Aspects of the Mariana Islands
The megalithic columns and capitals of the Marianas silently recall the once splendid architecture of northern Micronesia. At the time of Magellan's arrival in the Marianas in 1521, the first European contact with Micronesia, the native Chamorros were building impressive structures on megalithic foundations called latte. The latte consisted of two rows of stone columns supporting hemispherical capstones. They are believed to have supported structures of wood. As social complexity and competition for limited resources increased, the height and size of the latte apparently increased. At the time of Western contact the stone columns and capstones of the House of Taga on Tinian rose to the height of 16 feet, and an even larger structure had been started on Rota. Today the magnificent stone remains are the most visible symbols of the ancient Chamorro people.
Map of Guam
The Marianas consist of fifteen volcanic islands in a curving arc that extends 420 miles from Guam in the south to Utacas (also Farallon de Pajaros) in the north. Located in the northwestern extremity of the Micronesian culture area, the Marianas lie between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Philippine Sea to the west. The largest of the islands are Guam, Rota, Tinian, and Saipan, all toward the south of the group. These probably always were the centers of population in the Marianas (Spoehr, 1957). Prehistoric architectural sites have been found on all four islands. Primarily superimposed limestone terraces resting on volcanic bases, the islands contain major areas of flat or gently sloping terrain suitable for human occupation.
Based on linguistic similarities, the Philippines or the islands of Southeast Asia seem to be fairly widely accepted as the most likely place of origin for the early settlers, who may have arrived in the Marianas about 1300 B.C. Existing evidence suggests that the early settlers may have had an effective sailing technology, and that they may have engaged to return voyaging in the islands of their origins.

Ancient megaliths have been reconstructed to form an eight-column latte more than seven feet high in a public park, Agana, Guam.

Concerning the latte, Peter Bellwood (1979a:283) observes: "These structures give every appearance of being indigenous developments in the Marianas, and the only outside similarities lie in reports of some pile houses in the Palau Islands and possibly on Yap. In basic principle, the form is simply a translation of the raised pile houses of Island Southeast Asia."

Thank you so much for visiting the above four Domains. I am very pleased to be able to share with you that further limited advertising on Aspects of the Mariana Islands Page, along with other Web Pages within the above four Domains, are now available. Potential advertisers are cordially invited to choose from several thousand Web sites available for placement of your important advertisements.  For further information, please contact me at:

