Hezel (1982) admonishes Western historians for importing European

constructs and abstractions, he too is guilty as charged for presenting the actions of Chamorros to

be matters of simple revenge. It is best, therefore, to reinterpret Hezel’s instances of revenge,

where revenge by itself is a heavily-laden Western concept, as expected manifestations of a

synergistic interaction among the core Chamorro values of manhihita, emmok and matatnga.

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The behaviors of these Chamorros are thus more accurately described by the relevant Chamorro

conceptions of them than by a single Western concept filled with all sorts of semantic baggage

(cf. Kane’s [1997] insightful comment on Borofsky cited earlier; cf. also, Hanlon [1989] on the

fickle nature of the historical observations made by Westerners).

Similar evidence for this line of thinking transpired after, as García (1683) and Ibáñez y

García (1887) noted, the Spanish took a number of villagers prisoner and accidentally killed a

high ranking Chamorro in the process, all of this occurring sometime during the year 1671 and in

the village of Agaña. In response, Chief Hurao, the hero of our story, raised a large army, by

Chamorro standards of that time, of warriors numbering some 2,000 men that would fight a

number of battles before being eventually defeated. Now, let us pause to consider the possible

motivations of our good Chief Hurao. As certain Western historians would have us believe

again, Chief Hurao was thinking revenge (e.g., Rogers, 1995). A more appropriate explanation

of Chief Hurao’s actions, however, would postulate that he was responding to a synergistic

interaction of at least three Chamorro core values, manhihita, emmok and matatnga.

I contend that Chief Hurao was the apotheosis of matatnga. To be sure, the same can

probably be said of all those who fought against the Spanish at that time. I choose Chief Hurao

as my symbol (read god?) of matatnga because of all the Chamorro chiefs mentioned by the

Spaniards, Chief Hurao is consistently mentioned as the most troublesome or the most persistent.

In Lévesque (1995: 132) we find that Chief Hurao was described by Fr. Pedro Coomans as “the

main author of all the troubles”. Similarly, García (1683: 237) described Chief Hurao as the

“chief mover of the war”.

Before leaving this section it should be noted that Chief Hurao survived the first two

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battles of 1671, the first as a prisoner of the Spanish, the second as the leader of a thirteen day

siege (García, 1683). He lived to fight again that same year and, like all great warrior poets, died

in battle. While he may not have been fighting for the ideal of national freedom, he was certainly

fighting against ostensible oppressors of several freedoms: cultural, religious and political, and

fight he did to the bitter end.

IV. The Daughters of Our Good Chief Hurao and the Ultimate Expression of Matatnga

It is often taken for granted that mothers will give their lives for their children. The

reverse behavior, that of mothers taking their children’s lives, elicits a deep and instinctive

revulsion. While many instances of maternal infanticide are undoubtedly immanently

contemptible, there are few such instances that are, and of course this is a matter of opinion and

moral philosophy, deserving of understanding and sympathy, if not praise. I bring up these

seemingly unrelated issues because of a group of candidate instances that occurred about a

century after the Spanish-Chamorro Wars. Now, one will note that, even up to a century after the

Spanish-Chamorro Wars, the Chamorros of this time still held dearly whatever freedoms they

had and in various ways expressed an unmistakable defiance against those who would subjugate

them (Beardsley, 1964). One such group of expressions of defiance were the infanticides and

abortions carried out by Chamorro women. Souder (1992) wrote, “[c]ompare this stance with

that taken by women who practiced abortion as an act of defiance against Spanish domination. . .

. Notwithstanding the drastic reduction in their number [as a result of disease and warfare], some

women apparently chose to terminate pregnancies rather than give birth to children whose

“freedom” would be denied (p. 75).” I submit that these acts, while their morality may be in

question, were undeniable manifestations of the Chamorro core value of being matatnga.

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V. Juan Malo: A Passive Reincarnation of Our Good Chief Hurao

Hezel (1989), in the introduction to his monograph, compares the period of the Spanish-

Chamorro Wars with the ensuing period as follows:

The story of the colonial wars, as they are sometimes called, is well-known and
has received much attention in the scholarly and popular press. The period
immediately following, from 1690 to perhaps 1740, is far more obscure—partly
because it is less richly documented than the years preceding it and partly because
it lacks the high drama of the earlier years (p. 2; emphasis added).

It is a testament to the efficacy of the program of cultural extinction carried out by the Spanish,

variously called the “pacification” or reducción by Westerners, that a dominant manifestation of

the Chamorro core value of matatnga during the post-conquest or Spanish-colonial era was

literally in the form of caricatures and cartoons (see below), rather than of the spears, slingstones

and fireballs of old. That is, the Chamorros that survived the Spanish-Chamorro Wars,

demoralized, dejected and no longer proud, fierce warriors, did manage to muster some form of

resistance, however pathetic by comparison. This form of resistance or, rather, expressed

resentment against the Spanish regime was manifest as a folkloristic figure called Juan Malo

(Rogers, 1988, 1995; Underwood, 1990; Van Peenen, 1993; Torres, 2003). Van Peenen frames

this sentiment as follows (as previously suggested, be weary of the language used):

