UOG’s CM394 class stands by the Guma’ Taga latte stone in Tinian. It is the last standing and the largest ever, at 17.5 feet tall, fully constructed latte stone in the world. (From left) Eva Aguon Cruz, Chrisell Muña, Moñeka De Oro, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Chelsie Gumabon, Analee Vilagomez, and Tonilynn Quichocho.
A Chamorro Studies course on latte stone carving and quarrying embarked on a “transformative” multi-week field trip through the Mariana Islands this summer. The class visited a record number of 15 latte sites across Guam, Rota, Saipan, and Tinian and also made additional connections with culture and history officials in the Northern Mariana Islands.
“It was the first time that we went to four islands,” said Dr. Kelly G. Marsh, an Adjunct Professor at UOG who teaches the course and leads the field trip every summer. “Typically, for the last couple of years, we have gone only to Guam and Luta (Rota). One of our students has been calling it an epic trip.”
Marsh teaches CM394, or Fa’tinas I Latte, an upper-level elective course for students majoring or minoring in Chamorro Studies, teachers seeking certification credits, and others who have interest. The course provides students with a holistic ethnohistorical experience, teaching them ancient Chamorro culture and traditions and incorporating a hands-on learning element in the field.
“It was a transformative experience for the whole class,” she said. “The team saw
an amazing number and variety of latte stone and quarrying sites.”
Their visit took them to Aguingan Latte Quarry Site and Obyan Beach Latte Site in
Saipan, to As Nieves Taga Quarry and Mochong Latte Village in Rota, and to Guma' Taga
in Tinian, among other sites. At nearly 18 feet tall, Guma' Taga is the largest standing latte in the world.
One of the capstones, or tasa, that has been successfully excavated and extracted from the As Nieves Taga Quarry in Rota. If erected, these latte would have stood over 25 feet with each component weighing more than 6 tons. (From left) Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Moñeka De Oro, and Chrisell Muña.
To understand the extent of the latte stone carving and quarrying tradition, Marsh said it was important to see latte sites across the Mariana archipelago.
“They are in Sarigan. They are in Pågan. They are in Aguiguan. They are really throughout the archipelago. That speaks to the ancient Chamorro way of using the islands and living on the islands and making it their homeland,” Marsh said.
The course also includes discussions on stonework traditions across the region to give students a glimpse of how carving practices were done in Kosrae, Pohnpei, Yap, Palau, Kiribati, and other areas.
“Something that I have always admired with the region is just the level of stonework that has existed. We look at aspects like that. We read about some of the theories of quarrying and the different types of quarrying that have been known to have existed. And then armed with that information, we try to — from beginning to end — set up the basic understanding of the different steps,” Marsh said.
English and Chamorro Studies major Chrisell Muña measures the size of a latte capstone that was quarried from beach bedrock at the Aguingan Latte Quarry Site on Coral Ocean Point Golf Course in Saipan.
The students review not just the sizes and shapes of the lattes, but also the landscape and the environment surrounding them.
“We get to go and be in the presence of those stones and the energy that was used to create them,” said Eva Aguon Cruz, a Chamorro language and culture instructor at M.U. Lujan Elementary School who participated on the trip as a project research assistant.
She said the class provided a way to understand and explore the art form and also to feel the sacred energy that created the stone structures.
“For me, part of this class and this whole research project is about uncovering and rediscovering the wisdom of our ancestors that has been lost,” she said. “So when we look at things like the art of chant or, in this case, the art of stone masonry, they are traditions that had been in place for the duration of our civilization for [in some cases] thousands of years. And then during contact, they either got wiped away completely or they got transformed into something different.”
An end product of a semester is a small, approximately two-foot tall latte structure carved by the students enrolled in the course. “So you have a lot of end products — what you’ve made physically with your hands and what you’ve taken in and experienced cognitively and emotionally,” she said.
Aside from the learning component, Marsh said the team also did community outreach in each of the islands. They were able to meet with the Rota Director of Land Management, the CNMI Director of Indigenous Affairs, the CNMI Director of the Department of Community & Cultural Affairs, the Director of Community Outreach for the Northern Marianas College, the Director of the NMI Museum of History & Culture, and others.
Marsh said these groups are exploring future collaborative classes and outreach programs with the CM394 class.
“We have talked about having a collaboration next year between Northern Marianas College or at the very least trying to get students from there to participate in this class at the University of Guam so that we are having NMI students at NMC and UOG students working together to go out and explore that shared icon throughout the archipelago,” she said.
The course has come a long way since it began in 2015, Marsh said. The next step, she said, would be to get the word out and evolve the class into a collaborative project with the community.
Gempapa Latte Site in Rota. (From left) Belou Quimby, Tonlynn Quichocho, Chrisell Muña, Eloy Ayuyu, Veronica Salas, Moñeka De Oro, Hana de Oro, Dr. Kelly Marsh Taitano, Eva Cruz, Patrick Ogo, Jason Maratita, and Chelsie Gumabon (front).