jane@janeresture.com and/or jane@pacificislandsradio.com 

Larger houses in Palau and probably the Marianas were built on wood platforms raised above the ground on stone piers, while the major structure of Yap had solid stone platforms elevated above grade. The plans of major structures on all three island groups were based on regularized proportions. Typical large meeting houses of Micronesia, such as the pebacy of Yap and the bai of Palau, were rectangular or nearly so in plan and had high roofs thatched with palm fronds or pandanus leaves. Their ridgepoles, rafters, and plates were lashed together with cord bindings, except on Palau, where certain main structural joints were mortised and fitted. Yapese and Palauan houses often were elaborately decorated.
The rugged coastline of Guam
Early European observers noted that the Chamorros built and sailed outrigger canoes with great skill. The boats of the Marianas seem to have been somewhat similar to those elsewhere in Micronesia. Called "flying proas" their main hulls were double ended for sailing in either direction, and they employed single outrigger floats with a lateen sail. The technology required for building these graceful craft suggests the level of technology available for planning and constructing the prehistoric architecture in the Marianas.
Perhaps as early as A.D. 1000, latte houses began to be built in the Marianas. The group of columns and capstones that together comprise a single foundation structure is referred to as a latte set. The number of stone columns with capstones observed in a latte set varied from six to fourteen. The piers almost always were erected in two parallel rows that varied from three to seven columns in length.
Scenic view of Guam
Near the ancient houses, food probably was prepared, cooked and stored, and tools were manufactured maintained and stored. Both extended and secondary burials consisting of collections of bones are found under or near the houses. Brown-stained teeth found in Chamorro graves attest to the antiquity of betel nut chewing in the Marianas.
Latte often were grouped together, sometimes in the series of rows, and were located inland from nearby beaches, where canoe sheds or club houses may have been located. Village alignments usually were parallel to the nearest coastline or river and may have been oriented to take advantage of prevailing breezes. Chamorro villages frequently were located near the sea, their principal source of protein, and near a source of fresh water and areas suitable for farming. Even inshore villages were not so far removed from the sea as to eliminate it as a food resource.
Latte building in the Marianas seems to have continued until about 1650 and sites on Guam apparently continued to be occupied until perhaps 1750. Large bones of pelagic fish appeared in the Marianas during the latte building phase, suggesting off-shore fishing and canoe building, but probably not trade or contact with islands outside the Marianas.
It seems unlikely that a single person owned or controlled a particular latte house. More likely, a household or larger kin group was responsible for building and maintaining the structure. A senior member of the household or kin group may have been awarded certain rights to use, but the control of the house probably was retained by the larger group.
Latte stones, Guam
Megalithic foundations may have had symbolic meanings that related enduring stone to enduring social position. One reason for building elevated structures may have been related to the idea that increased height once symbolized increased authority and importance in much of Oceania. As the height and number of columns per latte increased, size and social rank apparently gained in importance. Foundation size may have been related to wealth and the power to control labou8r.
The height of latte varies widely in the Marianas, but the maximum is about 8 feet with the exceptions of the 16-foot high House of Taga on Tinian and the unfinished structure in the quarry at As Nieves on Rota that would have been perhaps 18 feet high. The significance of these exceptionally high structures is the subject of differing interpretations by scholars. One view holds that the House of Taga probably represents the emergence of a third level in the Chamorro society about the time of European contact. Thus, the superordinate height of the House of Taga's foundation would suggest the emergence of a single paramount chief above all the lesser chiefs of Tinian. Similarly, the unfinished megaliths of the quarry at As Nieves might suggest the emergence of a supreme ruler on the island of Rota.
Another scholarly interpretation of the significance of the unusually high House of Taga latte is that it represents the presence of one of two compelling factions on Tinian. Historical documents of 1660 to 1680 indicate that no supreme ruler existed on the island at that time. Instead, two alliances existed, one dominated by Makpo village in the southeast area of the island and the other by the Taga area on the west side. Both interpretations are latte as symbols of ranking but disagree on the social organizations they represent.

Only two of the House of Taga's 16-foot-high columns and capstones remain standing today on Tinian.  (Photo: Bihop Museum)

