Nginge’ – sniff, smell (something), kissing back part of a person’s right hand upon meeting as a sign of respect.
Ñot – expression used when kissing a man’s hand in performing nginge’
Ñora – espression used when kissing a woman’s hand in performing nginge’
Åmen – a term used with small children when directing them to kiss the hand of an elder.
Chiku – Kiss, touch or press with the lips.
Do your children know how to fanginge’? When should or shouldn’t your child be “forced” to kiss, or åmen, an adult? Are you offended when children in your family decide not to åmen you? If you live in the states, do you have your kids åmen or fangigne’ people? Do you know the difference between fangigne’ and åmen?
Guam has changed quite a bit since we were children. These rapid changes inevitably impact the way we introduce and practice traditional customs with our child. I decided to write this entry after overhearing different conversations involving older generations discussing manhoben who often forgot to acknowledge them. As they spoke, I realized that I was also very conscious of which children in my family remembered to åmen and which ones were constantly reminded to åmen. As a child, I remember my father quietly explaining that there was an individual I did not have to åmen. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but whenever I saw that person, I recognized that my refusal to åmen was sending a very clear (and loud) message. When I think about being told not to åmen a particular person and the message it sent, I can better understand why many elders are so deeply offended when children today decide not to approach them. Doing (or not doing) it sends a strong message. And let’s face it, we don’t want our kids to be the kids in the family who “don’t know how to åmen.” 😛
I would never want to intentionally offend an elder in my family, but like many of my friends, I have been raised on an island that has quickly become inundated in western ideologies and structures. We also talk more openly about certain issues than previous generations may have. Chamorro mothers today want to encourage their child’s sense of individuality and agency, but also want them to enthusiastically adopt traditional customs without question. Chamorro mothers, particularly those in their twenties and thirties, seem determined to push their children into the future without forgetting the past. On the island we live in today, that can sometimes be challenging. To be honest, this hasn’t become a big issue with my son yet. He’s still small and the thing that embarrasses me most is that he kisses everyone…a little too enthusiastically.
After talking to several women about this, I learned that new issues have come into play within modern Chamorro life as we pass on the practice of recognizing our elders. These new factors have caused mothers to develop new, slightly personalized “philosophies” in teaching their children to approach their elders.
I requested feedback from 55 Chamorro mothers, between the ages of 20 and 49, to look more closely at what influences the way they share the custom of going to fangigne’ and åmen with their child. But first, it’s important to know the difference between the two.
I asked former Senator Hope A. Cristobal, a former Chamorro teacher and representative of Guam to the United Nations, about the difference between going to åmen and going to fanginge’.
“To the younger generation these days, they probably mean the same. I have always regarded the manginge’ as something more formal and occurring with and among those elders or their elderly guests in your clan. You would know exactly who you should fanginge’ as soon as you step into a room: Those elders would be your grandparents, great grandparents, aunties, uncles and any other elder with them. You fanginge’ those aunties and uncles who may be younger than you, but are of the same generation, say, as your other immediate aunties and uncles. Our custom of fanginge’ and respetu is very much guided by familial ‘generation.’”
“The åmen, well, I believe this is much more recent. After you have done your due respetu, and say, your husband or child shows up later, you might signal or tell them, ‘Go and åmen the elders.’ (And, you might introduce them at this time.) The åmen could’ve been carried over from saying the nubenas or rosary. As soon as the prayers are done, we åmen everyone in the house or room. (Even if you’ve already FANGINGE’d earlier when you first arrived.)”
Many of us were “forced” to åmen or fanginge’ our elders growing up. It didn’t matter whether you liked or disliked a particular adult; you just did it. In most traditional families, failure to offer this sign of respect resulted in being scolded or even spoken about negatively. I can recall quite a few discussions by elders in my family who criticized a young person who did not fanginge’ or åmen. I can also think of several instances when I have seen a child being hauled against their will to kiss someone or scolded for not kissing a particular adult on the cheek. I’m always a little embarrassed when I see this. I feel embarrassed for the elder who has to watch as some child is forcefully pushed toward them. I’m embarrassed for the parents who are shoving their kid, and I’m embarrassed for the child resisting the kiss.
Three major factors influenced the women interviewed and surveyed about when and who their child should fanginge’ or åmen.
1. Sexual Abuse and Being Forced as a Child: Out of the 55 women questioned, 94% of them were raised within a household that enforced the custom of kissing your elders, regardless of how comfortable they were with the adult. 69% of the women recall being forced to kiss an elder they were not comfortable with. Within the anonymous comment section of the survey, the most common fear mentioned was of putting their child at risk for sexual abuse. Twelve of the women were brave enough to share their experience with sexual abuse in the family, describing being forced to åmen the person abusing them. The survey showed that in contrast to their parents, mothers today are less likely to require their that children åmen individuals outside of their immediate family. Mothers today also claim to make more of an effort to tell their child, explicitly, that they are not required to åmen an elder they are uncomfortable with. It was startling to hear how many Chamorro women questioned admitted to being the victims of sexual abuse. Even more disappointing was how many of them did not receive their family’s support when they shied away from approaching a relative that made them uncomfortable. The mothers I questioned reported that more than any other factor, this was an experience they were determined to guard their child against. I think a larger and separate conversation needs to be held regarding this issue. I believe that the custom of going to åmen and fanginge’ does not have anything to do with promoting or condoning sexual abuse. I think the bigger issue here is that so many women have this fear or experience within their personal history.
