Young women who trained young men

Ma uritao , an ancient Chamorro term used before Christianity was introduced to the Chamoro people, describes young unmarried women who stayed at the guma’ uritao (bachelor’s house) to sexually train young men as a part of their education to become men.

Prior to the sixteenth century European arrival, Chamorro society was organized into clan settlements. Clans were formed based on familial bonds and obligations on the woman’s family and were a significant source of moral, material, and financial support.

Clans had a few main gathering places or houses, one of which was guma’ uritao or the male bachelor house. At puberty, unmarried Chamorro males would leave their mother’s home and live at the guma’ uritao. In this setting, uritaos (bachelors) learned the life-skills and knowledge of their male elders, such as canoe-making, house-building, sailing, fishing, hunting, farming, and fighting. All of these skills were necessary to sustain the health of the clan.

Ma uritao were unmarried young women in a clan, who were chosen to serve an integral role in the cultivation of uritaos for another clan’s guma’ uritao. Since ancient Chamorro society valued children, ma uritaos who got pregnant were equally valued for marriage purposes rather than women who didn’t serve as ma uritao. This social practice also increased ma uritao’s parents’ social status and resources as well as her chances of a having good marriage.

Demise of Guma Uritao

From the 17th century, Catholic evangelization lead by Spanish Jesuit missionaries and accompanied by military soldiers for protection, was the beginning of the end of many ancient Chamorro institutions. It was in this century that effective expansion and impact of the Catholic worldview on Chamorro society were assured by the Spanish military.

What was once an ancient social institution – necessary to maintain Chamorro social life and survival – guma uritao was subjected to Christian moral scrutiny including ma uritao. Deemed a moral aberration that encouraged sexual promiscuity, the demise of guma uritao and the ma uritao from the Chamorro social landscape were replaced by the Spanish missions which would become the social centers of a Christianized people.

By Antonio Salas, MA

For further reading

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

Garcia, Francisco, S.J. The Life and Martyrdom of the Venerable Father Diego Luis de San Vitores of the Society of Jesus, First Apostle of the Mariana Islands and Events of These Islands from the Year Sixteen Hundred and Sixty-Eight Through the Year Sixteen Hundred and Eighty-One. Translated from Spanish by Margaret M. Higgins, Felicia Plaza and Juan M.H. Ledesma. Edited by James A. McDonough. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 2004.

Hattori, Anne P. Colonial Dis-ease: U.S. Navy Health Policies and the Chamorros of Guam, 1898-1941. Pacific Islands Monographs Series 19. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 2003.

Jorgensen, Marilyn A. Guam’s Patroness Santa Marian Kamalen. N.p.: Marilyn A. Jorgensen, 1994.

Lévesque, Rodrigue, comp. and ed. History of Micronesia: A Collection of Source Documents. 20 vols. Gatineau, Québec: Lévesque Publications, 2003.

Manansalan, Paul Kekai. “The Arioi Society of Tahiti and the Uritoi of the Marianas and Carolines in Micronesia brought social organization to the realm of sex and eroticism.” (accessed August 12, 2010).

Pacific Worlds-Guam. “Villages.” (accessed August 12, 2010).

Rogers, Robert F. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 1995.