Christmas Mass Choir 2006 at Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica. Photo courtesy of Paul EC Guerrero.

Music has always been an important feature of Chamorro/CHamoru culture and society. From ancient chants to kantan chamorita, to local renditions of modern country or dance songs, CHamorus have used music as an effective and powerful vehicle of cultural and artistic expression. With the influence of Roman Catholicism on all aspects of CHamoru culture, sacred music, such as church songs and hymns, has become another important form of traditional music in the Marianas. In fact, church songs hold a special place in the hearts and memories of many CHamoru people who have grown up singing CHamoru hymns at Mass, rosaries, novenas, funerals and religious holidays. Songs like “Abe Nanan Yu’us,” “Maria Lao” and “Atan Jesukristo” resonate strongly among CHamoru Catholics, and are still sung today in churches throughout the Marianas.

Lalai-hulo, Antihu

Many of the melodies and lyrics of traditional CHamoru Catholic hymns were derived or translated from Spanish Catholic hymns introduced by the different Spanish missionaries who worked among the CHamoru people over the history of the Marianas mission. Palè Román María de Vera, a Capuchin priest from Navarre, Spain who worked in Guam from 1915 to 1941, compiled a book of CHamoru and Latin hymns entitled, Lalai-hulo, Antihu: Kanta Gumayuus Siha. Many of these songs in this collection had been sung since the time of the Augustinian Recollect priests who ran the Catholic mission in Guam in the 19th century, and some were written by Palè Roman himself. In fact, the melodies of many of these songs are recognizable in other Spanish-speaking places-but have CHamoru lyrics. Reprinted several times since the 1940s, the hymnal by Palè Roman consists of lyrics of more than 100 songs for various occasions, but do not have any musical notations. Instead, most of the CHamorus familiar with these songs would have had the melodies committed to memory.

The Chamorro Hymnal

To accommodate a changing demographic and shifting cultural and social scene in the Catholic Church in Guam, the Diocese of Agana published The Chamorro Hymnal, a collection of fifty-one songs, with musical accompaniment, in 1972. According to CHamoru musician Raphael Perez Cruz, the original book from which this publication was derived was a hardbound, maroon-colored 8″ x 11″ book, about 3/4 inches thick. It was filled with songs familiar to many CHamoru Catholics, but had only handwritten musical notation. It is not clear who put these songs together, but the book could be found on the organ of Saint Anthony Church in Tamuning, Guam.

The Chamorro Hymnal, with its distinctive red cover with the color photograph of Guam’s patroness, Santa Marian Kamalen, was published as a small soft-covered book, and was widely distributed among the different parish churches. According to the hymnal’s introduction, the music was transcribed by Sister Mary Eric Militzer, SSND, and the English translations were provided by Lagrimas LG Untalan. The hymnal contained favorites for a variety of religious occasions and devotions, including “Korason Santo,” “Katoliku,” “Dimuyi, Manhengge” and “O Maria Nanamagof,” as well as Christmas songs, such as “Sen Bunitu,” “Fanmatto, Manhennge (O Come All Ye Faithful)” and “Puengen Yu’us (Silent Night).”

Umatuna Si Yu’us: Oratorium

In 1999, in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Saipan, CNMI, the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa published a collection of Chamorro hymns called, Umatuna si Yu’us: Oratorium: A Collection of Catholic Hymns. While this compilation contained many of religious songs also sung in Guam, the collection also included translations of these Catholic hymns into the Carolinian language, reflecting the other major cultural group that resides in the Northern Mariana Islands. The songs were printed with lyrics and melody lines with chord symbols by Bruno Dalla Pozza.

Kantan Saina

In 1996-1997, Raphael Cruz published Kantan Saina (Songs of the Lord): A Collection of Traditional Religious Songs from the Marianas. According to Cruz, this compilation was the brainchild of his mother, Maria Perez (Boño) Cruz, who felt the need for such a hymnal for CHamoru communities located away from home. According to her son, “In 1977, our family moved to California and she joined the CHamoru Northern Bay Area choir, directed by a fellow St. Jude parishioner – Dolores (Loling) Delgado Blaz. The CHamoru choir sang for many weddings, funerals and fiestas like San Roque in Sacramento. However, it was during Lent, when the choir sang for the Stations of the Cross, that mom saw how the choir members didn’t know the verses of ‘Ma A’tani Gi Kilu’us.’ It was then that she decided to write out the melody line for the choir and future choirs. Thus, the first song for the Kantan Saina became reality. Before long, she had completed a handful of hymns that weren’t in the Chamorro Hymnal and asked me to write out accompaniments for the songs.”

While some of the songs in the Kantan Saina are familiar and often heard during weddings, Christmas and Easter, the less familiar songs include “Tai Hinekkok Na Tata“, “Ma’ase’i, Ma’ase’i” and “Bithen Konsuelon.” The songs were transcribed and arranged musically for four voices (SATB) by Raphael Cruz, with accompaniment for guitar and keyboard.

To view or download Kantan Saina click here.

By Dominica Tolentino

For further reading

Cruz, Raphael. Kantan Saina: Songs of the Lord. Self-published, Benicia, 1996.

Dalla Pozza, Bruno. Umatuna si yuus: Oratorium: Collection of Catholic Hymns. Saipan: Northern Marianas College, 1999.

de Vera, Román María, OFM Cap. Lalai-Hulo, Antiho: Kanta Gumayuus Siha. Hagåtña: Vicariate Apostolic of Guam, 1970.

Forbes, Eric, OFM Cap. 100 Capuchin Centennial Guam 1901-2001, Fañetbe. Agana Heights: Capuchin Star of the Sea Vice Province, 2001.

The Chamorro Hymnal. Hagåtña: Diocese of Guam, 1972.