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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | How the women saved Guam

The women watched and waited, all the time
Weaving, weaving.
Their fingers wove ribbons of leaves.
Their voices chanted prayers of hope while
Their thoughts wove possibilities.

ONE of the most beloved and often repeated island stories comes from Guam, relating how a giant fish attacked the island and the women saved it. Enjoy the following tale and pass it on to your children.

In the old days there was a time of hunger and trouble. There was no food or water. Even the banana tree refused to give its fruitage. The older ones said that the spirits were angry because the people had selfishly used the earth and its abundance. They farmed but gave nothing back to the land, they fished but gave nothing back to the sea. They treated each other selfishly, taking and not giving.

As the old ones predicted, disaster struck. At first, they did not know what the terrible crunching sound was. It sounded like an earthquake all around the island. They felt the rumble of the ground and saw the large rocks fall from the mountains. Something was destroying their island, but what?

The warriors met in the Men’s House to talk about what to do, but how could they fight an enemy they did not know? Where did the attack come from? Was the enemy on the land or out to sea? Should they sail to find it or stay to protect their families and homes? The questions did not go unanswered for very long. In the morning the trouble revealed itself. Crunch! Crunch! First, they heard the terrible noise, then they saw it in the bay. A huge parrot fish was eating the island. He came up, took massive bites out of the reef, then swam back to his cave under the island. Every time he took a bite part of the island disappeared and the whole island shook from the assault.

The men did not know what to do. How could they fight a sea monster of this size? Their weapons would not harm it. While they argued about how to fight the giant parrot fish, the women gathered at the Weaving House and began weaving and talking about what to do. If the men were too weak to kill the fish, what could they do? They weaved and talked all night.

The next day the men attacked the giant parrot fish, but as expected their weapons did not hurt it. When a warrior would throw a spear, the fish would just shake it off. When the men tried to catch the fish in a net, it flipped its tail and sent the men flying through the air. It seemed hopeless.

Then the women got together and decided to build a giant net out of their hair. It would possess all the strength of their combined beauty but also their courage. All night long the women cut their hair and weaved it together. The next day the women laid a trap for the parrot fish. As it swam out of its cave the women spread the net over the bay. The fish swam into it and the women yelled Pull! The fish was caught, and all the splashing and flipping would not free it. Soon the men ran up and stabbed at the fish with their weapons and killed it.

They ate the giant fish and soon it began to rain. The islanders knew the famine was over. They had learned to work together and to respect the sea and the land, and because of that the spirits had restored their food and water. The story of how the women saved Guam would be told for generation after generation, right down to our day.

BC Cook, PhD taught history for over 20 years. He lived on Saipan and travels the Pacific but currently lives on the mainland U.S.