Strong urge

The Chamorro term ma’goddai can be described as a strong feeling one gets when they admire someone because of their appearance such as being poki (pleasantly chubby), cute, and having unique traits that distinguishes him or her from others. This causes an urge to pinch, squeeze, bite or smother that person with kisses, particularly a child.  It is believed to date back to ancient society and is still practiced today.  Ma’goddai has significance for a person’s well being.  It is believed that if a person refrains from following through on his or her urges, then the person that making them feel ma’goddai will become ill.

Another form of ma’goddai is unbridled passion usually occurring out of anger or jealousy toward another.  This is often relegated to adults.  When a person manifests this form of ma’goddai, it often leads to a physical altercation.  When this feeling doesn’t get acted out, the person who feels this sometimes subconsciously curses his victim, which is believed to cause the victim to become ill.

Practices and beliefs

Ma’goddai is an important Chamorro practice.  When a child is presented to family and friends, they experience these urges and wish to lovingly act upon them.  It is considered to be a great sign of affection for the child when a person feels ma’goddai and pinches, squeezes, bites or kisses the child.  Ma’goddai is a recognizable and common way for Chamorros to demonstrate affection and love for children of family and friends.

Based on traditional beliefs, to avoid pinching, squeezing, biting or kissing a person when you feel ma’goddai for them can cause serious illness.  Peter Onedera wrote that when a child falls ill and western medicine is ineffective, Chamorros believe that is because someone refrained from acting on his or feeling of ma’goddai.  Children who become sick for no obvious reason are often taken to the suruhånu, traditional Chamorro medicine makers.

Guam historian Dr. Anne Perez Hattori believes that ma’goddai has a spiritual effect if not acted out.  Chamorros believe that an evil spell is cast upon the person if someone resists the urges of ma’goddai.

Another way ma’goddai can be explained is that the taotaomo’na (Chamorro ancestral spirits) take notice when someone is admired and may want to take someone who is dearly loved and thought to be very attractive.  To keep the child safe, the person who has feelings of ma’goddai can make the child cry by pinching, biting or squeezing them, which, in turn makes them become unattractive and with an outward show that they are not well loved, thus confusing the spirits who will then leave the child alone.

By Nathalie Pereda and Peter R. Onedera

For further reading

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

Onedera, Peter R. Fafa’ña’gue yan Hinengge Siha (Ghosts and Superstitious Beliefs). Tamuning: St. Anthony School, 1994.