Procession, 1902. Charles Lemkuhl photo from the Micronesian Seminar collection.

Editor’s note: This glossary was reprinted from “Cultural Traditions,” of the Hale’-ta Series, with permission from the Department of Chamorro Affairs, Government of Guam.

From birth to death

In CHamoru society, events that celebrate life from beginning to end are interwoven into the traditions of the Catholic Church, and are celebrated to demonstrate faith and love in God, and belief in the unity and strength of the family. These events are rooted in the CHamoru tradition and identity – together, the familia and the church sponsor these events.

For example, fiestas, fandånggo, and baotismo (saint’s day feasts, wedding parties and baptisms) are closely associated with religious events. However, they are also social and cultural events in and of themselves. The bela (wake) – an overnight prayer vigil before a funeral of the deceased defunto or defunta – features a series of prayers and incantations offered up to God for the well being of the soul.

This ritual is an extension of the ancient practice of clan worship for deceased members. Likewise, the lisåyu, or rosary, and the nobena (nine day rosary) provide important moments for families and clans to gather together and celebrate their existence. Thus, the traditions of CHamoru piety, reverence, and prayer became important rituals of unity for the CHamoru people.

While some of these traditions have been adapted to modern life, it is important to understand the way things were done in the past.