A 1565 diary entry by a member of the Miguel de Legaspi expedition, commissioned by the Spanish crown to sail from Mexico to the Philippines, offers this description of the Chamorro housing. Their houses are high, well kept and well made. (They) stand the height of a man off the ground, atop large stone pillars, upon which they lay the flooring ... These are the houses in which they sleep. They have other low houses, on the ground, where they cook and roast food. ... They have other large houses which are used for boathouses. These are not dwellings, but communal (houses) in which they store the large proas (double-ended sailing canoes with a single outrigger) and (which) shelter (their) canoes. In each barrio (a group of dwellings forming a distinctive unit) there is one of these boathouses".
Lord Anson's engraving illustrating the House of Taga latte in 1742 shows all twelve columns erect with capstones in place.
The diary entry clearly mentions three types of structures residences built on latte, small cookhouses built on grade, and large community houses not necessarily associated with latte. A communal house may have served purposes other than canoe storage, such as a men's clubhouse, a community storehouse, a meeting place, or other public functions. For example, in 1671, Padre Diego Luis de Sanvitores noted that "the bachelors have some public houses ..." Whole some latte may have served other purposes as well, they apparently were primarily residences. 
Coral pebble paving has been found adjoining and beneath latte houses at Objan, Lau Lau, and Unai Bapot on Saipan, Nomna Bay on Guam, Tachognya on Tinian, and other sites. This suggests that work areas may have been located near or below the raised floors of latte houses. Earth ovens found near many latte houses indicate the same manner of cooking that is used widely in Micronesia. Separate frame cookhouses in Saipan and elsewhere in the Marianas suggest that latte houses originally may have had frame cookhouses nearby.
The Chamorros were prolific potters who are not known to have employed highly decorative designs. Their cutting tools were made more frequently from shell than from stone. Other tools were made of bone and wood, but metal was unknown prior to Western contact. The Chamorros used books and nets for fishing and ate seals and turtles. Pigs were unknown in the Marianas until Europeans introduced them. The Chamorros' subsistence economy was based on agriculture, fishing, gathering mollusks from the reefs, limited hunting for girds, bats, and crabs, and gathering wild vegetable products. Coconuts, yams, breadfruit, several types of taro, bananas, and sugarcane were important crops. The Chamorros appear to have been the only people in Micronesia who grew rice. Digging sticks with stone blades were the primary agricultural implements.
Plaza de Espana is the site of a complex of structures built by the  Spanish beginning in 1669 as the seat of government in Agana.
Men's work seems to have included clearing land planting, cultivating, and harvesting, cooking large quantities of food in earth ovens for special feasts, building houses and canoes, and manufacturing tools. Women apparently fished on the reefs with small hand nets and sometimes stored part of their catch in stone-lined holding ponds along the shore. They also prepared daily meals by boiling food in locally manufactured pots, wore baskets and mats from pandanus, made pottery, prepared medicines, performed domestic chores, and probably assisted in agricultural production.
Laura Thompson (1945) suggested that Chamorro households were extended families usually based on some form of of matrilineal descent. According to Ross Condy (1983c), two strata existed in Chamorro society, chefs and commoners. Early Spanish observers reported that latte houses were occupied by members of the chiefly class rather than by commoners.
Umatic, Guam - 1962
The larger islands of the Marianas traditionally seem to have been divided into several alliances of independent villages, each influenced by the highest-ranking chief within the alliance. Smaller islands may have been under the control of a single alliance or village. The alliances were not consolidated into large, well-knit political units. As representatives of lineages, the chief's controlled all or most of the village land and fishing grounds.
Warfare, feuding, and shifts in alliances were common. Not subject to a high degree of organization, warfare was conducted primarily by stealth and ambush. The weapons of the Chamorros included barbed spear points, made from human bones or wood, and sling stones. Competition for status and rank probably was a constant in the Marianas as elsewhere in Micronesia.
The art of the Marianas probably was expressed primarily in perishable materials that have long since disappeared. Ornaments that have been found include highly decorative carvings, beads, bracelets, and pendants. Burial artifacts generally are lacking. 
In 1521, Antonio Pigafetta recorded the first contact between European and the people of Micronesia: he described the following incident in Magellan's three ships approached what may have been the coast of Guam: "On Wednesday, the sixth of March, we discovered a small island in the northwest direction, and two others lying to the south-west ... Captain general wished to touch at the largest of these three islands to get refreshments of provisions; but it was not possible because the people of these islands entered into ships and robbed us, in such a way that it was impossible to preserve oneself from them. Whilst we were striking and lowering the sails to go ashore, they stole away with much address and diligence the small boat called the skiff, which was made fast to the poop of the captain's ship, at which he was much irritated, and went on shore with forty armed men, burned forty or fifty houses, with several small boats, and killed seven men of the island; they recovered their skiff".
In the years immediately succeeding Magellan's initial contact with the Marianas, the islands remained in relative isolation. During the seventeenth century, however, Spain established a prosperous trade route between Acapulco and Manila, and Guam became an important base for galleons plying the sea lanes. The people of the Marianas suffered from the severity of seventeenth-century colonialism, not because of the economic value of their islands but because they were situated strategically on the Acapulco trade route and the Spanish at that time considered it essential to missionize and convert.
In 1668, Padre Diego Luis de Sanvitores established a mission on Guam. Within two years the missionaries became caught up in political enmities, and the Chamorros began to resist forced conversion and the missionaries' efforts to disband community clubs. The Spanish introduced European diseases, such as measles and smallpox, to which the Chamorros had no immunity.
Waterfall, Guam
After three decades of epidemic, warfare, and two disastrous typhoons, the Chamorro population declined sharply. The maximum population of the islands before European contact has been estimated in the range of 50,000. By 1710, the year of the first Spanish census, the number of surviving Chamorros had been reduced to 3,439. To improve political control after severe depopulation, the Spanish concentrated all of the Chamorros in the Marianas on Guam during the late seventeenth century, except for a small group on Rota and a few on Tinian. The Chamorros were required to change their traditional settlement patterns to European models. The present-day population of the Marianas is thoroughly mixed with Spanish, Filipino, American, Chinese, Japanese, and others.  