The Chamorros, vanquished in battle by the Spaniards, nursed in their heart the
natural resentment of the conquered toward the conqueror. Too weak to again
engage in physical battle, they entered into mental battle, and, in their thoughts,
turned into legends, they revenged themselves upon the conqueror. . . .
resentment soon gave way to ridicule, a ridicule which, subdued as it had to be,
was more amusing than vindictive in character. It is to . . . the necessity to escape
from Spanish autocracy that we owe this new folklore [of Juan Malo]. Van
Peenen (1993: 24; emphasis added; I also took the liberty of deleting some
unnecessary, if patronizing, descriptions of the Chamorros)

According to this folklore, Juan Malo was a “local boy”, being of a somewhat mischievous

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character (hence the last name), who outwitted many a Spanish official, including generic

representations of governors and priests. Thus, it might be argued that Chamorro resentment, as

embodied at the time in Juan Malo, was directed not only at secular institutions but the Catholic

church as well. Similarly, Rogers (1988: 58) noted that:

[s]tories persist in Guamanian folklore of the legendary Chamorro youth, Juan


Malo, constantly outwitting the Spanish authorities during Guam’s long colonial
twilight in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Chamorros were not
completely tranquilized by the “pax Hispanica,” as Kotzebue thought . . . .

I argue that the resentment expressed in the form of Juan Malo is an example of matatnga on the

part of the authors of this little “cartoon caper”. It would probably be stretching it to say that the

people as a whole, even though they were entertained by the Juan Malo stories, were matatnga.

To the contrary, the Chamorros as a whole were becoming a passive people both respectful of

Spanish authority and unwilling to fight against them (cf. Hezel [1989] on the “success” of the

Spanish mission). However, and even with this general trend toward passivity, the core

Chamorro value of being matatnga survived as 20th century examples of such, discussed in the

section following the next, will attest. The next section deals with a couple of Western

interpretations of a brief incident that occurred only a decade and a half before the end of two

centuries of Spanish colonialism.

VI. The Acquiescent Rebellion of 1884: A Brief Apparition of Our Good Chief Hurao

In the year 1885, on the beach at Agaña and at the behest of Spanish authorities, four

Chamorro men—José de Salas, Manuel Mendiola, Vicente Acosta and Manuel Aguon—were

executed by a firing squad (Rogers, 1995). They were executed because they were found guilty

by a military trial in Manila of conspiring to assassinate the Spanish Governor of Guam and to

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start a Chamorro rebellion against the Spanish (Rogers, 1995). You see, on the second night of

August the year before, 21 year old José de Salas, the guard posted at the entrance of the

Governor’s house (palacio), shot the Spanish Governor Angel de Pazos y Vela-Hidalgo in the

back as the Governor passed him on the way to dinner. José de Salas fled immediately thereafter

but then subsequently gave himself up to the Spanish authorities. It was then found at the trial in

Manila that the three other men named above were somehow involved in the assassination. For

this, the four Chamorro men were executed. Other Chamorro men who were implicated on the

charge of conspiracy to incite rebellion were imprisoned. Although Rogers (1995) rightly

suggests that the entire truth surrounding the events may never be known, in the page leading up

to his discussion of the incident he betrays his favored interpretation for there he describes how

Spanish and Filipino political prisoners and common convicts were set free on the island about a

decade before the assassination and, in step, then writes: “Spanish officials on Guam appear to

have underestimated the dangerous influence of the new political ideas [of Filipino nationalists]

among the heretofore docile Chamorros (p. 101; emphasis added).” The very next sentence then

describes to us the assassination of the Spanish Governor by José de Salas. What are we to

conclude? On the strength of this implication, Stade (1998) cites the assassination of the Spanish

Governor by a Chamorro as the earliest example on Guam of how global political ideals

(revolutionary ideals, at the time) work themselves into local settings.10 To me, the most

important question surrounding the interpretation of these events is: What happened to Chamorro

10 Stade (1998) is mainly concerned with how global political models are broken down, assimilated and
reconstituted in the form of local politics; a process of or aligned with “radical diffusionism”. A careful reading of
Stade’s book reveals a dynamic interplay between local individual agency and global cultural models. My main
criticism of Stade’s thesis, however, is that he seems overly anxious to invoke the roles of global cultural models at
the expense of relevant aspects of Chamorro culture.

14
agency? Answer: It was analyzed dead on the spot, a classic case of reading too much into the

situation. Rogers blames those ever-rambunctious Filipino nationals while Stade, with loftier

ideas, blames global political models yet the “heretofore docile” Chamorro is the one who pulled

the trigger. Filipino nationals or global political models influencing the “heretofore docile”

Chamorro sound a lot like Hezel’s description of Choco’s poisoning of Chamorro minds and

inflaming of a simple and docile people. Perhaps Stade might want to reconsider his supposedly

earliest example to account for Choco’s importation of global political ideals? In the final

analysis, this is all supreme academic slap-stick comedy. But, we can do much better than this

style of historiography or anthropology. To this end, how instead might we go about with our

analysis of the situation? My philosophy, as with Kane (1997), is to try with all our faculties and

academic resources to see the events from native eyes. We should ask what was that particular

Chamorro man thinking and how can we peer into his mind so that we may do his actions

justice? Why these were never seriously considered absolutely escapes comprehension. To say

never would be a white lie, because Rogers (1995:102) does mention the possibility that the

assassination was out of personal resentment. In the same paragraph, however, this is

immediately contrasted with and apparently disfavored over the view that the assassination was

the result of a conspiracy. However, I fail to see how the two scenarios are mutually exclusive.

