Manma’gas is the Chamorro word for leaders when referred to as a group. In ancient Guam, Chamorro leaders were usually the oldest members of clans and were looked up to for their guidance and wisdom. The male leader of a clan is referred to as the maga’låhi (eldest son) and the female as maga’håga (eldest daughter).
These leaders were held in high regard as they governed the clan for the benefit of the whole rather than the individual. People who provided leadership and guidance, were understanding, and had integrity were recognized as one of the ma’gas as well. The manma’gas title was not voted on, but given by the people out of respect for leadership qualities.
With this great honor also came the responsibility of keeping the trust of the community. If any of the manma’gas failed in their duties they would be shamed (mamåhlao) because their failure not only affected the individual, but the whole community. Being mamåhlao amongst the community was considered worse than death.
By Lina Taitingfong
For further reading
Farrell, Don A. History of the Northern Mariana Islands. Saipan, CNMI: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System, 1991.
Political Status Education Coordinating Commission. Hale’-ta – I Ma Gobetna-na Guam: Governing Guam Before and After the Wars. Hagåtña:Political Status Education Coordinating Commission, 2001.