*I want to insert a little disclaimer here explaining that when I set out to talk about this tradition, I was in no way trying to make sexual abuse the main topic of conversation. However, the responses and conversations held with the women who participated tended to bring the subject up. I didn’t want to ignore that. I set out to write about what other mothers said… and this is what they said. Our tradition of going to åmen or fanginge’ our elders is a BEAUTIFUL one. The important thing is talking to your children about it, setting a good example, and explaining the beauty of its origin and significance. As mothers, we have the responsibility of making sure that it remains a positive part of their experience as a Chamorro child. This custom is a point of pride for me personally and I know that for most of you, it will continue to be as well.
2. The Diaspora: Our island has the highest enlistment rate per capita. The unusually high rate of young people joining the United States military has resulted in many Chamorro families relocating from Guam to communities in or near US military bases. In addition to leaving the island for the military, many Chamorros have been forced to leave for medical reasons. 30% of the women surveyed were responding from off-island. Mothers who have left the island still feel keeping the tradition alive is very important. They have shared that living within communities off-island has influenced the way they teach their children about this custom, but has not made it less important to them.
3. Ethnic Background of the Elder: Within the comment section of the survey, mothers, particularly those responding from off-island, explained that they felt less compelled to encourage their child to fanginge’ or åmen an adult who was not of Chamorro ancestry. As a matter of fact, ten of the mothers, within the comment section, stated that if the elder was not Chamorro, their child did not have to fanginge’ or åmen at all (unless the elder was “married to a Chamorro” or “considered like family”).
Everyone parents differently, but having these discussions with other mothers (and your children) can create some important talking points. I don’t like to think that I would “force” my son to show affection to anyone he was uncomfortable with, but I do want him to know that within our culture, we greatly value our manamko’. I don’t want to “force” him, I want him to WANT to do it. I know that as an adult, I’m happy to acknowedge the elders in my life who are good to me. They have always been a strong source of support, love, and wisdom. Like three of the mother’s who responded, I feel the best way to pass on this tradition is by example. One mother said it nicely when she explained that by “showing my girl that her mother is happy to do it, my daughter will feel more comfortable approaching adults.” One mother happily shared that her kids actually “race” to see which sibling could acknowledge all their elders at the party first. The mother explained that the elders in her family seemed to receive a lot of joy from her children enthusiastically “competing” over who could make the rounds to all their elders first.
Here are some of the perspectives shared by other Chamorro mothers who are keeping the practice alive in different ways and under different circumstances. How do you teach your children about this practice within your family?
Selina Onedera-Salas, 34, mother of 2, Sinajana
Within Selina’s family, teaching her children to acknowledge their elders is important. However, she also explained that she was very hesitant to force her children to åmen when they were not comfortable doing so. She shared that she sometimes struggled with figuring out whether or not she should push her children to fanginge’ certain individuals. Selina comes from a family background that involved having to fanginge’ without question. I asked Selina what her thoughts were on the practice:
“I think the central theme of my being a CHamoru mommy on Guåhan is the struggle I have with recognizing and validating boundaries that have either been re-introduced to us or are resurfacing from pre-colonial experiences. Whether or not our ansiåno CHamorus required the showing a sign of respetu is still unclear to me, but I also remember learning that the nginge’ is a Spanish custom which is why many Filipinos make a similar gesture to their elders.
Either way, I’ve also observed that our elders seldom hold their hands out to readily accept your nginge’, because we’ve sort of begun to rely on children kissing us for fear of appearing to be biha or bihu in the social context. Kissing an elder seems less aged in contrast to having someone fannginge’ you.”
Tanya Chargualaf-Taimanglo, 39 , mother of 2, Washington State
Tanya, a published author of three books, blogger, and Navy-wife, explained that for she and her husband, respecting their elders in general was very important to them. Within Tanya’s family, her children are taught that they may åmen an elder in any number ways they feel comfortable with, “this varies from a simple hug, kiss on the cheek, or handshake.” Tanya explained that “My seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter know what manginge’ is, but don’t practice it much. Elijah specifically uses ‘ñot’ or ‘ñora’ on his Chamorro godparents, which I love.”
Like the other mothers interviewed, Tanya was raised to åmen, whether she wanted to or not:
“I was always ‘forced’ to do the manginge’ thing with anyone my father pointed out to me, minus the ‘dirty uncle’ I was given reprieve from being near. I didn’t always like being forced, especially with near strangers and have made adjustments with my children. When it comes to dining as well, my children know to invite the manamko’ first.
We teach our children Chamorro custom, but also remind them that what we do at home, might not necessarily be what their ‘American/Mainland’ counterparts might do. It’s nice to see them absorb these little, yet crucial nuggets of our heritage.”
Laura Nelson Cepeda, 27, mother of 3, Yigo
Laura, an owner of the local Maternity Conciegre, Neni and Me, was raised in a household that encouraged her to acknowledge her elders without question. While she acknowledges that “times have changed,” she still feels that instilling respect for elders and carrying on the tradition of having your children åmen or fangigne’ is very important. Like the majority of mothers questioned, Laura was also more conscious than previous generations of her family might have been when having her children åmen an adult they were not familiar with.
“I do enforce the practicing of ‘amening’ an elder, but only to those that I know. I do this because it is not as safe as it used to be during my younger days. I guess you can say that I place my children’s protection first when it comes to carrying on this tradition (which may seem disrespectful, but our parents didn’t have to raise us with as much security fears as there are now).”
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