Guam Forum Discusses Significance Of Jesuit Skull’s Return

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Missionary killed during Chamorro uprising in 1684

By Maria Hernandez

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 5, 2015) – The University of Guam held a forum Saturday to discuss the history and significance of the arrival of a skull of a 17th century Jesuit missionary who was killed in Guam in a Chamorro uprising against the Spanish crown.

Father Manuel de Solorzano was a Spanish missionary for the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers founded in the 16th century. Members of the order are called Jesuits. He was killed during a trip to the Marianas in June 1684 at the age of 34.

The missionary's skull and more than 200 pages of letters he wrote while in Guam were brought to the island from Spain by his descendent, Manuel Lopez Casquete. The items have been passed down to his family over the generations, Casquete said.

Casquete spent some time at the forum explaining why he decided to bring the skull to the island.

"I think it's strange, I guess, to bring a skull from someone who died here more than three centuries ago," he said. "But it's historical patrimony to give to the Chamorro people."

He said he felt the Chamorro people needed to learn about Solorzano through his letters and see the skull because the items are a part of Guam's history.

He added bringing the skull to the island also is a "peace message."

"This gives us the opportunity to sit together and pray together," he said. "I think it's a good opportunity to heal our wounds after such a long time."

At the forum, Casquete presented scanned copies of the letters written by Solorzano to UOG President Robert Underwood.

Casquete said the letters Solorzano wrote detailed his experiences in Guam. He wrote about what he was doing while he was here, as well as his views of the island and its people. On some pages, he wrote Catholic prayers translated in Chamorro, Casquete said.

While his intent in bringing the skull here was to encourage peace, as well as provide fragments of Guam's historical past, Casquete acknowledged mixed responses about the skull's visit from some residents.

"To some people, it brought them closer. For others, not so much," he said.

He said some people have expressed they're happy with the visit because of its connection to the island's introduction to the Catholic faith.

"For others, it reminds them of the past -- of the island under Spanish domination," he said.

However, he said almost everyone he's spoken to feels thankful because "we are bringing part of the story to these people."

Chamorro history

As part of the forum, University of Guam Chamorro Studies Professor Michael Lujan Bevacqua spoke about what it was like for a Chamorro to live at the time Solorzano was killed.

"The fact that his skull has returned to us is the perfect way of getting into that," Bevacqua said.

Before Catholicism was introduced, Bevacqua said the religion of the Chamorros was ancestral worship.

"The bones of ancestors were the key power to connecting with those spirits," he said.

He said leg bones, hand bones and particularly skulls represented a person's connection to their family.

It wasn't a matter of placing the skulls inside their homes. Ancient Chamorros would speak to the bones of their ancestors, he said.

"The connection was so intimate," he said.

He said Chamorros were very upset because they had people from foreign lands destroy their skulls, and they were told they were worshipping something evil.

"So you can understand the resentment and fear," he said.

However, he advised those in attendance to "look at Chamorros in the past in their complexity."

He said that while there were those who resisted Catholicism, there were others who accepted it because they either felt it would increase their societal standing or simply believed in it.

"It's important in a discussion like this not to reduce Chamorros in any way to a single response," he said.

UOG freshman Jayson Morales attended the forum with two of his friends to learn more about the skull.

"One of the main reasons (to bring the skull to Guam) was for friendship and forgiveness, so it makes sense they would bring the skull back," he said.

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