Saturday, June 11, 2011

I Kantan I Latte Siha

It is time again for another round of Heritage Hikes courtesy of yours truly and We Are Guahan. This month we’ll be having three hikes to Hila’an (June 12 ), Haputo (June 18) and Pågat (June 25) and our theme is “I Kantan I Latte Siha” or “the song of the latte.”

This is our third set of hikes, and our goal is to offer the community a chance to visit certain places of natural beauty on Guam, get some exercise and also learn about the cultural history of the site. So far we’ve had hundreds attend our hikes and even got an excellent article in the most recent issue of Uno.

The first two sets of hikes “Tungo’ i Estoria-ta” and “Un Nuebu na Inatan” focused on exploring and learning about local places that have played a crucial and sometimes tragic role in Guam’s history of American militarization. We visited sites where people were displaced because of strategic military interests and also places where people protested in order to protect Guam’s natural beauty and resources.

Despite being such a huge topic of debate, very little understanding of our island’s history as made it into the military buildup discussion, and so these hikes were geared towards providing some further insight into how militarization over the past 100 years has impacted Guam. This is particularly true in terms of the perceived positives that the buildup promises. In recent weeks for instance we have heard the "jobs, jobs, jobs" that the buildup is supposed to provide, but still, other than charming anecdotes about Guam's glorious road from sade'gani to condos, there is very little depth to the discussion.

We are continuing this theme of looking at the militarization in Guam's history and present in our 3rd set of hikes, as these three locations represent: 1. Land (sort of) returned by the Federal Government, 2. Land currently held by the Federal Government, 3. Land which is being sought after by the Federal Government. But we decided to enhance this even further by focusing our hikes on the presence of latte and other artifacts at all three sites. For those who have been paying attention, latte and lusong in the Pagat area played a huge role in helping turn that site into a place which was periodically visited for hiking or swimming and ocassionally used for dumping of washing machines into a place which most of the island considers to be sacred and worth keeping public, clean and protected.

The latte were at one point the literal foundation of life on Guam, as the supports for homes and the markers of the boundaries between families. This changed with the arrival of the Spanish, as architecture, culture and religion all adapted to the pressures and trauma of colonization. The latte, as a result became a relic of older times. It was something to be respected, but not as something foundational to life, but rather as the home of ancient and unfriendly spirits. Today, we have undergone another change where the latte now represents the symbolic foundation of our identities. It is an icon you see everywhere; in business logos, campaign signs, tattoos, in contemporary architecture. The prevalence of the latte in popular culture is the way it works as a conduit for connecting ourselves to Guam’s ancient past. We often use the latte as a metaphor for the strength and permanence of the stones themselves.

On the first hike of “I Kantan i Latte Siha” to Hila’an, you have the chance to see more latte in an hour than you might see in an entire political season. There is a stretch in the jungles of Hila’an where you can find more than 60 separate latte stones in the course of half a mile. It is an overwhelming experience to say the least. As artifacts we usually see latte in single pieces or in single sets. As a result, when you see these stones in the jungle it is easy to dismiss them as faint echoes of a distant era. But if you walk that half mile of Hila’an and see those dozens of latte, you cannot help but feel the history of that place forming around you, and it is not some abstract or academic feeling. The best way to describe it, would be as an experience of history.

As you walk from set to set, you are walking through an Ancient Chamorro neighborhood, and when you see the latte, some of which have been standing in the same place for centuries, you can imagine who might have lived there based on the size and number of the lattes, and how nicely carved they are. You are walking from home to home, in the footsteps that Chamorros would have walked for centuries, and at times you can almost imagine them around you. History lives and breathes all around us, but we usually miss it. Hila’an is one of those places where the experience can be almost too much to dismiss.

The trail that we will be taking people on this Sunday is no secret. Anyone wondering through the jungle could come across the rows of latte and scattered lusong as we did. But I would like to thank a few of my students who helped myself and Leevin Camacho from We Are Guahan search for the initial set of latte stones, which is now the basis for the hike. I like to refer to them as my "Nerds" in the same geek guinaiya as Tasteless from the Starcraft 2 GSL. They are the 3 Kayu: Jonathan "Danderu" Glaser, Jonathan "Bomberman" Perez, Jonathan "Peskadot" Guerrero, Katherine "Lemy" Mafnas and Justin "Dragon" Manuel. They went on the initial hike in what started as a beautiful gofha'an na day, and eventually became a rainy, soaking wet search for artifacts, after my students claimed I angered the taotaomo'na while trying to catch a hilitai that we found near a lusong. In addition to the walk down latte lane, we also saw a boonie dog chase a deer into the ocean.
If you would like to learn more about Hila’an and the importance of the latte stone in Chamorro culture and Guam History, please join us on our hikes this month! For more information head to

For those of you interested in hiking this weekend, we're meeting at Tanguissan Beach Park at 9 am!!!!!

1 comment:

Tamagosan said...

So excited about a Sunday event! See you tomorrow!


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