Used to be arranged by clan leaders

Editor’s note: This entry was adapted and reprinted with permission from ”Cultural Traditions,” from the Hale’ Ta Series, Department of Chamorro Affairs, Government of Guam.

In ancient Chamorro society, the clan leaders arranged marriages. Women did not marry men in their clan since marriage was a chance to improve clan status and increase influence in gaining hunting, fishing and farming rights in other clan districts. Marriages were means of extending clan relations to increase clan ranking and to bind clans together. Depending on their needs and resources, clan leaders decide who would marry whom.

Every girl of marrying age commanded a “bride price”. Girls from high-ranking clans and girls who were already mothers commanded high bride prices. If the clan found the groom’s gifts worthy of the bride’s rank, her clan would accept them and consider the couple married. To celebrate, the clans would hold separate feasts, which last for several days.

Mamaisen Saina

First Visit to the Prospective Bride’s Home
During the Spanish period and up to the recent past, the first stage of marriage involved the mamaisen saina (visit with the family elders). Once the prospective groom decided to marry, his parents would arrange for the mamaisen saina. Likewise, the prospective bride would inform her parents of her intention and the upcoming mamaisen saina. It is important that the bride’s parents agreed to the visitation as otherwise, the wedding won’t happen. When this situation occured, the boy may have enticed the girl to run away from home and stay with a close relative, or at his home, where the village priest would arrange a plain and simple marriage ceremony.

The Chamorro word malågo (run away) could best describe this situation.

The mamaisen saina was probably the most difficult and sensitive stage in the marriage because the parents could have thwarted the process for any reason at all; but especially if they didn’t like the prospective son-in-law, or when personal dislikes exist between the two families. When this happened, the mañaina siha (elders – grandparents, aunts, and uncles) assumed the familial responsibilities.

Customarily, the girl’s family did not express their agreement to the marriage on the first visit. The parents had to show some reluctance, in whatever form – the idea was to show expressions of grief over the potential loss of their daughter. Some families would use this grieving period to hold the couple hostage just to give the prospective groom’s family a difficult time – ma na’muñera siha. To counter this, the boy’s parents would seek reconciliation by giving a variety of chenchule’ and nina’yan spreading over several visits.

At the first sign of less resistance, the boy’s parents would bring up the subject of the matrimonial plans to the girl’s parents and ask for approval to proceed. In Chamorro, this concept is referred to as ma gutos i finiho’ (confirmation of the nuptial agreement).

The first visit consisted of parents of both families only. Thereafter, depending on the mood of the girl’s family, the prospective groom was allowed to come and hold conversations under the watchful eyes of the parents. During these visits, planning and preparations would be finalized. As well, the prospective bride and groom arranged with the village priest for the doktrina, or prenuptial class.

Additionally, the families began to firm up their separate plans for the marriage festivities – the groom’s fandånggo, or prenuptial celebration, the komplimentu, or appreciation journey to the bride’s home, and the bride’s amotsan nobia, or bride’s breakfast. At the same time, the godparents and members of the family, or extended families, would make their visits to the homes and discuss chenchule’ and tareha. Baptismal godparents usually carried the larger share of the chenchule’.

Fandånggon Nobiu

Prenuptial Celebration – The Groom’s Party

The groom’s party held a prenuptial celebration referred to as the fandånggo. It was held in the evening so as to allow the opportunity for the traditional groom’s komplimentu. The fandånggo is the biggest celebration of all the festivities – this is to be expected since the groom’s family is gaining a daughter. On the other hand, in the traditional sense, the amotsan nobia (bride’s breakfast) is rather conservative as the bride’s family is feeling devastated and heartbroken for the loss of a daughter.

The most special guests at the fandånggo are the bride and her mañaina (godparents), and members of her extended families. Everything was focused on making the bride and her party feel content and comfortable.

The bridal table – where the bride and groom, their matlina and patlinu, and elders sit – was covered with delicate, generational kinanchiyu, or crocheted items, and set with expensive tableware. Home specialties are reserved for the bride’s table. Again, traditional sense would dictate that only a few members of the bride’s mañaina should attend the fandånggo – sigi ha’ ma na’fanmuñera siha sa’ mankonne’guan ni hagan-ñiha, (they continued to show their grief and unhappiness for losing their daughter).

The godparents were the official chaperones for the evening and they decided when the bridal group could leave – usually after the first dance. The caravan of bullcarts or cars stood ready any time the matlina gave her signal to leave.

I Komplimentu

The Appreciation Journey to the Bride’s Home

Komplimentu, a word of Spanish origin, was a show of appreciation extended by the groom to the bride and her entourage for their presence at the fandånggo. In the old days, the bull carts transported the komplimentu party along with the danderu, or musicians, and singers, who would serenade the bride with two special songs – Nobia Yanggen Para Un Hånao and Nobia Kahulo’ Ya Un Fa’gåsi I Matå-mu. The lyrics of these songs advised the girl of her last duty to her parents, and preparation needed for the next morning. The komplimentu must end within the hour or the “grieving” mañaina of the bride may abruptly tell them to leave.

At the komplimentu, the groom would bring the family jewels and heirlooms for the bride in a kaohao, or treasure chest, as well as food, refreshments, produce, flowers and bouquets, etc. Perhaps, the word which truly described this occasion is å’ok, which means the groom’s collection of gifts that is given to the bride the night before the inakkamo’.

Amotsan Nobia

The Bride’s Breakfast

The amotsan nobia was a more conservative event than the groom’s fandånggo; it was held in the bride’s home after the inakkamo’, or the wedding ceremony, at church. The guest list was short. As well, the groom’s guest list was short consisting mostly of the members of his family and godparents. There was neither music nor dancing. After breakfast the couple, accompanied by the godparents, would set out on a journey to nginge’ the mañaina siha in their respective homes. If the mangnginge’ was not completed within the day, it continued throughout the week until all the elders of both families were visited.

Although conservative in atmosphere, the beauty and integrity of the bride was reflected in the traditional and delicate decorations of the scenery, and the matlina’s spectacular lamasan matlina, or the Godmother’s table, which was replete with a variety of delicious homemade fina’mames. This venue provided the matlina the opportunity to display her chenchule’ of fina’mames, especially showing off the wedding cake, which she had painstakingly designed and prepared.

After breakfast, the nina’yan was given to all persons who had contributed money, food, and labor to the amotsan nobia. Generally, the matlina got the first layer of the bride’s wedding cake, and a whole lechon, or roast pig.

Contemporary Guam

Marriages today

In contemporary Guam, most marriages do not conform to traditional practices. The concepts of mamaisen saina and komplimentu have become rare and in their stead is the bridal shower and a joint reception, usually held at a hotel or other public venue. In many instances, the bride and bridegroom, in consultation with their respective parents, develop and carry out the wedding plans – formal announcement, guests, church, reception, church arrangement, etc. In other words, many marriages have become westernized.