Wither our thieving history, los Ladrones!

By Mabel Doge Luhan

I, for one, am against open borders. Foreigners claim to be “in search of a better life,” but all they do is take away our livelihoods and bring their diseases and social ills. I am still in disbelief that our country celebrates this foreign invasion with Columbus Day!

Columbus never set foot in North America, of course. But the Spanish conquistadors did set foot in what are now our home islands. And they gave us a name that’s stuck through the centuries!

Don’t you know? The Marianas are the Islands of the Thieves! Every know-it-all in the Marianas will repeat it from their barstool or keyboard. It’s perhaps the only history they know!

Oh, history! It’s like Carlos Santana said: Those who don’t remember it are condemned to repeat it. I’m something of a historical relic myself, but I sure hope nobody is condemned to repeat me.

The usual story, which one of those know-it-alls will be all too glad to tell you if you buy him another cold one, is that the Spanish left their possessions on the beach, and when they came back, their stuff had been taken. Because these are the Islands of the Thieves. By the way, it’s los ladrones, not las ladrones, you cunning linguists.

Then come the apologists or debunkers, with the competing story: the Spanish had taken goods from the Chamorros, and the Chamorros were just collecting what was due.

Nice barstool stories. But both stories are even more false than the risible pseudohistorical malana that CB Cook writes.

You see, the Chamorros, like most Pacific Islander societies of the time — and indeed, most of the world at the time — had no concept of private property. Even in “enlightened” Europe, most people had no rights to private property. Property, especially land, was controlled and distributed by the local lord. Heck, in the Americas, many people had no right to their own bodies, nor to their offspring.

In fact, all those ships that were “robbed” by the Chamorros — they certainly didn’t belong to the people riding on those ships. They belonged exclusively to the Spanish royal family. (You think they called it the Mariana-s and the Philip-pines just for funsies?)

You do realize that private property is a human social construct, right? And is highly dependent on place and time? 

So for 16th or 17th century Chamorros, there was no concept of anything belonging to anyone. The lord or chief or whatever you want to call him decided who can use what. It was a bit like North Korea, other than the haircuts. 

The chief saw the boat and the metal and the cloth sitting there on the beach, and he allocated who could use it, and how and where. So when the Spanish went back to their boats to take a break from their robbing and raping of the locals, they found a lot of “their” (really, the Spanish royal family’s) stuff was missing — allocated by the island chief. And so they dubbed us “thieves,” because we didn’t honor the Spanish royal family’s claiming exclusive property rights to those boats from 12,000 miles away.

Does a clash of cultural beliefs about property rights ring any bells? How about the ancient Chamorro custom of only the high-caste Chamorros being allowed to conduct trade with outsiders, and that right being closely held and doled out only as a great personal favor?

The more things look different, the more they look the same. They had their know-it-alls too. Here’s leading colonial apologist Juan Gines de Sepulveda:

“The Spaniards are as superior to the Indians as adults are to children, or men to women, for there exists as much difference between the two as between savage and cruel races and the most merciful, between the most intemperate and the temperate and, finally, between the most unjust and the most just.”

I think I heard that same line at Godfather’s.


Mabel Doge Luhan is a rootless cosmopolitan and a woman of loose morals. She resides in Kagman V, where she pursues her passions of crocheting, beatboxing, and falconry.


  • Mabel,

    Not really sure about the point of this article. Was it to inform the reader that their preconceived notions were wrong? Or was it to better illustrate the historical lack of personal property in Chamorro antiquity? I’m pretty confused. More-over, you have not adequately explained why many people on Guam have come to expect a certain level of larceny from their fellow Guamanians. Furthermore, you haven’t really explained that ancient residents actually categorized themselves based on a social status construct (Chamorri vs. Magachang) and this undoubtedly was tied to physical possessions.

    In short, La Isla de Las Ladrones, has always been an Island of Thieves. The residents stole from the Spaniards, stole from each other, and even today, they steal as a matter of whimsy it seems. SAKI!!! I have been a victim. It’s annoying, needless, and wrong. And, unless I’m reading your article wrong, you’re just giving these petty acts historical cover which is immoral and imprudent.
    I’ll just leave this little warning to the thieves that might my tirade…the Castle Doctrine is REAL…be wary who you steal from! Because as you’re trying on your neighbor’s shoes or eying his BBQ grill, they might just put some holes in you where you don’t need them. Happy thievery, you little larcenist.

