What is “Chomorro?”

Before coming to Micronesia, I had never heard the word “Chomorro” before.  Little by little I’ve been finding out little bits and pieces of information to help me put together a picture of the “Chomorro” people.  I now know that Chomorro refers to the local people of not only Guam, but also Saipan and a number of other Micronesian islands.  Micronesia is also home to other local groups, such as Carolinians, of which I’ve learned nothing yet.

Here’s what I’ve learned about the Chomorro people so far.  According to a Chomorro girl working in the Marriott where we spent our first nights in Guam, “They are like crabs.”
“What do you mean?” we asked.
“Have you ever seen a crab try to crawl out of a bucket?” she asked, soon realizing that we don’t see crabs do much of anything where we’re from- nothing more than flash a smile on the sign of a Red Lobster.
“If you watch a bucket of crabs, you’ll see that as soon as one tries to crawl out, the other ones drag it down.”
We gave a grimace, seeing the picture she was trying to paint.
“But the food is delicious,” she said, adding something hopeful.  She went on to tell us about the local island cuisine: red-rice, some kind of special potato-salad, grilled kebabs, etc.

The woman at the Mariott may very well be right in some sense, but to be honest, if the Chomorro people are vicious to each other, they are nothing but kind to visitors.  Smile after smile proves this.  Of course, as a bit of a tourist, it’s hard to know if you’re getting a real picture.  Every saturday night there is a market for tourists in a little part of town called “Chomorro Village.”  The market itself doesn’t provide much more than trinkets and local food, but on a stage inside the market is an impressive display of traditional island dance.  I’ve never been to Hawaii but I imagine the dance is quite similar, complete with grass skirts for the women and grass footwear for the men.  They spin fiery torches and dance to the beat of skilled drummers.  The men slap their bodies in a mesmerizing percussive beat, moving from their stomachs to their arms, legs and then the floor.  Is it Chomorro?  I’m led to believe it is…but I’m just a tourist.

Another Chomorro feature that dates back form ancient history is a stone called the Latte stone.  It is a giant, goblet-like structure taller than a man.  These structures were apparently used as stilts on which homes were built out of sticks, branches and palms fronds.

After the tourist market, Drew and I were able to attend the “real” markets.  These were outdoor flea-markets where vendors sell used items, clothing, food, homemade desserts, mango juice, electronics, and anything you can think of.  For some of these markets, we rose before dawn and by 9 am, vendors were packing up to go home.  No one wants to stand in the sun either to shop or sell.  Many of the vendors seem to be either Chomorro people or first or second generation Philipino.
One Chomorro man named Clarence chatted with us a bit, telling us of a sister who had moved to West Virginia years ago.  “She left in the middle of the night without any of us knowing, running away with her true love to West Virginia.  She can’t even speak Chomorro anymore.”
I replied that it seemed like kind of a sad story- no goodbyes and now she’s lost an important piece of her culture.  The man looked quite serious when he urged me to remember, “Yes but it was true love!”  He went on to recommend that we watch the street at night for the sand-crabs crossing the street in the moonlight.

I have yet to see them, but I hope to.

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