From the Ancient Past: The Latte Stones of Guam


Latte Park Rudolph Villaverde. The Latte Stone are stone pillars of ancient houses notable for their two-piece construction; the supporting column (halagi) topped with a capstone (tasa). The "stone latte" is the signature of the Marianas Islands (Guam, Rota, Saipan, Tinian, Pagan) in that their massive size are found primarily in the Marianas. Although there are stone reliefs of lattes in Java's Borobudur pyramid (760-830AD), Dr. Hiro Kurashina theorized that they were journey documentation about the Marianas latte. The Haligi was made from coral limestone and usually carried several miles from the quary site for installation in the appropriate location. The tasa was made from natural, hemispherical coral heads collected from the reef. Very large capstones such as those found in Luta an island 70 miles north of Guam are mined from naturally concretized pressurized sedimentary sand layer.

At Senator Angel Santos Latte Park (above left photo), eight of these stones are displayed. These latte stones were transferred to hagåtña or Agana from Me'pu, their original location in Guam's Fena Lake interior (also known as Naval Magazine). Latte tasa illustration by Hans Hornsbostel 1924-26 Guam Stone pillars range from 6 to 20 columns (a 20 column latte was found east of Naval Magazine Southern Guam). Customarily, latte sites situated on shorelines have bones of the ancients, and possessions as jewelry or canoes buried below the parallel arrangements of stones. Examination of midden or human settlement debris deposits at Latte sites in the interior of Guam (away from shoreline) do not have human bones buried underneath them. Melanie Ryan, Univ of La Trobe, Melbourne, Australia wrote that burial patterning beneath latte sites suggests that kinship or family membership, not age nor social status is the only criterion for internment. "Analysis of burials reveals a population that suffered great mortality in the childhood years, but reasonably good health for adults. Wooden structures would have been built on latte columns, and cookhouses or other working areas would have been beneath or near them on the ground (Laurence Carucci and Lin Poyer, The West Central Pacific pg.189)" Latte stones urunao Northern guam A LATTE site is also where a human interloper might encounter the ancestral spirits of the Mannamoros (those who are Chamorros) called TAOTAOMONAS or people before time. The Chamorro Narrative holds that the human vessel lives on as an aniti (spirit). The Chamorro creates dialog with the ancestral remains (but not for worship) sustained in the belief that the blood of those who have gone before are passed into the veins of their legacy (descendents). Interred Ancestral bones becomes the foundation of the house ... a euphenism inferring that knowledge of oral history, legends, songs, chants, lamentations and navigational heritage built from the past becomes the literal latte pillars guiding and protecting the house or the next generation. It is ingrained in legend that Guam is part of a human body [many villages are named after body parts] and that human remains interred back into the soil is a collective re-integration back into that body. "Typically in coastal settings, the long axis of latte structure [arrangements] was parallel to the sea. pg 109 Scott Russell Tiempon I Manmofona." Dr. Dave DeFant states, skeletons were placed perpendicular to the long axis of latte arrangements with the head facing inland. Dr. Lawrence Cunningham, Ancient Chamorro Society pg 54 writes, "Often, latte houses formed a line parallel to the sea or a river. Nevertheless, latte houses on northern Guam were perpendicular to the sea". The stone monoliths [right photo] were found in their untouched condition at Urunao beach at northern Guam.

photo 1924-26 by Hans Hornbostel Adjacent to the site, above right photo, are deep pits or wells dug below the water table to supply the ancient villages with fresh water. Latte stones are avoided and are untouched. Although Chamorros have occupied the Marianas archipelago for possibly 4000 years, latte stones might have originated at the earliest around A.D. 845. However, the most entrenched belief is that the main latte construction era occurred around 1100A.D. Graves 1986:141. Roughly 1000 years ago, evidence of cultural adaptations, settlement patterning, architecture, warfare and food cultivation changed radically. "In Rota, Starting about 1000AD, an earlier style of plain pottery, consisting of mostly shallow bowls and pans, gives way to tall globular vessels with a roughened finish, suitable for carrying and storing water or boiling food. (Carucci and Lin Poyer, The West Central Pacific pg.189)." The latte period is also characterized by the appearance of the slingstones and spearpoints manufactured from human bones as weapons of battle - William Hernandez archaeologist curator. The ancient historian Fray Gaspar in the Voyage by Legaspi writes "the natives had great sheds, likewise built on top of large stone pillars. One of these sheds, near the watering place, contained four of their largest canoes - pg.113 Louis Claude de Freycinet". The book, An account of the Corvette L' Uranie's by Freycinet pg 114 continues, "As for the pillars distinguished by their far greater amplitude and height, local (Guam) tradition has it that they once served to support the roofs of enormous sheds, built to give shade to canoes that had been dragged onshore." Ancient Chamorro Society, pg 54, by Lawrence Cunningham writes, "The ulitao (community house for men) probably occupied a central location in a village and was the largest structure in the village. Under this latte house large oceangoing canoes were built, stored, and repaired". Instruction for traditional ocean navigation were also performed here.

side view of crowned latte 1924-26 by Hans Hornbostel Dr. Dave DeFant, Oct 23, 2008 lecture on Okura Remains, responded to the question, Did findings of pre-latte suggest evolution to Latte Phase? "No evidence. We cannot assume one migration of 3000 years ago grew up in isolation. Assuming just one evolution runs counter to evidence. People moved with repeated contacts."