    • Mabel Doge Luhan

        11/02/2023 at 6:12 PM

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I hope my CONTENT goes VIRAL, just like whatever my grandson Orville brought back from Bangkok!

      I write my INFORMATIVE AND INNOVATIVE COLUMN because Troy Torso’s news-paper pays by the word, and inflation has been especially harsh on licorice-flavored laudanum. And my hands could use the exercise, ever since I got rid of my hand-crank vibrator. But most of all, it’s to, as my good friend Seamus (an Irishman, but one of the good ones!) once told me, “To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.” But “Mabel’s Personal Helicon” is not such a snappy name for a column, and it might confuse the Torres Brothers when they hate-read it.

      I don’t give historical cover to anybody. Like Orville, I believe in 100% uncovered! But when every barstool historian in the Marianas repeats every evening with every beer he drinks that our ancestors were thieves, I just want to give some historical context. I could just send you to read Werheit und Methode, but last time I checked Bestseller, they were OUT OF STOCK.

      To say Chamorri and Manachang’s status was “tied to physical possessions” is, like my broken Patek, an ANACHRONISM. Chamorri and Manachang had their status fixed from birth. Of course the Chamorri had more access to resources. But that was a result, not a cause, of their designation. And to call anything “possessions” back then is a stretch, because property rights were even more insecure than leaving a shopping cart of Spam in Santa Ana! The chief could take away your stuff faster than Rafet grab a bag of cheetos!

      I am sure your riff about killing people to protect your property was a joke, so HA HA, GOOD ONE!

      IN CONCLUSION, your comment is beautiful and I appreciate it. PLEASE FIND MY PROFILE ON SILVER SINGLES.

    • Imelda Tanapino

        11/04/2023 at 6:54 PM

      Thou shalt not steal.

      Stealing is wrong.
      I teach my children not to steal – you chamarrou Pinos teach your children to steal. You think stealing is good and that stealing is a valued part of YOUR CULTURE.

      That is why soo many Chuckese are being sent back to the place where they can freely follow their culture of rape and theft – animals

  • In regards to “our Southern Borders’ and regarding with your past comments on the so called “reporters” (journalists) from the two local news media, Mvariety and Saipan Tribune. I agree there are no actual “reporters” or journalist (unknown meaning) in the NMI.

    These two media outlets do not have any real reporters. The Tribune does a much better job of printing out a much more detailed report involving the same articles, much of the time much in difference to what the MV reports is that so many times MV contains misinformation or only half stories with the simplest of details omitted plus other stories that never are covered by the MV.
    Big Problem with the Tribune is they changed their format which is very bad and also most of us cannot register to post comments.

    The MV has a very common practice of editing out and/or changing comments that will make no sense when posted, especially when it involves the truth and if Filipino is involved and also certain political figures not so much with the Tribune involving political or actual events..

    As a very recent example (yesterday) in a comment about the Chinese sentenced to Time served (10 ) ten days) and concerning, reffering to the Southern Border on the reported stats of illegals among reports it was reported that since 2019 there are over “370K illegal Filipinos in the US”. ,Conveniently the MV censured the last part of the sentence that put numbers on and mentioned Filipino.

    (BTW in the past, years ago from a comment by the US Embassy, Manila, about 70% Filipino were denied US Visitor Visa.

    Maybe you could look at and comment about this common practice MV censuring so many articles that do not conform the the editors way of thinking. In the past the MV editor would also block the commenters account.
    Also many time a comment has also been taken down due to being a negative comment about a noted family member.

    • Imelda Tanapino

        11/05/2023 at 1:00 AM

      What do you expect from inherently corrupt people?

      It’s a cultural thing; like rape, robbery and corruption are part of our beloved island culture.

  • Imelda Tanapino

      11/04/2023 at 6:29 PM

    So, I am not sure about this concept of “corruption”.

    Do you mean Philippine corruption, Chinese corruption, American corruption, Woke corruption, Guhan corruption
    GovGuam corruption,
    general corruption,

    We all deal with our changes, in our lives.

    Hey, wanna buy a pair of almost new shoes (sabat)?

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