In fact, they are potentially mutually reinforcing! It could have been both but this possibility was

not mentioned. It very well may be the case that José de Salas was inflamed to the point of

homicidal belligerency by Filipino nationals preaching global ideals to him and his companions

but what was his mindset and why would he have responded so viciously? Emphasizing the

former sentiment over the latter is much like putting the cart of surrounding events (structure)

15
before the donkey of human agency. Left to its own devices, such a system will come to a

grinding halt precisely because of its backwardness. While a definitive answer cannot be given,

we can resort to one that restores José de Salas’s humanity, his ability to think for himself and his

willfulness to kill. Let me make the simple-minded suggestion that José de Salas chose to kill

the Spanish Governor, for what reason (personal, conspiratorial or both) we will never know, and

that, given the asymmetry of power inherent in the situation (haughty Spanish Governor vs.

Chamorro man of the mere age of 21), he was being matatnga in so choosing.

VII. 20th Century Appearances of Our Good Chief Hurao or the Ghost Who Walks11

There are many examples of matatnga in the 20th century that I may draw upon. It would

therefore be wise to focus on a few of the more important examples, with respect to the overall

political course both steered for and by the Chamorros. This section will be concerned with the

two major historical periods in the 20th century, again with respect to Guam’s political

development: 1. The period starting from the Spanish-American War and extending to the

signing of the Organic Act of Guam in 1950. 2. The subsequent quest for commonwealth. From

the first of these periods, I choose the Guam Congress Walkout (GCW) of 1949. From the

second, I choose two examples that show the dynamism of Chamorros being matatnga.

The Guam Congress Walkout of 1949

To do justice to the GCW, one, of course, needs to discuss the events leading up to it (see

11The “Ghost Who Walks” is the legendary name of the Phantom, a comic strip character adapted in at least two
television cartoons and a motion picture. The Phantom A.K.A. the Ghost Who Walks is an appropriate metaphor
here precisely because he stood for justice against piracy and generalized evil-doers. Moreover, because the title and
inherent duties of the Phantom were passed down through the generations from father to son in an uninterrupted
chain of successors, it was perceived that the Phantom never died, hence the name the Ghost Who Walks. Therefore,
similar to the Ghost Who Walks, our good Chief Hurao never died for his spirit lives on in all the Chamorros who
fought and stood against and continue to this day to fight and stand against the various and innumerable depredations
of justice incurred over the course of American colonialism.

16
Hattori [1995] for an in depth review). The first major event would have to be the ceding of

Guam by Spain to the U.S. in the year 1898, which ushered in a fresh new round of colonialism,

American style (Underwood, 1998a). The second major event would have to be the kind of

government that was set in motion by the first appointed governor of Guam, Captain Richard

Leary. As it turned out, Governor Leary was much disliked because he found it necessary to

enact laws that banned certain religious practices that had become established by then and to

present himself generally as an obstacle to the entrenched Catholic institution (Sanchez, 1989;

Hattori, 1995; Rogers, 1995). For instance, just 2 weeks after arriving on the island, Governor

Leary banned fiestas, also known as patron saints’ feast days (Sanchez, 1989; Hattori, 1995;

Rogers, 1995). Further, acting on the advice given by officials from the Navy Department, Leary

then expelled from the island one Father Francisco Resano, who was much beloved by the

Chamorros (Sanchez, 1989). Governor Leary feared that Father Francisco Resano’s influence

would be, “ . . . subversive of good government and prosperity, injurious to the interests of the

community and incompatible with the moral teachings and principles of civilized society (quoted

in Sanchez, 1989: 91).” Mysteriously, the Chamorros could not understand Leary’s desire to

implement his style of law and order for they became ostensibly enraged. In spite of the resulting

vehement but civilized protests, both from Chamorro leaders on the island and Catholic officials

on the U.S. mainland, Governor Leary stayed his autocratic course (Sanchez, 1989; Rogers,

1995). The brief but controversial Leary administration is important, as Hattori (1995) notes,

because it set into motion a half-century of autocratic rule disguised as naval stewardship. It was

equally important, I suggest, because it strengthened the resolve of the Chamorros to find a way

out of this predicament. The next major event leading to the GCW is the series of land-takings

17
by the naval administration (Hattori, 1995). To add insult to injury, the vast majority of the lands

that were taken away from various Chamorro landowners around 1948 were for the express and

sole purpose of recreational use by military dependents (Hattori, 1995). Almost a half-century of

bottled-up resentment came to a head when the 9th Guam Congress, that, I should note, had no

legislative powers whatsoever, literally walked out of session in defiance against the then-

governor, Governor Pownall. To fully realize the impact of this collective action, it must be

mentioned that the Chamorros had been officially soliciting for U.S. citizenship since 1901

(Underwood, 1998c). The last of such movements was an official request made by the 9th Guam

Congress for the U.S. Congress to pass the “Organic Act of Guam”. The Organic Act of Guam

would not only grant U.S. citizenship to the Chamorros, on a conditional basis subject to the

whims of the U.S. Congress, but would also bring to an end the by-then five decades of naval

autocracy. Thus, in introducing the walkout motion which was unanimously passed, Antonio C.

