Fomho’ is a fish

UOG Sea Grant workshop uses Chamorro, scientific naming systems

What’s the difference between pipipu and fomho’, and why use the word afulo’ instead of fanihen tåsi?

If you recognize that these words refer to Saurida gracilis (lizardfish), Stegastes nigricans (farmer fish), and Aetobatus narinari (eagle spotted ray), then you may have attended the University of Guam Sea Grant’s fish identification workshop, Nå’an Guihan Siha-Chamorro Fish I.D., on Nov. 19.

Held at Ipao Point’s Sagan Kotturan Chamoru, the interactive session attracted participants across the age spectrum, from toddlers to seniors. Dr. Frank Camacho of the University of Guam’s College of Natural & Applied Sciences’ Biology program, and Jeremy Cepeda, Chamorro teacher from Simon Sanchez High School, gave presentations about fish taxonomy, scientific naming systems, and Chamorro words for fish typically found in Tumon Bay.

Both Camacho and Cepeda emphasized that of the two classification systems, neither one is more important, and neither is better than the other. The naming systems serve different purposes, complement each other, and are useful in distinct ways.

For example, scientific names are derived from Latin or Greek and can refer to species’ physical characteristics or locations where they are found. These highly specific and ordered names help international and lay researchers reference species of interest, which is important when everyone speaks a different language.

Chamorro names for fish, on the other hand, can refer to physical characteristics, life stages, and size. These sorts of distinctions are useful in determining when a fish is optimal to catch and eat.

The workshop also provided a venue to test out a Sea Grant-developed educational tool, Tåsi Bingo. Each card uses images from Dave Burdick’s website,, and players match “calls” in Chamorro to the correct picture. Participants received newly revised waterproof species ID cards from the Guam Bureau of Statistics and Plans to help them reinforce their newly acquired fish knowledge.

“It’s one thing to memorize lists of words,” said workshop coordinator Marie Auyong of UOG Sea Grant. “It’s another to visualize what the words mean, and that visualization really reinforces the memorization process. My biggest hope is that people, while learning the words, are inspired to get in the water and put their knowledge to use.”

Auyong said she was most proud of two workshop components: that community members helped to organize the event, and that participants created a supportive environment in which to practice Chamorro.

On the Thursday before the workshop, John F. Kennedy High School service learning students cleaned up the center. Auyong credits JFK science teacher Carolyn Haruo as “a superior role model in showing how to work hard, take initiative, and love learning.” Volunteers from the center’s caretaking organization, Inadahen I Lina’la, also contributed significant logistics support.

The UOG Sea Grant is one of 33 Sea Grant programs nationwide and receives funding support from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Sea Grant supports extension, research, and education work in coastal communities. (UOG)

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