After the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the other islands of the Marianas to Germany. In 1914 Japan occupied the former German possessions in Micronesia, relinquishing the islands at the conclusion of the Second world War to the United States according to the provisions of a United Nations mandate. During the latter 1970s, the Mariana Islands north of Guam became a commonwealth of the United States. Guam continues to be a possession of the United States. Unlike most of the other islands of Micronesia, Guam, Tinian, and Saipan suffered extensive destruction as a result of the Second World War. The disappearance of prehistoric architectural sites in the Marianas is a result of both the construction of military installations and the destruction during battles for control of the islands. Urban expansion on Guam in recent decades also has resulted in the loss of many ancient sites. Fortunately, most of the remains on Rota have been spared the ravages of war and subsequent developments.
Having 215 square miles of land area, Guam is the largest island in Micronesia. It also is the southernmost island of the Mariana archipelago. The Yap Island group is 530 miles to the southwest, and Truk Atoll lies 630 miles to the southeast. The highest point on Guam is 1,334-foot-high Mount Lamlam. Fringed by coral reefs, the 30-mile-long island ranges from 4 to 12 miles wide.
Southern Guam is basically volcanic with an elongated mountain range dividing the inland valleys from the coastline. Central and northern Guam are primarily limestone plateaus uplifted 300 to 600 feet. Near the north end of the island sheer cliffs drop precipitously into the sea. Although the island is much larger than Rota and Tinian, the area between the escarpment and the beach that is suitable for human occupation on Guam is relatively limited. Chamorro village sites on Guam apparently were more numerous, but on the average probably smaller, than those on Rota and Tinian.
Coral terraces, Guam
Guam's maximum prehistoric population may have been at most thirty thousand Chamorros. Prehistoric settlements in the central and northern areas of the island generally were located in coastal areas, where springs occur at regular intervals at the base of the limestone uplifts. Southern Guam has clayey soils. Her rain water runs off quickly and areas suitable for human occupation are limited except near streams.
Six to twenty latte sets per settlement are the standard for most sites on Guam, except in the southern area, where two or three sets are the norm. An exception is the Nomna Bay site in southern Guam where seventeen latte are located. Many sites were in low-lying areas within a few hundred feet of the nearest beach or near inshore streams, although a site at Tumon Bay 1,500 feet from the shore, and such sites as Mepo and Fena are found near the center of southern Guam. In 1668, Sanvitores counted 180 villages on Guam. Of these, only 7 villages remained in 1698.
The latte stones of the House of Taga on Tinian are some 16 feet high, about twice the height of the next highest stone foundation in the Marianas. Located some 100 miles northeast of Guam, Tinian is separated by a 3-mile-wide channel from Saipan to the northeast. The coastal area of the island is mostly suitable for villages and contains a high percentage of productive land. Inland Tinian, like inland northern Guam, is a limestone plateau with no potable water and thus is unsuitable for human habitation.
The 12-mile-long island is at most 6.5 miles wide and encompasses a land area of 39.3 square miles. The highest point of land is 614-foot-high Kastiyu Hill, well less than half the height of Mount Lamlam on Guam. No streams are found on Tinian. Here water collects in pools at the foot of high ridges or in wells.
The island consists of two major raised limestone plateaus separated by the fertile Makpo Valley near the southern end of the island. The coastline largely consists of limestone cliffs dropping abruptly into the sea, but several beaches and sandy coves interrupt the rocky coast. Of particular importance is the Tinian Harbour area on the southwest coast, the principal landing area on the island and the local center of population since prehistoric times.
Mission, Guam
The three major areas of latte sites on the island are Tinian Harbour represented by the Tachognya and Taga sites in this study. Makpo Valley, and Unai Dangkulo along the northern east coast. Alexander Spoehr (1957) found three latte sites near the fresh water swamp of Makpo Valley. The largest of these sites consisted of two latte located 40 feet apart. The northern set contained ten stone columns and measured 13.5l x 45 feet. The best preserved of the shafts was trape-zoidal in shape and rose 3 feet above the ground. In 1984 Darlene Moore found more than twenty latte in a single large coastal site at Unai Dangkulo (Graves, 1986).
Like Tinian, the island of Rota was densely inhabited in prehistoric times and today yields some of the most notable remains of prehistoric architecture in the Marianas. A 1980 survey of the island identified 46 separate latte sites containing some 113 individual structures. The stone columns and capstones in the As Niegves Quarry seem to have been intended for a foundation even higher than the House of Taga on Tinian. The largest member of latte in a single site was found at Mochong on the north coast of Rota. The site contained at least 47 structures in a single large settlement.
Rota, which lies about 30 miles northwest of Guam in the direction of Tinian, is approximately 12 miles long and 5 miles wide and contains a land area of 32.9 square miles. Composed of calcareous rock, Rota is dominated by 1,627-foot high Mount Savana near its center. Five freshwater streams along the south-central coast and numerous wells supply fresh water to the island. Today dense tropical vegetation covers much of Rota, but no large trees are found.
Latte sites on the island generally are found along the north coast and on the east end well away from the escarpment of Mount Savana. Rota's main settlement today is the town of Songsong, the Rotanese word for village. The town is located on a peninsula that extends out from the southwest end of the island, the probable location of the earliest prehistoric settlement on Rota. Rota's population in 1984 was perhaps 1,100. Although the island's prehistoric sites have been disturbed considerably over the years, particularly by a Japanese coastal trenching system during the Second World War, Rota has more latte sites intact today than do Guam, Tinian, or Saipan.
The earliest European contact with Rota probably occurred when the Spanish ship Santa Margarita struck a reef on the island in 1601. Rota became a center of Chamorro resistance against the Spanish, but a Sergeant-Major Quiroga subjugated the island in the last uprising of 1684. Most of the Chamorros were relocated to Guam in 1696, but part of the population was permitted to remain on Rota "and thus maintained a continuity with the prehistoric past unclaimed by others of the Marianas".