Cruz, of the 9th Guam Congress, stated:

I move that the House of Assembly adjourn at this time and not to reconvene until
such time as this body receives a reply or the action of the Congress of the United
States relative to the Organic Act for Guam as passed by both Houses of the
Guam Congress. (quoted in Hattori, 1995: 19)

Immediately thereafter, the 9th Guam Congress walked out of session. The result of this act of

defiance, which gained considerable national publicity, was the relatively-swift response of the

U.S. Congress, which, in 1950, passed the Organic Act of Guam (Hattori, 1995; Taitano, 1996).

To place this act in perspective I point out that it was likened by the Honolulu Star Bulletin in

1949 (Hattori, 1995; Taitano, 1996) and by Wyttenbach-Santos (1998) to the Boston Tea Party,

which, of course, inaugurated the American Revolution. Some might say that the members of

18
the 9th Guam Congress were possessed of the fiery and troublesome spirit of our good Chief

Hurao. Others might say that, in being matatnga, they were just being good old Chamorros. I

would argue that both interpretations would be correct.12

Stade (1998) offers a radically different depiction of the events leading up to the GCW

and the signing of the Organic Act of Guam. His thesis is that “local culture is produced through

political processes in reference to world-cultural models (p. 43).” Thus, he focused on the effects

of the importation of global political models on local politicians brought about largely by the

Filipino nationalists mentioned in the last section. While I can agree that these nationalists may

have had a role in structuring the actions carried out by Chamorro politicians during this period, I

find, as in the section just above, that his treatment needs to be supplemented with the Chamorro

core value of being matatnga and with the pragmatics of the situation (see last section of this

article). Again, as with Hezel and Choco’s calumnies, I must say that, in and of itself, this is a

repugnant explanation because it assumes the lack of any concept of defiance in the Chamorros

and insidiously turns the Chamorros, yet again, into malleable little children. The explanation

proceeds as if Chamorros had to be influenced by outsider perspectives and, in so doing, robs

them of their agency.

The Quest for Commonwealth

Guam’s quest for commonwealth status was documented and analyzed from a Western

stand-point by Rogers (1988). This review can be supplemented with the volume edited by

Souder-Jaffrey and R. A. Underwood (1987), treatments of said topic in Rogers (1995, 1998) and

12 In his review of the events leading up to signing of the Organic Act of Guam, Maga (1984) concluded that it was
due in part to “. . . the determination of local politicians (italics mine)”. Among the members of the 9th Guam
Congress, Maga noted the persistent efforts of Baltazar J. Bordallo and Francisco B. Leon Guerrero, which had
started since 1936 (see also Maga, 1985).

19
treatments by former Governor of Guam, the Honorable Joseph F. Ada (1995; Ada and Bettis,

1996). The whole Guamanian Chamorro ordeal concerning the quest for commonwealth is

historically complicated and is beyond the scope of this article (see the works cited above if such

is desired). It is sufficient for my purposes here, however, to note two shining examples of the

Chamorro core value of being matatnga and how this value has played a crucial role—a role that,

quite paradoxically, has hitherto gone unnoticed—in the development of current Guamanian

Chamorro-U.S. political interactions.

Other Chamorros will have their preferred examples and, indeed, many Chamorro men

and women have figured prominently in the quest for commonwealth. My treatment, therefore,

is not at all intended to be anywhere near exhaustive. My examples consist of the actions of the

grass-roots nationalist group known as the Organization of People for Indigenous-Rights (OPI-R;

when pronouncing the acronym the R is silent such that it is pronounced as “opi’” to sound like

the Chamorro word oppe, which means to answer back) and the current U.S. Congressional

Representative, the Honorable Robert A. Underwood.

The role played by OPI-R in the quest for commonwealth is unflatteringly described by

Rogers (1988, 1995). Rogers seriously misunderstands the Chamorro perspective, as I shall

make evident below, and, because his comments are of a high visibility, ends up severely

distorting the perceived reality of the situations he describes (cf. Diaz’s [1996] insightful critique

of Rogers’s style of historiography; see also Hattori [1997]). OPI-R appeared on the scene in

1984 and were quite active up until the early nineties (see for example, Cristobal, 1987, 1990).

