Sparked an uprising

Maga’låhi Yula (also spelled Hula or Yura) was a chief from the village of Apotguan in Hagåtña, who is best known for sparking a Chamorro uprising in the summer of 1684.

Yula plotted the revolt with sixty people who were all sworn to secrecy. Yula was thus able to catch the Spanish completely off-guard at a time when they were most vulnerable. Yula and his army were driven by a desire for freedom from the Spanish, and had they succeeded, the uprising would have ended Spanish rule on Guam.

In July of 1684, Jose de Quiroga – Spain’s most relentless military ruler, who was sent to the Mariana Islands to fight Chamorro resistance – and his troops were in the nearby island of Saipan fighting the Chamorro resistance there. Quiroga had left Hagåtña nearly defenseless. He had taken all the best soldiers and weapons to Saipan, leaving only a few soldiers to defend the Spanish Governor Damian de Esplana. Most of the Spanish and Filipino soldiers who remained on Guam were inexperienced young recruits who could not even fire a weapon.

It was the perfect time to strike, and Yula ceased the opportunity. Now is the time to finish them off, because the foreigners are scattered, he told his army. He said:

The ones who are healthy or strong are not here in this land, and those who remained in Hagåtña are the cruel, the disabled and sick. It is not difficult to attack and eradicate them. If we do not make use of ourselves now, we cannot triumph over them tonight and they will crush us in an unfavorable place, and we can no longer live our own way of life, because if they succeed to control the other islands to the north, our hopes are gone. Where else are we to flee? Follow me and be praised forever, because we will be able to enjoy our land.

Yula gathered forty warriors from the villages of Pago and Ritiyan and attacked Hagåtña after the morning mass on July 23, 1684. He had precisely chosen a day when the Vice-Provincial Father Gerardo Bouwens had invited several priests to a meeting at his residence in Hagåtña. Yula and his army managed to get into the garrison by attending the Catholic Mass with other parishioners. After Mass, the warriors split into two groups – one went to the governor’s palace, the other went to the house of the priests. At the governor’s palace, Yula’s forces killed a sentry and wounded a servant.

Yula and three other warriors went straight to the palace to look for the governor, but he had gone for a walk with a boy to a nearby garden located at the edge of a river. The governor was unarmed, because he was among the soldiers’ houses and felt safe. As the bells sounded at the church, Yula and three other warriors came out from behind the soldiers’ houses and ambushed the governor striking with butcher knives and machetes, leaving him with ten to twelve wounds. The boy who accompanied the governor shouted for help and Captain Jose de la Cruz, a Filipino solider, came out with a lance in his hands and stabbed Yula. The chief fell to the ground and died at the governor’s feet. The other three Chamorro warriors fled.

Yula’s army also took over a guardhouse and killed two soldiers. They killed a third soldier that day along the road as they were retreating. A fourth soldier died the next day and seventeen more were wounded. They also attacked the churches, harming several priests and killing two, including Father Manuel de Solorzano, who was then the Mission Superior of the islands. At that point Yula’s forces made a fatal mistake. Instead of capitalizing on their position and finishing off the unprotected priests and government officials, they retreated.

Although Yula died on the first day, the uprising he started lasted for four months. However, a Chamorro named Hineti, who was loyal to the Spanish wanting to improve his lower class status, gathered fifty other Chamorro men to guard the Spanish garrison. Because he was stocked with Spanish weapons and had Spanish soldiers to back him up, Hineti was eventually able to help prevent Yula’s army from overthrowing the Spanish government.

By Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, MFA

For further reading

Benavente, Eddie L.G. I Manmaga’lahi yan I Manma’gas – Geran Chamoru yan Espanot, 1668-1695. Mangilao, GU: Eddie L.G. Benavente, 2007.

Hezel, Francis. “From Conversion to Conquest: The Early Spanish Mission in the Marianas.” Journal of Pacific History 17 (1982): 3-4; 115-37. Also available online at Micronesian Seminar. (accessed 24 April 2013).

Le Gobien, Charles. Histories des Isles Marianes. Paris: 1700. A manuscript translated into English is available at the University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center.

Levesque, Rodrigue, comp. and ed. History of Micronesia: A Collection of Source Documents. Vols. 1 – 13. Gatineau, Quebec: Levesque Publications, 1992-.

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

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