Micronesia Music
Micronesia Home Page
Micronesia Postcards and Picture Galleries
Oceania Postcards and Picture Galleries
Jane Resture's Oceania Page
Jane's Oceania Travel Page

click here

  Federated States of Micronesia

click here

  Jane's Oceania Home Page
Jane's Oceania Home Page Newsletter
to get the latest news, information and Web site updates!
Please enter your email address below
then click the 'Join' button for your free Newsletter!

 Join newsletter! 

Micronesia Music Anthology

Welcome everybody to Micronesia Music Anthology which is available on

Micronesia Music Radio

The anthology can be accessed by clicking on the 'Broadcast Schedule' after logging in to Micronesia Music Radio. This should allow you to determine when the anthology is available in your part of the world. For example, in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Australia, the anthology is available at 12 noon each Saturday. In Kiribati, the anthology is available each Saturday afternoon at 2 pm; California at 7 pm each Friday evening; New York at 10 pm each Friday evening, along with Florida and Boston, Massachusetts, USA, etc.

The anthology runs for 90 minutes in which the traditional chants are introduced, including many from Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap, Kosrae, Palau, etc. followed by beautiful traditional and contemporary songs of Micronesia. Thank you!

The schedule can also be accessed here

Supporting Web site to the anthology:

Pacific Islands Radio Stations


Please enter your email address for your free Pacific Islands Radio Newsletter!


Hosted By Topica

 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 23rd August 2011)
yahoo.gif (465 bytes)