Rogers (1988) describes their actions with an unveiled tone of annoyance, as if the actions

carried out by OPI-R are to be perceived as irritatingly foolish acts. Several instances, cited from

20
his 1988 paper, will suffice to show this. In reference to the actions carried out or perceptions

effectuated by OPI-R, Rogers uses words and phrases like “repeatedly requested”, “most radical

demand [which, being a relative term, implies that other demands made by OPI-R were less

radical but radical nonetheless]”, “to deflect OPI-R opposition” and “[a]ttitudes . . . hardened

along ethnic lines” (all quotes from p. 59). All of this plus his final condemnation that the

resulting “uncompromising stance” caused the demise of the push for commonwealth via the

Congressional-track makes us want to point our collective finger at OPI-R.13 However, there

are two things very wrong with this view. Firstly, it is embarrassingly ahistorical for one who

would later profess the authority to write a history book. Secondly, it is devoid of an

appreciation of those aspects of Chamorro culture relevant to the actions carried out by OPI-R.

His account is ahistorical because most indigenous groups that had been under colonial powers

since World War II were decolonized by the late eighties to early nineties (a point that he made,

quite ironically, but that apparently did not enter into his analysis of the situation). This was

acutely felt by OPI-R and repeatedly mentioned as one of the mainstays of their fervency (see

Cristobal, 1987, 1990). Who could blame them for not wanting Guamanian Chamorros to be the

last indigenous people in need of decolonization and for thus behaving aggressively?

Apparently, Rogers could and he did. Finally, the view Rogers espouses fails to appreciate the

important role played by that aspect of Chamorro culture that has occupied our attention in this

article; the Chamorro core value of being matatnga. After reading and re-reading Rogers (1988)

I cannot find one instance in which he exhibits an understanding of Chamorro culture in regard to

13 Compare these sentiments with the following statement made by Rogers and Ballendorf (1992: 190): Guam’s
quest [for self-governance] is at a near standstill, but the lack of progress in its case is caused largely by the refusal—
or inability—of Guamanian leaders to negotiate realistically.”

21
Chamorro acts of defiance or acts ultimately concerned with defiance. But this is not surprising.

However, because of his documentation and commentary on their actions and the consequences

of their actions, I argue that he, albeit unintentionally, provides undeniable evidence in support of

the claim that the members of OPI-R were being matatnga. We can also refer to direct evidence

in this regard. Hope Alvarez Cristobal (1987, 1990), then the chairperson of the International

Networking Committee of OPI-R, ended both of her articles on indigenous rights with the old

Chamorro proverb, “Isaoña i tumungo’ ya hasedi ki eyu mismo i umisagui ha.” This translates to

“Greater is the fault on he who allows the injustice upon himself.” The implication, of course, is

to stand up against the injustice; an action which happens to be embodied by the concept of

matatnga. Now, because Rogers failed to acknowledge the role of the Chamorro core value of

being matatnga, he would, by extension, also fail to perceive a probable synergy between the

situation of being one of the last peoples in need of decolonization and said value. I suggest that

the degree to which this Western scholar views their actions with annoyance is a reflection of the

effect of this synergistic interaction on the ultimate manifestation of matatnga.

Robert A. Underwood was always involved in the quest for commonwealth and, in regard

to his early involvement, is probably best known as a member of OPI-R during the late eighties.

He punctuated his role during this period as a co-editor, along with Laura Souder-Jaffrey (who

recently dropped the last name Jaffrey), of the book entitled, “Chamorro Self-Determination,”

which was published in 1987. The book is a collection of essays on the various dimensions of

Chamorro self-determination by indigenous rights activists and includes an article contributed by

Underwood himself. Underwood (1987) criticized the larger consciousness of Guam for its

politically lethal mix of apathetic and enabling attitudes, especially those seen by him to stand in

22
opposition to the “maladjusted people”, who were part of the movement for political change.

Sarcastically, he described those who spoke openly for commonwealth as “maladjusted”

visionaries. Being one of them, he naturally argued:

But still the maladjusted continue to argue, to point out, to offer non-cooperation,
and to reject the artificial friendship of those who are liberal enough to recognize
that there has been injustice. The hidden strength of the people lies with the
maladjusted. They have been able to fend off powerful forces and once they are
strong enough to demonstrate not that choices are ours to make, but that others
have no right to put boundaries on our choices, the Chamorro people will again be
free. Thank God for the maladjusted. Underwood (1987: 142)

This was the young political Underwood. Later, after earning a doctorate in history and finishing

up his first stint in academics at the University of Guam, Underwood ventured into a full-time

career in politics as Guam’s Congressional Representative, but then returned to the University of

Guam as its current President. In a series of impassioned speeches, given on the floor of the U.S.

House of Representatives and to the people of Guam, Underwood carried on the fight of his

earlier years to an unprecedented level (1995a,b, 1996a,b, 1997a,b,c,d, 1998a,b,c). Wyttenbach-

Santos (1998), based on events that transpired in 1996, suggests that Underwood feels as if “time

is running out”. I attended a recent speech of his given around 1996-1997 that was sponsored by

the Micronesian Studies Program of the University of Guam. There too he betrayed the above

sentiment when he made it explicit that commonwealth negotiations would have to take a “nuts

and bolts” approach whereby the entire commonwealth package would have to be dismantled and

deliberated upon issue by issue (a kind of last-ditch, lets-cut-our-losses approach). In his last

speech, to date, on the state of Guam’s agenda the sentiment of time running out is made explicit.

