Responsible for the his sister’s children

Ancient Chamorros were a matrilineal society, where family connections were traced through the mother’s clan.  Land ownership was through women, and was distributed through these close family clans.  The eldest of these women was the maga’håga.

The highest-ranking man in the clan was the maga’låhi.  They could be the maga’håga’s brother, nephew, or uncle.  He was responsible for the welfare of all people in the village.  The villagers went to him when they needed help to settle arguments between families, and on the proper punishment for anyone who broke the rules. He was the leader in battles or competitions against rival clans.

Raised sisters’ sons

When Chamorros married, they lived with or in the village of the groom’s clan such as his maternal uncle, his mother’s brother, and not with the parents of either spouse.   When their son reached puberty, he went to live with his uncle on his mother’s side, in the clan in which his mother was raised.  It was this uncle’s responsibility to teach the boy the responsibilities of manhood – such as canoe building, navigating, skill with weapons, and even sexual prowess, social and familial responsibilities.

These young men re-connected with their clan by living together in the guma’ uritao (or ulitao), which was a men’s house.  The young man remained in the guma’ uritao until he chose a wife from another clan, after which the couple set up their own household within the man’s clan.  Men kept the maga’låhi lineage and control of villages in their hands by having that title go to the maga’låhi’s brothers or, if none, to his nephews or cousins.  This did not go to his son by a wife, who was always from a different clan.

The estates of coconut plantations were not inherited by a man’s son at his death, but by his surviving brother; who was the next oldest son in the family, or by his nephew; his eldest sister’s son.  The new maga’låhi would then change his name to that of the former maga’låhi or the founder of the family, which was a single name. Men inherited the use of this clan property through their mothers’ brothers.

By Art De Oro

For further reading

Beardsley, Charles. Guam Past and Present. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1964.

Boughton, George J. “Revisionist Interpretation of Precontact Marianas Society.” In Pacific History: Papers from the 8th Pacific History Association Conference. Edited by Donald H. Rubinstein. Mangilao: Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam, 1992.

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

Inafa’ maolek: Chamorro Tradition and Values. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education Coordinating Commission, 1996.

Thompson, Laura M. Guam and Its People. With a Village Journal by Jesus C. Barcinas. 3rd ed. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1947.