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  • The Dilemma of an Official Word
  • Peter R. Onedera (bio)

"The Chamorros on Guam are at it again. A crop of experts, less than a dozen in all, have decided to spell a word that we've used out of habit and tradition and now we have to change it? And yet, the language continues to disappear year after year, can't they do anything better?"

That was a recurring comment heard many times before. It began on Guam and spread throughout the thousands of Chamorros living elsewhere, their population three times more than even the island of Guam could boast. And nobody cared. Why should they?

The same was said by those from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) about Guam. That's why they've specifically excluded Guam in any further attempts at combining efforts to forge one official orthography and chose instead to work separately and on their own. One friend from Tinian noted that the Guamanians wave the white flag against colonialism and continue to denigrate the influence of what they perceive was a remnant of the colonization mentality but what else had they done?

The military continued to run amok and to dominate every aspect of life on the island. It began in the early days of the United States dominance by exclaiming sovereignty, and they were pushed to and fro. It became pointless to assert influence. They tried to impress to their children to get out of this oppression.

Who was to blame for allowing this? The local leaders? The people who are in the local government? Who? That remained as age-old questions.

And what else could be done? Where would we go from here? Many asked that from decades on end that started the last century and on to now.

Who are we really?

Chamorro, Chamoru, CHamoru mean the same thing—the description used in reference to Guam's indigenous people and those in the Marianas archipelago for thousands of years, and it has withstood time. It will be argued that it wasn't the original name attributed to them but then no one came up with the simple explanation as to why this became so. The fact that the word described the language that these indigenous people spoke since time immemorial; hence, to use this word, one must be specific in pointing out that it was in reference to the people or to that of their language. [End Page 74]

Chamorro was the archival word that had been in place for more than three hundred years. It was deemed traditional and conventional and no one argued its appearance in documents such as shipping manifests, mariner's diaries, whaling accounts, letters, maps found in Europe and elsewhere, diaries, and anecdotes that were painstakingly included in myriads of documents, many in the foreign languages around the world. During those periods, the native inhabitants of the island weren't consulted, much less spoken to about how they were to be regarded with their peoplehood.

The same held true about the names given to the island of Guam and the rest of the Marianas. In the booklet, A Nomenclatural Chronology of Guam and the Marianas, retired professor Marjorie Driver from the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam disclosed, and, for which I counted, almost two hundred names given to the island and its neighboring chain that form the crescent shape of the moon.

Some of the more well-known ones are Islas de las Latinas, Islas de los Ladrones, Boan, Bubur, Chamurres, Velas, Bahan, St. Jean, San Juan, San Joan, Guayan, Volid, Gvahan, Guabon, Gaum, Guam, Gua, Guaxan, and Guahan. The list is long. Even the Japanese had a go at it when they invaded the island and gave it Omiyato or Omiya Jima. Of course, the most popular one became Guam which is listed in the U.S. Geological Survey of the United States and that remained stuck through the nineteenth, twentieth, and now the twenty-first centuries. Again, like the name given to the people, no one thought about asking them who they were, where they came from, and what was the name of their place?

I've...

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