However, there is still a lot of hope, and a lot of fight, in his voice as the following excerpt from

his speech (1998c, frames 2-3) makes clear:

23
I know that there are times when we feel we are trapped in the middle of a maze.
We have taken what appears to be dead-end after dead-end in our quest for
commonwealth. We went down the administrative route, the Senate route, the
United Nations route. All of these routes have added to our experience, have
made us wiser, made us wearier and contributed to our frustration. But it is the
natural aspiration of people to improve their lot, to make progress and to move
towards greater autonomy and for us, for Guam, our colonial status is simply
untenable. We must not be a colony much longer. It may take some time, and
when the time comes, there may be different officials who will sign the
documents—but for those of us who went down the blind alleys and who kept part
of a continuum which goes back to the 32 petitioners of 1901 and men like B. J.
Bordallo, F. B. Leon Guerrero, A. B. Won Pat and the members of the Guam
Congress. They played their part and we must do ours. We must reaffirm our
commitment to Guam’s political advancement without reservation, in the spirit of
our forefathers and in the name of our children and grandchildren.

Underwood was referring specifically to the start of American colonialism, to that part of a much

longer continuum of Chamorro men and women who have struggled for over three centuries

against Western imperialism.

VIII. Reflections on Our Good Chief Hurao and His Various Reincarnations

The anchoring and strongest link of this long chain, this long continuum of Chamorros

who stood up and fought against colonial pirates, arcane and modern, is none other than our good

Chief Hurao. Therefore, this essay is offered in honor, and as a penitent neo-Chamorro’s

ancestor-worship, of our symbol of matatnga, our symbol of defiance against those who would

take our freedoms from us, our good Chief Hurao.

Chief Hurao, it should now be obvious, is my symbol of being matatnga, a core value of

the Chamorros. The various reincarnations of our good Chief Hurao, and this should be equally

obvious by now, are of course the various re-enactments of being matatnga by Chamorros since

Chief Hurao to the present day. Upon first glancing over this sequence of the cultural history of

matatnga one might conclude that it is as if, over the three hundred plus years of colonial

24
depredation experienced by the Chamorros, the Chamorro core value of being matatnga has

changed little. This conclusion would be found to be in error upon deeper reflection. Chief

Hurao’s concept of being matatnga was associated with much more aggressive violence than any

Chamorro’s concept of being matatnga during the Spanish-colonial and American-colonial eras.

In contrast, the concept of being matatnga in the ensuing periods of Chamorro history are not

noticeably associated with an aggressive violence directed against the various oppressors, if at

all. They are all, however, characterized by varying degrees of expressed defiance, with Chief

Hurao’s era boasting the highest level of defiance and perhaps the authors of Juan Malo having

the lowest level of defiance. What we are in fact discussing here are specific examples of the

temporal dynamics of the expression of a cultural trait in response to varying sociocultural

structures; sociocultural structures that are characterized by varying degress of constraint;

degrees of constraint that not only vary with the type of associated sociocultural structure but also

with the cultural trait so constrained.

I believe that we can make the greatest sense out of all of these considerations by

applying what Ortner (1984) has dubbed “practice theory”; a theory whose major elements and

contentions were originally espoused by Bourdieu (1977) and Giddens (1979). The present

onderstanding of the main elements of practice theory—i.e., action or agency and structure— has

been advanced largely by the efforts of sociologists (e.g., Coleman [1986] on action; Sewall

[1992, 1996] on agency, structure and transformation). These advances have occurred mainly on

the theoretical front. Anthropologists were quick to realize the power of practice theory and

applied it to their work on historical anthropology (Sahlins, 1981, 1985, 1991, 1995), ethnicity

(Bentley, 1987), sociopolitical evolution (Roscoe, 1993), and linguistic anthropology (Ahearn,

25
2001), thus making advances on the applied front. Pacific historians, too, have been influenced

by practice theory or elements thereof as Sahlins’s work above and as fairly recent discussions on

historiography and the various dimensions of agency or a lack thereof (Thomas, 1990, Chappell,

1995; Hattori, 1997) will attest. Roscoe (1993: 113) provides a summary of practice theory:

According to practice theory, structure comprises a complex of rules and


resources that shape but do not determine social action. Agents receive these
rules and resources as “objective conditions,” but rather than responding
mechanically to them they use them creatively to perform activities and achieve
ends. . . . The other side of this picture is that social action feeds back on
structure, reproducing or transforming it. Social reproduction is not the product of
some omniscient system creating and manipulating human automatons according
to its “needs,” as functional theories would have it; instead, it is the unintended
consequence of social practices that “regroove” or “reinforce” the rules and
resources comprising structure.

