Chamorro Origins

david benson dowson at
Sun Feb 21 08:39:50 UTC 1999

Hi Everyone

I want to thank everyone who responded to my initial
query on the An-Lang mailing list.  That you did so
without patronizing me too much is a credit to your

I am still in search of evidence of that second wave
of migration to the Marianas; but in view of evidence
received, I have revised my earlier ideas.  I no
longer believe that a second migration replaced the
original language.  I now believe that most
idiosyncratic features of Chamorro probably do date
from that first immigration 3500 years ago.  It is
possibly only similarities between Chamorro and the
other Western Austronesian languages that can be
explained by a second migration.

I still believe, however, that a second migration did
occur based on evidence in the material culture.  It
has occurred to me that this second migration may
have introduced the oceanic version of the lateen
sail to Micronesia….. so words having to do with
sailing, navigation and parts of a sailing canoe are
of interest to me.  The Chamorro word for canoe, proa
is obviously related to Indonesian parau and Malay
perau, but all the other words I could find in my
Chamorro-English dictionary seem to be borrowings
from Spanish or a Philippine language.  For the mast,
we have pahlo or palu from Spanish; for the sail, we
have la'yak, related to layag in Tagalog; and for a
paddle, we have poksai, obviously related to bugsay
in a Philippine language.  I do not know Chamorro
words for the outrigger, yard etc.  If all these
derived from a Philippine language and dated from the
pre-Spanish period, it would be evidence that the
second migration came from an area where these
languages are spoken.   (Sulawesi has been suggested
to me.)

But we don't know that this is the case.  The
Chamorros gave up building and sailing their canoes
early in the Spanish period, and the words could be
later borrowings.  Does anyone know if Father
Sanvitore's grammar contains words related to canoes
and sailing?  Has anyone studied the distribution of
such words for the Austronesian language area in
general?  Sometimes such words spread by diffusion
with a new technology and cannot say much about the
movements of people, but it seems like something
worth looking into.

Thanks again for your patience with me.

David Benson

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