Part of a code of conduct

The phrase Chamorro parents say to their children that best illustrates the core Chamorro value of respetu (respect) is “Mungga na un ma’ mamåhlao.” (Don’t bring shame to our family.)

Mamåhlao is the code of conduct for Chamorros that spells out how respect is practiced, and how harmony and balance are achieved in the conduct of its people.  The concept of shame in Chamorro culture ensures that every person, no matter what rank, has a part in creating harmony through their actions.

Harmony, or inafa’maolek, is the foundation of the  Chamorro culture.  Everyone has a rank according to social position and age.  This is how a sense of order is established, and that respect is shown to those in positions of authority especially the manåmko’, or elders.

To have shame

A person who shows proper cultural respect understands the value of  mamåhlao, and is called gaimåmålao (has an understanding of having shame and showing respect).  A person who is taimamåhlao is lacking this value.

For everyone in ancient Chamorro society, from the lowliest person to the maga’ låhi (chief), mamåhlao was an underlying code that guided social interaction. Even the maga’ låhi was expected to appear humble, and not be boastful.

A show-off or a loud egotistical and obnoxious person, is considered banidosu. When they bring unwanted attention to themselves, or are impolite, this is taimamåhlao.

Chamorros are expected to be respectful even today. One simple action that shows an understanding of being mamåhlao is to refuse the offer food or drink when first offered. The host or hostest should offer two or even three times before food or drink should be accepted.

To further illustrate this practice, in times past,  it was expected that students would not want to be the first to raise their hand when a teacher posed a question to the class.  Students would wait to be called upon by the teacher.  To shame someone else in public, or act as though you know everything and seek attention to yourself is considered taimamåhlao.

If a person was inconsiderate of others’ needs or acted like the only thing that mattered was his or her self, he or she was considered greedy or selfish.  To act this way would probably cause people to say that you are  taimamåhlao, and that your family, especially your elders, didn’t raise you properly.

In more modern situations, the term “Chamorro borrow”, is an example of taimamåhlao.  The taimamåhlao person would “Chamorro borrow” something and wouldn’t return it to the owner, or they would keep it until the owner asks for it back.  A person who is gaimåmålao understands that this is socially-rude behavior.

By Art De Oro

For further reading

Cunningham, Lawrence, J.  Ancient Chamorro Society. Honolulu: The Bess Press, 1992.

Department of Chamorro Affairs. Hale’-ta Chamorro Heritage, A Sense of Place: Guidelines, Procedures and Recommendations for Authenticating Chamorro Heritage. Hagåtña: Department of Chamorro Affairs Research, Publication and Training Division, 2003

Political Status Education Coordinating Commission.  Hale’-ta – Inafa’maolek: Chamorro Tradition and Values. Hagåtña: Political Status Education Coordinating Commission, 1996.