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    Thursday, July 19, 2018-2:55:42P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Our Oceania: Recapturing the latte stone tradition

UNIVERSITY of Guam professor Kelly Marsh teaches Fa’tinas I Latte, a Chamorro Studies course that breathes life into our region’s ancient latte stones. Her students don’t just study the history surrounding latte stones; they carve their own two-foot-tall lattes using an assortment of stone tools they made themselves.

Dr. Marsh says this more hands-on approach enables students to venture “past the known outline of a life…to get into that daily basis of life — experiencing rainy days, sword grass, all kinds of terrain, you really start thinking about the networks, the people, and everything else that was involved in the construction of these lattes.”

Last week, her students and co-instructors arrived in the CNMI to visit over 15 latte stone sites across Saipan, Tinian, and Luta.

UOG graduate student and co-instructor Moñeka De Oro described the course as “a very cultural experience of learning about the lattes, from creating them to theorizing to thinking about what it takes as a community to make these pillars, these things that have become such a part of our culture.”

She says Fa’tinas I Latte “is about recapturing [the latte stone] tradition and bringing a spirit back to this effigy, this icon that has brought us so much pride in ourselves — it’s one of the central images that Chamorros use as identity markers.”

“Chamorros stopped making lattes when the Spanish arrived, so entering into this inquiry-based project is also about uncovering and reconnecting with the wisdoms of our ancestors,” added project research assistant and Chamorro language and culture instructor Eva Aguon Cruz. “There are many components of the class and one of them is knowing our terrain and our landscape, being able to identify the different kinds of rock and resources, and then figuring out which rocks work best to do what job.”

The class preceded their trip to the CNMI with two weeks of latte stone site visits on Guam. Then, with the help of funding provided by the Guam Preservation Trust, the Bank of Guam, Delta Tire and Lube, and a grant from the University of Guam, they were able to explore latte sites for three days in Luta, one day in Tinian, and one day in Saipan.

Duge Latte Site, Rota. From left, Moñeka De Oro, Hana De Oro, Eloy Ayuyu of the Rota Historic Preservation Office, Eva Aguon Cruz, Jason Maratita, Patric Ogo, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Chelsie Gumabon, Veronica Salas, Belou Quimby,  Chriselle Muña and Tonilynn Quichocho.Duge Latte Site, Rota. From left, Moñeka De Oro, Hana De Oro, Eloy Ayuyu of the Rota Historic Preservation Office, Eva Aguon Cruz, Jason Maratita, Patric Ogo, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Chelsie Gumabon, Veronica Salas, Belou Quimby, Chriselle Muña and Tonilynn Quichocho.

Gempapa Latte Site, Rota. From left, Belou Quimby, Tonlynn Quichocho,  Chriselle Muña, Eloy Ayuyu, Veronica Salas, Moñeka De Oro, back, Hana De Oro, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Eva Cruz, kneeling, Patrick Ogo, Jason Maratita and Chelsie Gumabon, front.Gempapa Latte Site, Rota. From left, Belou Quimby, Tonlynn Quichocho, Chriselle Muña, Eloy Ayuyu, Veronica Salas, Moñeka De Oro, back, Hana De Oro, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Eva Cruz, kneeling, Patrick Ogo, Jason Maratita and Chelsie Gumabon, front.

Aguon Cruz says that many Chamorros connect with latte stones in a way that is “distant and removed,” one that doesn’t dig much deeper than buying a latte stone t-shirt. But through the course, she says she can access a more profound experience of the ancient stone pillars.

“We’re looking for that active reconnection,” she said. “We’re actually going to the stones, being present with the stones… these are remnants of our civilization that existed thousands of years ago, so it’s really about making that connection that not everyone actively achieves or pursues. This time around, we realized that we can actually facilitate those connections by maintaining the sites.”

The Fa’tinas I Latte administrators teamed up with the Historical Preservation Office to coordinate a site cleanup at Luta’s Gampapa, an afternoon that many participants remember with awe and reverence:

“I was just overwhelmed with gratitude and I felt so honored to be accepted in the space,” said Aguon Cruz. “When you go to Luta, the locals will tell you to be careful with the spirits because they’re strong,” she continued. “If you don’t have that respect than you can suffer for it. So that feeling of being accepted and being allowed to be in the space — I can’t put it into words, but it was a deep honor.”

De Oro was inspired by her experience following the common threads of language and lattes between Guam and the CNMI. 

“I’ve always felt very called to all of our islands,” she said. “I’ve been very blessed to create relationships with people [in the CNMI] and I’ve seen how Guam is so Guam-centric in our understanding of who we are.”

She was grateful for the opportunity to feel “that inter-island connectiveness and understanding that we are one people.”

Mochong Latte Village. From left, Tonilynn Quichocho, Belou Quimby, Annie Villagomez, Eva Cruz, Veronica Salas, Guello Fadang or Thomas Menidola, Hana De Oro, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Chriselle Muña. Kneeling in front: Chelsie Gumabon and Moñeka De OroMochong Latte Village. From left, Tonilynn Quichocho, Belou Quimby, Annie Villagomez, Eva Cruz, Veronica Salas, Guello Fadang or Thomas Menidola, Hana De Oro, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Chriselle Muña. Kneeling in front: Chelsie Gumabon and Moñeka De Oro

As Nieves Taga Quarry Rota. With one of the capstones or Tasa successfully excavated and extracted from the quarry pit. If erected these latte stones would have stood over 25 ft with each component weighing over 6 tons. From left, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Moñeka De Oro, and  Chriselle Muña.  Photos courtesy of Chelsie GumabonAs Nieves Taga Quarry Rota. With one of the capstones or Tasa successfully excavated and extracted from the quarry pit. If erected these latte stones would have stood over 25 ft with each component weighing over 6 tons. From left, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Moñeka De Oro, and Chriselle Muña. Photos courtesy of Chelsie Gumabon

“The reunification of the Marianas is something I want to dedicate my being to,” she added.

Aguon Cruz teaches latte carving to children ages five to eleven at M. U. Lujan Elementary School.

“Certain children, it seems like they have intuitive knowledge about the stone,” she said. “I always tell them, ‘Your ancestors were master carvers of latte stones!’”

Dr. Marsh hopes that latte stones, and ancient stone pillars in general, can act as a gateway between local students and their ancestral history.

“The lattes are unique…but there are many stone pillars in our region,” she said. “Palauans have stone pillars, Carolinians have stone pillars.… We’ve been talking to the government, to educational leaders, museum directors — this could be a means of bringing the community together and seeing what Chamorros and Refaluwasch and other Micronesians and islanders have in common.”

She says studying ancient stone pillars “is an activity that can help bring people together as well as help them understand where the unique spaces are.”

“In Guam, I think that can be really important because we do have some tension sometimes in our public schools between the different communities,” she added, “and this is something where with it, we can be teaching the Chamorro culture, but it can also be a bridge.”