Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Taotao Mo’na and Other Spirits



Not long after we moved here, we were warned that if we ever went Boonie Stomping (a common pastime in Guam, basically hiking through the jungle) that we should ask permission to relieve ourselves in the outdoors, or we would get sick.  There have been accounts of Americans who did not heed the warning and and ended up getting ill. Apparently, there are spirits in the jungle who demand respect.

We were also at a local restaurant one night with our little one and the owner advised us to put perfume on her to mask her smell when going out at night to protect her from spirits trying to take her, pinch her, or make her ill. (There are also a lot of superstitions and rules when it comes to pregnancy.

I did a little research on these legends and her is what I found:

The connection between Chamorros and these spirits has changed over time, primarily due to cultural changes that came about from Spanish colonization and Christianization. Slowly over time, these spirits have changed from the ante of ancestors to the wily ghosts, devils and demons that play tricks or cause harm to Chamorros today. Taotaomo’na can be defined in three different ways:


First, they can refer all the spirits of Chamorro ancestors, to all of those who have come before. In this definition, these spirits played a huge role in the daily life of Chamorros offering assistance and protection with all sorts of daily tasks. These spirits were treated as members of the family and were referred to be name or through terms of endearment.

The second definition used for Taotaomo’na  refers to the ancestors whom Chamorros could no longer connect themselves to through genealogy. These were remote spirits, which could not be easily counted upon for help as if members of a clan, but instead had to communicated with primarily through intermediaries such as makanas (“spirits counselors” or “medicine men”).

Ancient Chamorro history provides the names of a few of these remote ancestral spirits, whom Chamorros knew they were related to, but did not treat with the same intimacy that they did their relatives that had recently passed away.

One such taotaomo’na is Anufat. He is described as very ugly with teeth six inches long. He also has a hole on each side of his head (battle head wounds), with ferns (medicinal herbs) stuffed in each hole. If a person walks through an ancient burial site, they must always whistle so as not to disturb Anufat. If they don’t whistle, Anufat may become startled and cause harm.

Over time the role of makanas slowly became what Chamorros today refer to as suruhånus and suruhånas, who would also be able to communicate with taotaomo’na, but primarily in the service of healing the sick. People who do not ask permission when entering the jungle, taking from its resources or using it as a bathroom and become sick are advised to seek a suruhånu or suruhåna for treatment and medicine and are also told to go back to the site and ask the taotaomo’na forgiveness.

Taotaomo’na are said to reside in jungles and are present around the ancient latte ruins, large basalt and coral boulders and caves, as well as amongst the thick dense hanging roots of the Banyan Trees. If you plan on going to any of these places, here are the ways to ask permission to the taotaomo’na.

Asking Permission

The following is said to ask permission to pass:

Guella yan Guello, dispensa ham låo Kåo siña ham manmaloffan yan manmanbisita gi tano miyu sa’ yanggen un bisita i tano’må mi faloffan-ha’ sin un famaisin.

Grandmother and grandfather, excuse us. May we walk through and visit your land ? When you come to our land we will welcome you to do the same.

The following is said before relieving yourself in the jungle:

Guello yan Guella kao siña u usa i kemon guini ya agin matu hamyu gi tano-hu sinen isa lokkue.

Grandmother and Grandfather may I use the restroom here? When you come to my land you may do the same.

The following is said before entering the jungle and taking wood or fruit from it:

Gue’la yan gue’lo, kao sina yu’manule’ tinanoum-muya yanggen matto hao gi tano’-ha fuannule’ ha sin mamaisen.

Grandmother and grandfather, can I pick from your plants? If you come to my land, you may take without permission.

These requests should be asked loudly and boastfully because the taotao’mona dislike anything weak.

Special Relationships

Some Chamorros had privileged relationships to taotaomo’na. These people were usually referred to as gaitaotao or gaiga’chong. For these people, a taotaomo’na was their ga’chong(friend and companion) and with them at all times, helping them and giving them the appearance of having super-human skills or being sen metgot (very strong).


Lastly, in the definition which matches closely to the way Chamorros think of them today, taotaomo’na are mananiti or aniti, pesky, troublesome and sometimes evil spirits.

Duendes, a Spanish word, are one such type of taotaomo’na. They are small, dwarf-like people, who go naked or wear clothes made of leaves. They are most well known for luring unsuspecting children into the jungle by taking the shape of a chichirika (a red fantailed bird), singing songs to them, or by offering them gifts or treats. Once captured a child would be shrunk down to such a small size that those looking for them would easily step over them or walk right by them completely unaware. When a child is eventually found they usually suffer from chetnot manman, meaning they will stare into space with a blank and empty look. To fix this, they will have to be taken to a suruhånu or a pale’(priest).

The White Lady of Fonte River

A White Lady is a type of female ghost reportedly seen in rural areas and associated with some local legend of tragedy. White Lady legends are found around the world. Common to many of them is the theme of losing or being betrayed by a husband or fiancé.

Guam has its own White Lady apparition. It is said that if one were to drive over the Maina Bridge during a new moon, they may see a her standing at the river's edge wearing a long and white flowing dress similar to a bridal gown, silver hair like the moon and sad red eyes.* This is especially true when a dangerous storm is fast approaching on the horizon.

She can be seen at three well-known landmarks on Guam:  Two Lover’s Point, Harmon Heights, and Fonte River.

*During the 1600's it was common for Chamorro women to have silver hair.  Women would  keep their hair long and bleach it white with repeated shampoos.

(Sources: Wikipedia, Guampedia, Pacific Daily News, Ultimate Culture of Guam, Tasisthoughts)

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