Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Chamorro funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about United Kingdom funeral traditions and Angolan funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Chamorro Death Beliefs
The Chamorro people — the indigenous people of Guam — believe the deceased’s spirit lives on after death. Many people share stories of feeling the spirit’s presence through scent, touch, or appearance.
Traditionally, the wake was an overnight gathering at a family member’s home the night before the funeral service. Mourners came to view the deceased and pay their respects. Surrounding the casket were flowers, candles, and chairs for mourners to gather and pray together. The next day, they took the casket to the church for the funeral service.
Today, the wake is usually at a church a few days after the deceased’s passing or before the funeral service. Mourners still gather to view the deceased and offer words of remembrance and respect. It’s typically at a Catholic church since most Chamorro people identify as Roman Catholic.
Chamorro Funeral Service
A Chamorro funeral service is for both celebrating the deceased’s life and mourning their death. The priest leads everyone in prayers and close family members participate in the mass. Many funeral guests bring monetary gifts for the family to express their condolences.
After the funeral service, there is a funeral procession to the burial location. At the burial, mourners drop flowers onto the casket and sing hymns. Then, they go to one of the family member’s homes for a post-burial meal.
Traditionally, the funeral procession was on foot. The entire community lit candles on their windowsills for the funeral procession participants to see as they walked past.
Nine Nights of Rosaries
After someone passes away, their loved ones do rosaries for the next nine nights following their death. They serve light refreshments on the first eight nights and then a dinner on the ninth night for everyone who participated.
One-Year Anniversary of Death
On the one-year anniversary of a loved one’s death, their family gathers for a celebration in their honor. They do a one-year anniversary rosary and serve food such as roasted pig, coconut crab, and fish. The deceased’s extended family makes the meal to thank mourners for attending the funeral and prayer sessions.
The one-year anniversary also marks the end of the formal mourning period. During the first year after a loved one’s passing, mourners wear black and avoid parties, singing, dancing, and other social events. Widows and widowers also typically don’t remarry until at least one year after the death.
All Souls’ Day Rituals
On All Souls’ Day — November 2 — the Chamorro people honor and remember their ancestors. They create memorials and visit and decorate their ancestor’s graves with flowers, candles, and other significant mementos to honor them.