We are just one more step from being able to apply practice theory to our particular cultural-

historical sequence for we now need to discuss what Giddens (1979) has called the “dialectic of

control”. The dialectic of control describes “ . . . an intrinsic relation between agency and power

(Giddens, 1979: 6).” Relations of power are always two-way in that agents always enjoy some

degree of both power and autonomy in relation to other agents. For instance, and in the extreme

case, whereas a slave-master has obvious power and autonomy relative to his slave, the slave has

some power over the master in that he or she can terminate the relationship by committing

suicide or running away (cf. the example given in Roscoe, 1993). That the consequences of

certain actions may not be desirable does not mean that agents have no choice in the matter. The

slave of our hypothetical example can choose to kill himself but, for obvious reasons (i.e., self-

preservation), most such slaves do not. Alternatively, the slave can run and most do when they

can or when the benefits outweigh the costs (cf. the Underground Railroad endured by many

26
runaway black slaves during that ugly period of American history). Additionally, agents, being

rationalistic beings endowed with a great capacity for learning, have a good idea of the extent of

their power and autonomy and will act according to these perceptions (Giddens, 1979). Now, we

may apply these aspects of practice theory to the cultural-historical development of the concept

of matatnga.

When the Spanish mission started asserting itself in the late 1600s, certain Chamorro

chiefs would have no doubt perceived this as a threat to the power that they enjoyed. Chief

Hurao, being a high-ranking Chamorro with much power over other Chamorros, was perhaps

most keen to this. Enraged by the growing Spanish influence, he used the incident of Spanish

troops who took his fellow Chamorros captive and killed a high-ranking one in the process as a

catalyst for raising an army of warriors. His intention, of course, was to remove the Spanish.

The Spanish, however, proved superior, if not militarily, then perhaps in a McNeillian sense14

14 Hezel (1982) argued that the various epidemics of infectious disease rather than death due to warfare against the
Spanish largely explained the population decline of this period (see also Underwood, 1973). As McNeill (1976)
documented, this is the expected pattern whenever a cultural group with a larger infectious disease pool comes into
contact with a previously isolated cultural group with a smaller infectious disease pool. The important effect though
is the psychological one. As McNeill (1976: 20-21) put it:

. . . it is worth considering the psychological implications of a disease that killed only Indians [read
Chamorros] and left Spaniards unharmed. Such partiality could only be explained supernaturally,
and there could be no doubt about which side of the struggle enjoyed divine favor. The religions,
priesthoods, and way of life built around the old Indian gods could not survive such a
demonstration of the superior power of the God the Spaniards worshiped. Little wonder, then, that
the Indians accepted Christianity and submitted to Spanish control so meekly. God had shown
Himself on their side, and each new outbreak of infectious disease imported from Europe . . .
renewed the lesson.

Compare this with García (1683: 242) on the Chamorros of Guam and the Spanish:

For God this war brought praise and glory, Father San Vitores said. For people were saying both
on this island and elsewhere, where the story had been told, that God was worthy to be
acknowledged, feared, and loved as our Sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth. . . . Never had men
suffered such destruction of their houses and fields as they did in this war they had waged against
God. Well might one see that their demons were powerless and that God is the Lord of the

27
and not only overcame Chief Hurao’s army but managed to eventually subjugate the whole

Chamorro people. During the Spanish regime, the power enjoyed by Chamorros was, of course,

much diminished (but this also was relative). Accordingly, the manifestation of the value of

being matatnga was at its lowest point in all of Chamorro history as the folklore of Juan Malo

make comedically clear. The Chamorro women who committed infanticides and abortions and

the political assassin José de Salas, of the first and second centuries of the Spanish-colonial era,

respectively, demonstrated the autonomy that rational actors retain even in extremely

asymmetrical dialectics of control. As regards the former, the Chamorro women acted both on

behalf and for the sake of their children. One can use the “lesser of two evils” perspective to

relate to this. As regards José de Salas, in committing homicide and then returning he was

committing suicide. He chose to terminate that particular dialectic of control in more ways than

one. During the fifty years of naval autocracy, one can see with great clarity the relation between

the dialectic of control and the manifestation of matatnga. At the beginning of the naval

autocracy, Chamorros were quick to realize that, with the change in colonial regime, they had

potential access to much greater power than they had when the Spanish were in control. Thus,

we observe a steady increase in the degree of defiance associated with the manifestation of

matatnga. This reached its highest point with the GCW which occurred just before and, in fact,

precipitated the signing of the Organic Act of Guam. In contemporary times, Chamorros realize

elements which He wields as arms of justice to wound and punish whom He wishes, and He had
certainly used them in this war against the evil-doers. They now said that their macanas [shamans
who used magic] were imposters who promised things they could not give. They spoke of other
matters in which their eyes had been opened, and praised the Great Father who had shown himself
to be their real father.

If we consider Hezel’s (1982) argument together with the sentiments expressed by García then we might justifiably
conclude that the psychology of the Chamorros would have been affected in the same sense that McNeill argued.