"To assume that the Marianas archaeological record reflects a single cultural system that grew continuously over time ... may be incorrect. Between c.2500-1500 BP, the archaeological record reflects a shift in the context and character of human occupation in the Marianas." (Judith R. Amesbury and Rosalind L. Hunter-Anderson. May 2008. "An analysis of Archaeological and Historical Data on Fisheries for Pelagic Species in Guam and NMI"; p 15). Perhaps the Marianas were settled by people from various origins (Butler 1994).

Ancient oral history, first published in The Guam Recorder, Nov. 1936 p.13 by J. Torres, tells of the legend of camel rock. This indigenous lore alludes to a starburst interpretation of the starcave pictographs of Ritidian caves ostensibly marking another settlement of Guam by a new group of star navigators who may have accelerated the wholesale building of the Latte sites approximately AD 1000. It is possible that some customs as "BETELNUT CHEWING" predate the emergence of the stones.

Archaeological milestones of Ancient Guam based on carbon dating revolves around these eras: "Early Prelatte Phase (prior to 1485 BC to 500 BC), the Intermediate Prelatte Phase (500 BC to AD1)" Scott Russel pg 48 Tiempon I Manmofona. Other sources cite there was the Transitional Pre-Latte (AD 1 to AD 1000), the larger Latte Period (AD 1000 to AD 1521), and Early Historic Period (AD 1521 to 1700).

"The notion that latte building ended after the arrival of Magellan in 1521 is a misconception. The late Latte Period culture of the Chamorus likely persisted into the time of the Spanish Conquest (1672-1698). One scholar suggested that construction of lattes continued in the Marianas up to around 1650 or even later, and that latte may have continued to be used until the mid 1700's (Heathcote, Gary 2006. Taotao Taga: Glimpses of his life history recorded in his skeleton)."

Spanish missionaries recounted that Ancient Chamorro nobility were called the 'Matua' who lived on the shorelines as fishers, navigators and warriors and the alleged lower caste were called Mana'chang who lived in the island interior. There is consensus among historians that the word 'Matua' is incorrect. Dr. Robert Underwood states, 'Matao' is the word and not matua because matua is phonologically not possible in Chamorro. Matao could be a contraction of ma'gas and taotao. Anything using 'tao' refers to a person's characteristic (geftao - generous; chattao - stingy). Ma'tao is the nobility.

Latte of Antiquity at Hilaan Guam There is a derth [lack] of written Spanish accounts about the navigators which have their own unique seafaring cultural and spiritual practices who were also "Matao". A Middle class called achaot was referred to by Bonani (1719) and Freycinet (1819). A more interesting group of people were the makana [shamans] who were medicine or spirit peoples who retained skulls of dead relatives for healing, rain divination, and consultation on building houses and canoes. Chants, offerings, taboos on food and taboos on sexual activity were ways people could interact with spirits. "(in navigational tradition) Sorcery and fear of magical retribution controlled some sorts of social interactions (Kiste 1994a:;16; Alkire 1977:16-17,51-51)." Shamans play an important role in many cultures, mediating between the human and spiritual worlds and acting as messengers, healers, magicians to serve the maritime or ancient Traditional Navigational societies which coexisted with the ocean.

Spanish journals recount an ancient social class of Chamorus called the Manachang by describing the service of a Manachang chief of Sinajana named Hineti who protected the Hagåtña Spanish garrison from annihilation on July 1684 from a prolonged assault from the Mataos. Missionary accounts describe the Mana'chang as being smaller, and weaker than the other Chamorus whose lifeways are primarily tied to the soil. Laura Thompson wrote that the short stature of the mangatchang resulted from malnutrition and were not necessarily a different racial type (Russell, Scott 1998: Tiempon I Manmofo'na. p. 31). Ancient Water Reservior Lost Pond "Guam was settled by waves of ancient seafaring peoples (Butler 1994)."

The photo to the left is an example of a fresh water reservior - utilized by an ancient village, called 'lost pond' in Hilaan north of Tanguisson Beach Guam. According to 'Caves and Karst of Guam' by Taborosi, the sinkhole intersect the groundwater level. This sinkhole exposes the groundwater layer which drains out to an adjacent 'sharks pit' beach noted for its clear ocean water. It is a favorite fishing hole for many Guamanian youngsters. Near it are many latte sites.


|Back to Agana Guam Home Page| Back to Guam People| Back to Guam Culture| Back to Ultimate Home Page|