Courtesy of: www.guampedia.com
Taotaomo’na, (Taotaomona) the people of before, refers to ancestral spirits that inhabited the earth along with the living. Ancient Chamorros believed the world around them was full of spirits who provided both daily protection and assistance in their tasks, but also created dangers and problems. Guma’ siha (houses) were built, families were raised and tinanom siha (crops) were harvested and planted through harmonious cooperation between Chamorros and the anti (spirits) of their ancestors.
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, each definition depending upon the amount of familiarity or distance between these spirits and living Chamorros. I will give a brief synopsis of the first two types but for the purposes of this article we will focus on the third type which is how Chamorros today view Taotaomo’na.
Our elders and family
Taotaomo’na as i mañainå-ta yan familiå-ta
Taotaomo’na is therefore a term which could refer in general to 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. Given this intimate arrangement, these sorts of taotaomo’na were thought to dwell on thetåno’ (land) of their descendants or thought to inhabit ancestral skulls or maranan uchan which Chamorros kept in baskets in the rafters of their guma’saga’(homes).
Those who came before
Taotaomo’na as i manmofo’nå-ta
Taotaomo’na also refers to the ante of 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. Makanaswere “spirits counselors” or “medicine men” who could be bartered with or compensated to seek the counsel or assistance of spirits. Makanas would beseech the dead on behalf of the living to bring stunning victories in battle, good luck in harvesting or fishing. If things were amiss in a family, and nothing but tragedy was befalling them, they could enlist the aid of a makana to find out from thetaotaomo’na what offense they had made or sins they had committed to deserve this treatment or why their ancestral spirits had abandoned them. A makana could also be enlisted in order to turn spirits against a rival or enemy clan.
Those who are evil and cruel
Taotaomo’na as i mantailayi (manailayi) yan manmala
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. This definition is heavily influenced by Spanish Catholicism and does not view taotaomo’na as the spirits of Chamorro ancestors, except perhaps as pagan, evil spirits of their ancient uncivilized past. In this version taotaomo’na are not gracious, giving or helpful, but are instead notorious for hurting people and playing tricks on the living. These taotaomo’na are not to be trusted at all, but rather feared.
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 hagon siha (leaves). They are most well known for luring unsuspecting children into the halom tano’ (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 unawares. When a child is eventually found they usually suffer fromchetnot 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).
Taotaomo’na would often haunt or be associated with certain areas or objects, such as the halom tano’, latte sites, and trongkon nunu (banyan trees). Those who entered these spaces without proper permission, or who behaved tai respetu (without respect) once in them would be subject to the anger and tricks of the spirits who called that area home.
In some instances a violent and tragic death will forever link a spirit to the site of its death.
These sorts of taotaomo’na are able to take different human, animal and material forms when they interact with the living. They can appear as binådu (deer), ayuyu(coconut crabs), ga’lågu (dogs), and even paluma (birds). One famous taotaomo’na is the Utak or Itak which is a large white-tailed bird with a shrill call, which is heard throughout the village each time an unmarried girl becomes mapotge’ (pregnant).
Taotaomo’na also appeared as human or in close human form, sometimes taking the appearance of familiar people such as relatives, but other times appearing tai ulu’(without head) or tai mata’ (without face). They sometimes have an alluring smell akin to fadang (frederico palm) or lime or ilangilang (a fragrant tree). Other times the smell can be repulsive like basula (trash) or take’ (feces). When speaking it can appear as ngokngok or incomprehensible speech, or even hissing or the sound of branches being snapped and rubbed together. In other instances their speech is simply older and archaic Chamorro.
Taotaomo’na have the ability to cause the living to become terribly ill. They do so byde’on (pinching), akka’ (biting) or pacha’ (touching). If a taotaomo’na wishes to make you ill it can make you become feverishly sick (chetnot maipe’), turn you into a zombie and put you into a deep trance (chetnot manman) or cause parts of your body to swell up. When a person has been touched by a taotaomo’na with the intent that they become ill, finger, nail or teeth marks may appear on a person’s body, in colors such as yellow, brown or purple. Some taotaomo’na have control over wind, rain, lighting and thunder. These are called lamlamtaotao and can shape and change the weather to incite fear in the living.
As this definition of taotaomo’na is something to be feared and resisted, Chamorros have compiled lists of how to repel these spirits and keep them away because they cannot stand to come into contact with them. Some colors are said to repeltaotaomo’na while others are said to attract them, but this depends primarily on the particular affinities of the spirits involved. Salt is thought to weaken taotaomo’na, which is one reason why they are found primarily inland in the halom tano’ (jungle) and not along the coast near i tasi (the sea).
In the early twentieth century, a Chamorro man who was gaitaotao and unbeatable in wrestling, was supposedly vanquished after his opponent sprinkled salt around the ring before their match. Money, sacred religious objects and even the guma’ yu’us(church) itself are thought to be objects or places which taotaomo’na cannot touch or stand to be near.