28
that being U.S. citizens gives them a lot of power and, in terms of manifestations of matatnga,

have responded accordingly. In the eighties and early nineties, the Chamorro-rights-activist

group OPI-R, bolstered in their belief by the United Nations mandate to decolonize all existing

colonies, were very matatnga to the point of being “uncompromising”. To explain Underwood’s

rise and fall in terms of being matatnga it is necessary to digress briefly to discuss the motive

force of commonwealth negotiations. According to Leibowitz (1993), who is the preeminent

expert on the legalese concerning commonwealth negotiations (see for instance, Leibowitz,

1989)15, “ . . . the moving force behind all of this [referring to successful commonwealth

negotiations as in the case of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, CNMI] was

anti-colonialism . . . . To put the matter straight, colonialism is not a strong force any more. It is

not a strong factor in how people view the issues (p. 177, emphases added).” To make my

return, Underwood no doubt perceives the exact same sentiment and realizes that the power that

Guamanian Chamorros previously enjoyed, the power Leibowitz alludes to, has significantly

eroded away due to the vicissitudes of global politics. This explains why the degree of being

matatnga must necessarily decrease not in a cause-and-effect sense but in a “rational agency”

sense. Thus, we, in fact, observe a decrease in Underwood’s being matatnga.

The cultural history of matatnga was previously largely-invisible to all of us because

Chamorro history has been written predominantly by Western historians focusing on Western

documentation and, inescapably, writing from Western points of view. It should be pointed out

at this point that this failure to incorporate indigenous perspectives into a more comprehensive

15 For related detailed treatments on the constitutional law regarding the political status of Guam and other so-called
"Insular Territories" see Fallon (1991) and Burnett (2005).

29
historiography is a much wider problem for as Sahlins (2005: 44-45) argued, " In too many

narratives of Western domination, the indigenous peoples appear merely as victims—neo-

historyless peoples whose own agency disappeared more or less with their culture, the moment

Europeans erupted on the scene (emphasis mine)." At best, in terms of the Chamorro

perspective, we now have a large edifice of ill-conceived or distorted explanations of various

Chamorro actions in history or of events in which Chamorros figured prominently (cf. the

insightful critiques of Rogers’s “history” by Diaz [1996] and Hattori [1996]). This is because

such events have hitherto not been analyzed by Chamorro historians or, if such events were, in

fact, analyzed by Chamorro historians, they seem to have lacked the conviction of sticking by

their own native perspective (cf. Diaz’s [1994] remarks on Carano and Sanchez [1964] being

decidedly unreflective and Eurocentric; cf. also Hattori’s [1997] placement of Carano and

Sanchez in the category of Guam’s canonical history).16 But, this is changing largely as a result

of works by women and men who have led native lives, like Laura Souder, Anne Hattori and

Vicente Diaz, and works similar to their style and origin of historical anthropology or

anthropological/cultural history. It is my hope that this article serves both as an addition to this

movement and as a catalyst for similar analyses by natives. A flourishing of such efforts can

16 How can it be that a Chamorro—the now deceased Dr. Pedro Sanchez, who co-authored Carano and Sanchez
(1964)—could have contributed to, in Diaz’s words, a “Euro-centric” view of Chamorro history? How can it be that
Hattori (1996) can place same in the same light as Rogers (1995) which she rejects on the grounds that Chamorro
agency is largely ignored? If we consider that the book was written in the 1960's and consider it in the light of the
essay by Leon Guerrero and Salas (1995) on the post-World War II brainwashing of Chamorros, then we would
expect a Euro-centric view even if Dr. Sanchez had authored the book by himself. Consider what Leon Guerrero and
Salas (1995), who apparently grew up during the fifties and sixties, said about how they enjoyed the cowboys and
Indians movies, especially “ . . . when the Indians were defeated (p. 142).” The Chamorros of this time were
patriotic to the extreme, even at the expense of other indigenous peoples! Again from Leon Guerrero and Salas
(1995: 142): “On a per capita basis, Guam suffered more casualties during the Vietnam conflict than any other ethnic
group. But that was the price we paid for protecting the American way of life.” Happily, however, Sanchez’s later
history book Guahan, Guam published in 1989 does a better job of representing Chamorro agency. There are,
however, a number of instances were Diaz’s (1996) criticisms of Rogers (1995) still apply.

30
only advance our understanding of the history and anthropology of Chamorros. At a conference

held on Guam over a decade ago, co-sponsored by the Micronesian Studies Program of the

University of Guam and the Guam Humanities Council, Ron Rivera, a Chamorro Rights activist

and former member of the now-defunct OPI-R, spoke up during a hotly contested debate on the

quest for commonwealth in regard to what the Chamorros are fighting for. He said something

along the lines that Chamorros are not fighting for freedom or equality but for a redressing of the

past inequities committed against them. Similarly, pro-Chamorro-voice historiographers seek

not for academic freedom or equality but for a redressing of the past inequities committed by

colonialist discourse against the various loci of Chamorro agency. In my recent communication

with Dr. Robert Underwood, he suggested that I be just as critical with our views of our selves as

with our views of outsider’s views of our selves. I agreed. However, this stage of historical

reflection and contemplation, in my view, is less pressing than redressing the past inequities

committed against the various loci of Chamorro agency.

31
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