Killed Padre San Vitores

History will remember Maga’låhi Matå’pang from Tomhom (Tumon) as the man responsible for murdering Father Diego Luís de San Vitores, the Spanish Jesuit priest who brought Christianity to the Mariana Islands. Matå’pang’s significance, however, has changed over the centuries as Chamorros and their understanding of historical events has changed.

Because the Spanish once considered him an evil savage, the Chamorro word matå’pang, which used to mean, to cleanse is now used to describe someone as silly or something as tasteless. In recent history, however, perceptions of Matå’pang’s story has evolved, and the chief has re-gained recognition as a Chamorro hero for resisting colonial rule. A beach close to where Matå’pang killed San Vitores in Tumon Bay is called Matå’pang Beach to this day.

Rejected Christianity

At first a Christian convert, Matå’pang eventually rejected Christianity, along with many other Chamorros, because he saw that it was being used as a tool to control his people and obliterate Chamorro traditions and beliefs.

Since he had already been baptized and was thought to have been cured from an illness by San Vitores, the Spanish hoped to bring Matå’pang back to the church. San Vitores used the birth of Matå’pang’s daughter to approach the Tomhom leader. On April 2, 1672, San Vitores, along with Pedro Calangsod (also spelled Calangsor), a man who had served with the priest for four years, entered Matå’pang’s home without permission with the intention of baptizing his daughter.

Matå’pang was infuriated by their actions, particularly because it was thought by many Chamorros that the baptismal water was poisonous. The priests had been known to spit in the water, and many of the children and elderly who had been baptized died shortly after. Matå’pang was also upset that the priests had disregarded the sacredness of entering a maga’låhi’s home. He had grown tired of San Vitores’ continuous disrespect for Chamorro traditions and beliefs. Since his arrival, San Vitores conducted daily baptisms on children without their parents’ permission.

Upon learning of the baptism of his daughter, Matå’pang and another man named Hirao immediately went after San Vitores. As San Vitores and Calangsod fell at their hands, San Vitores did not attempt to protect himself, instead praying for his slayers.

Matå’pang weighted the bodies and tossed them into the sea and set a fire where the stabbings had taken place. Matå’pang then joined other leaders who were fighting the Spanish and led his people in many battles. The Spanish noted that Matå’pang “was a person of great strength, notwithstanding his age.”

Prior to San Vitores’ death, the Spanish had been on a Christianizing mission. Following the murder, however, Christianizing the Chamorros became a military endeavor and the Chamorro rebellion intensified. Captain Juan de Santiago was sent to Guam in search of vengeance for the priest’s death by burning village houses and canoes to prevent the Chamorros from escaping. Matå’pang got into a skirmish with Santiago’s men and was wounded. He fled to the island of Luta (Rota) to recover from his injury.

In 1680, military Governor Jose de Quiroga was sent to the Marianas to quash the Chamorro rebellion. An attack fleet was initially sent to Rota where Matå’pang was living. The violent threat of Quiroga led island leaders on Rota to turn on Matå’pang. They stabbed him and put him in a boat. Matå’pang died on the way back to Guam. His body was thrown into the waters off Hagåtña and his head was brought to the Spanish.

By Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, MFA and Nicholas Yamashita Quinata

For further reading

Aguon. Katherine B. Commentary. “Ancient Chamorro Leaders of Guahan.” Guahan Magazine (June 2007).

Benavente, Eddie L.G. I Manmanaina-ta: I Manmaga’lahi yan I Manma’gas – Geran Chamoru yan Espanot, 1668-1695. N.p.: Eddie L.G. Benavente, 2007.

Hezel, Francis. “From Conversion to Conquest: The Early Spanish Mission in the Marianas.” Journal of Pacific History 17 (1982): 3-4; 115-37. Also available online at Micronesian Seminar (accessed 24 April 2013).

Le Gobien, Charles. Histories des Isles Marianes. Paris: 1700. A manuscript translated into English is available at the University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center.

Levesque, Rodrigue, comp. and ed. History of Micronesia: A Collection of Source Documents. Vols. 1 – 13. Gatineau, Quebec: Levesque Publications, 1992-.

Political Status Education Coordinating Commission. Hale-ta – I Manfåyi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. Vol. 1. Hagåtña: Political Status Education Coordinating Commission, 1995.

Risco, Alberto. The Apostle of the Marianas: The Life, Labors and Martyrdom of Venerable Diego Luis de San Vitores, 1627-1672. Translated by Juan M. H. Ledesma. [Hagåtña?]: Diocese of Agana, 1970.

Rogers, Robert F. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995.