An alternative view of Guam’s Matå’pang

HAGÅTÑA — Students and interested scholars poured into the University of Guam’s CLASS Lecture Hall Tuesday evening to listen to featured guest speaker Dr. Vicente M. Diaz during the 13th Presidential Lecture Series.

Dr. Vicente M. Diaz makes a presentation at the University of Guam on Tuesday. Photo by Matt WeissDr. Vicente M. Diaz makes a presentation at the University of Guam on Tuesday. Photo by Matt WeissDiaz, an associate professor of Asian-Pacific Islander American Studies at the University of Michigan, was a former instructor at UOG who taught Pacific History and Micronesian Studies at the University of Guam from 1992 to 2001 until he relocated to his present post.

The topic of discussion was based on the last chapter of Diaz’s book, “Repositioning the Missionary: Rewriting the Histories of Colonialism, Native Catholicism, and Indigeneity in Guam.”

Recently published by University of Hawai’i Press, “Repositioning the Missionary” critically examines the cultural and political stakes of the historic and present-day movement to canonize Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores, the Spanish Jesuit missionary who was martyred by Matå’pang of Guam while establishing the Catholic mission among the Chamorros in the Mariana Islands.

“The work juxtaposes official, popular and critical perspectives of the movement to complicate prevailing ideas about colonialism, historiography, and indigenous culture and identity in the Pacific,” the book description states.

Diaz’s presentation, entitled “In the Wake of Matå’pang’s Canoe: Alternative Histories of Chamorro Catholicism and its Opposition” focuses on his book’s final chapter, “Kinship with Matå’pang.”

More than a chief

“My aim now is to have us understand Matå’pang as something more than a chief who has been rightly or wrongly vilified by past and present proponents of San Vitores,” said Diaz. “But I also want to consider Matå’pang as more than one who has been lionized in reaction, by those who would oppose San Vitores and/or the Spanish colonial legacy for which the priest is rightly or wrongly associated.”

Diaz deconstructs the varying accounts of Matå’pang from both indigenous and colonial views. In doing so, he utilizes the metaphor of the canoe — the literal and symbolic seafaring vessel of the Chamorros — and delves into the linguistic variations of the word matå’pang between Chamorro and Tagalog.

“The canoe, literally and figuratively, offers a lot of substance to get us there, and offers ideas for how to think and act accordingly,” said Diaz as he explained the different parts of the canoe.


One of Diaz’s approaches is by situating Matå’pang in a protagonist position.

“The first step is to displace momentarily San Vitores as the principle sign in favor of Native perspective and reality, so that the new protagonist is Matå’pang,” said Diaz. “The second step would be to appreciate Matå’pang in native discourse, that is, in terms of how it has and how it can be understood and comprehended in indigenous ways.”

Toward the end of the presentation, Diaz then traces a number of manifestations of the term Matå’pang.

“Inasmuch as Tagalog and Chamorro are virtual ‘sibling’ languages of the mother Austronesian language, there is some reason to assume that the Chamorro term matå’pang is, or was once the same as matapang in Tagalog, which means ‘bold’ or ‘courageous,’” said Diaz.

In Chamorro, matå’pang also means “tasteless,” or “neither this nor that,” added Diaz. However, toward the end of his research, he also discovered, with the help of a former professor, that another form of matå’pang meant “dirtied, stained,” from an unpublished dictionary of Central Cagayan Agta.

What Diaz wanted to emphasize through his research and presentation is the notion that history isn’t limited to one’s version or the other.

“‘Repositioning the Missionary’ does not fundamentally oppose the missionary position or its inversions, and it dismisses none of them,” explained Diaz. “Rather, it labors to broaden their frame and their scope in the hopes of difference and multiplicity on top, or behind singularity and uniformity.”

A question and answer session and a book signing followed the presentation.