Evolution of the term

Matå’pang is a Chamorro/CHamoru word currently used to describe a person who is acting careless, rude or stupid. It is a highly-charged word, which can almost be considered to be a casual slang in some instances and a very insulting appellation in others. It is a negative term which is meant to capture a whole host of socially unacceptable actions. A person who is called  matå’pang might be acting rude, snobbish, silly, uncivilized, impolite, or crazy. It is such a popular term in Guam contemporary life, that even many non-Chamorros know and use the term.

The history of this term, however, is far more complex than just this shallow social insult. It is a word through which we can perceive the impacts of Spanish colonization on Guam and amongst Chamorros, and how it impacted their worldview and language. The word  matå’pang is also well known as the name of an ancient historical Chamorro figure, a maga’låhi (highest ranking male or chief of a village) from 17th century Guam, whose actions against the newly arrived Spanish missionaries, are most likely the reason for the word’s contemporary negative associations.

Matå’pang the man

Matå’pang was a maga’låhi from the songsong (village) of Tomhom, (modern-day Tumon). Upon the arrival of the Spanish missionaries, led by Catholic Spanish priest Pale’ (Father) Diego Luis de San Vitores,  Matå’pang was one of many high-caste Chamorros who initially welcomed them and argued that they be allowed to stay on the island and share their new religion and technology. The first months and years after the establishment of the Spanish mission on Guam since 1668, were full of some suspicion and some excitement, as the missionaries and their garrison were a source of curiosity for the Chamorros. Numerous Chamorros agreed to be converted to Christianity, Matå’pang included.

As time passed however, it became increasingly clear that the Spanish represented a serious threat to Chamorros and their ways of life, and that whether they agreed to be converted or not, the Spanish were claiming the anti, lina’la’ yan tåno’ (spirit, life and land) of Chamorros as their own. As the Spanish began to condemn Chamorro cultural practices and beliefs as pagan or savage, Chamorros started to resist this invasion into their lives and homes.

In 1672, while Matå’pang was away from his home, San Vitores and his lay assistant Pedro Calungsod entered the magå’låhi’s home and baptized his daughter. A few years earlier such an act might have been considered exciting or a curiosity, a tribute to the strange ways of Mariana Island’s newest residents, but by 1672, the aura of mystery around the Spanish had long faded. The Chamorro people were being wracked with horrible diseases that they had no immunities to nor known åmot (medicine), and rightfully assumed that they had been brought by the Spanish. The holy water that priests such as San Vitores used during baptisms was thought to be poisonous and one of the ways in which the foreign disease were transmitted.  Matå’pang became enraged believing that San Vitores had put his daughter’s life in jeopardy by baptizing her, and that San Vitores did not even seek his permission first.

Matå’pang was joined by another Chamorro named Hurao as they attacked San Vitores and his servant, killing them. The death of San Vitores helped lead to an increased militarization of the Spanish attempts to colonize the Chamorros. More than two decades of war throughout the entire island archipelago followed the death of San Vitores.  Matå’pang fled to the neighboring island of  Luta (Rota) to escape capture and continued to fight against the Spanish, until he was caught and killed in 1680.

Solidifying Spanish symbolic power

At the end of the Chamorro-Spanish Wars (1671 – 1698), the Catholic Church – in order to solidify its power over Chamorros, ensure their proper Christianization – undertook a systematic process of prohibiting and condemning large portions of Chamorro culture. The seafaring navigational culture, practices of ancestral worship, some dances and songs, and parts of the matriarchal culture, were just a few examples of things which the Spanish saw as a threat to their new hold over Chamorros, and which had to be eradicated.

Part of the reason that Spanish established themselves in a time of peace with Chamorros, was to help shape the way that the previous era of Chamorro history, their resistance, was remembered, or would become embedded in their identity as a people moving forward. In order to do this, two primary figures were drawn from the Chamorro-Spanish War period, and placed forth to Chamorros as good and evil of themselves, the epitome and the enemy of their behavior and society.

Kepuha (also known as Quipuha), because of his early support for the Catholic Church and the Spanish in Guam, became the epitome of the savage Chamorro, the ideal to which they should aspire, the Chamorro who recognized the salvation the church represented and who did not resist or stand in the way of its influence. Matå’pang, the wild savage who murdered a holy man, became the symbol of all that Chamorros should not be. Matå’pang came to represent someone who who foolishly resisted society and progress, who stood outside of polite society and community, who rashly and stupidly defied it and therefore embodies the evil that led to a community’s violent decay.

The result is the imposing and celebratory statue of Maga’låhi Kephua that stands in the center of the island in present-day Hagåtña, the island’s capital, and the denigration of Maga’låhi Mata’pang’s name to mean “silly” and “crazy.”

Alternative meanings

As Chamorros have become more of a presence in researching, writing and telling of their history, and the dominance of the Catholic Church’s historiography of Guam has been challenged, and the figure and meaning of “matå’pang” has started to shift. Matå’pang is no longer considered to be a crazy evil figure who stands against faith, reason and God, but a much more complex figure, who resisted the colonization of his people, and can be considered to be one of the first-known Chamorro freedom fighters.

The definition of matå’pang as a word in Chamorro has also shifted, as older meanings of the term are being more commonly used in order to keep from participating in this aspect of Guam’s continuing colonization.


Matå’pang also means “to be cleansed or purified.” Mata’pang literally translates to “the one who has been cleansed.” “Tå’pang“- the root word – means “to clean or wash” or “to rinse in salt water.” Ironically, “tå’pang” is also closely associated to the term takpångi which means “to baptize or to christen.”

Another alternative, but closely related meaning to matå’pang is “boring, dreary or bland” as in activities or food. The implication for this meaning appears to be that something is bland or boring because its been cleansed of all the fun or taste.

Finally, in another strange twist of meaning in an  already very charged word, matå’pang can be used to refer to something as being mixed up or unclear, for example hånom (water) when it is brackish or murky.

By Michael Lujan Bevacqua, PhD

For further reading

Benavente, Ed L.G. I Manmañaina-ta: I Manmaga’låhi yan I Manmå’gas; Geran Chamoru yan Españot (1668-1695). Self-published, 2007.

García, Francisco. The Life and Martyrdom of Diego Luis de San Vitores, S.J. Translated by Margaret M. Higgins, Felicia Plaza, and Juan M.H. Ledesma. Edited by James A. McDonough. MARC Monograph Series 3. Mangilao: Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam, 2004.

I Ma Gobetna-na Guam: Governing Guam Before and After the Wars. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education Coordinating Commission, 1994.

I Manfåyi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. Vol. 1. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education and Coordinating Commission, 1995.

Russell, Scott. Tiempon I Manmofo’na: Ancient Chamorro Culture and History of the Northern Mariana Islands. Saipan: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Historic Preservation, 1998.