Editor’s note: The following entry, with a few additions, was produced by the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Agency (CAHA) as part of their publication and poster series, A Journey with the Masters of Chamorro Tradition, 2000.

Master Suruhåna

“Gof Metgot I Mana’amte Yan I Amot Siha”—a solemn and profound message recently conveyed at a family gathering by Mrs. Josefa Cruz Certeza, known affectionately to her family, friends, and the community of Guam as Tan Pai, by amazing grace, still alive and well at 96 years old.

Tan Pai’s life and vocation as a suruhåna began when her youngest son, Frankie, was ill and she went to seek the help from a suruhåna. The suruhåna was busy and told her to come back the next day.  Feeling it would be too late, she decided to find a cure herself.  She felt that God helped her find the herbs, and hence, she started her vocation. Tan Pai learned from her mother, Josefa Perez Cruz, as well as her husband’s grandmother, Vicenta Quidachay Quenga. They taught her the techniques of massage (lasa) and herbal (CHamoru/Chamorro) medicines. Although her mother was a suruhåna, it was Vicenta Quidachay Quenga who divulged the effective remedies, to include åmot tininu, åmot maipe, åmot gine’he, åmot påsmo, and others, åmot Chamorro siha. Tan Pai started as a suruhåna at the age of 30 and treated (åmte) people from all over the island; mostly children (chetnot famagu’on), women (chetnot famalåo’an), and the elderly. She would sometimes chew the plants and herbs to grind them up before administering to the babies. Throughout her life, Tan Pai believed that God gave her the gift to heal through massage (lasa), making herbal medicines, using pestle (lommok, putot) and mortar (tutu, lusong), massage with applications of medicine, and massage with consumption of medicine. 

Tan Pai would sometimes go to the hospital to treat people with medicine and massage. She found helping and healing her people very rewarding. When Tan Pai was asked to share the healing recipes, she would be willing to share the knowledge, but often said that the medicine would not be effective because it was all in “her hands; the healing medicine that God gave her.”

Tan Pai treated a range of cases—fever, sores in the mouth, rashes, and chetnot maipe yan tabatdiyu—ailments attributed to the taotaomo’na. A taotaomo’na doctor taught her how to treat these conditions through massage techniques that included the drinking of a special herb drink and rubbing (palai) an ointment made of a ground mixture of herbs and coconut oil (lanan niyok), specially prepared for this ailment.  

Tan Pai was one of the suruhånas mentioned in a manuscript, “I Che’Cho’ Suruhåna Yan Suruhånu (The Use of Traditional Medicine and Healers on Guam).” She was featured as one of “The Last of the Suruhåna” in Guahån magazine (May 2005), and in a story in GU magazine (July/August 2007). At the first Chamorro Medicinal Conference held in Rota, themed “Tungo’ I Minaolek I Amot-Ta,” she was recognized as a traditional herbal healer.

Tan Pai was born and raised in the village of Piti, Guam and lived for many years at her home in the village of Hågat.  Her parents are Enrique Santos Cruz (Familian Tanaguan) and Josefa Perez Cruz (Familian Fongu).  She was happily married to the late Delfin Quenga Certeza (Familian Certeza Piti) and had six children, 21 grandchildren, 51 great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. Tan Pai passed away in 2017 at the age of 100.