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The Valley of the Latte Visitor’s Center Art

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Painted and Narrated by Artist Dawn Lees Reyes

Thank you for joining me with this presentation. I hope you have gained some insight into the Chamorro culture and will find the subsequent tour of the Valley of the Latte meaningful. All the artwork presented here can be found as prints in our Valley gift shop.

We hope you will enjoy the art exhibit!

Hafa Adai! I’m Dawn Lees Reyes and this short video is a presentation of the artwork that is found at the Valley of the Latte Visitors Center.  The purpose of the paintings in this location is to help tell the story of this important historical location on Guam. In 1974, this site was listed on the registry of National Historic Places.

But First, A little history:

The island of Guam was settled by seafaring peoples over 4000 years ago, possibly by travelers from Southeast Asia.  The Talo’fo’fo river is situated between the villages of Talo’fo’fo and Inalahan and is the only navigable river on the island.  The original pre-Spanish inhabitants of Talo’fo’fo lived mostly in settlements along the Talo’fo’fo and Ugum rivers since about 1500 BC.  The name Talo’fo’fo may have had its origin from the phrase entalofe’fo meaning “between the cliffs”.

Archeologists started excavating this site as early as the 1920’s. It was discovered that this valley was home to approximately 600-800 people dating back as early as 1500 B.C.  The most notable finds were clusters of latte sites throughout the valley and along the Talo’fo’fo river. Latte are usually arranged in parallel pairs of 8 to 14, and have been found in sizes ranging from 2 to 15 feet tall. Latte are unique structures found on Guam, Rota and Tinian.

It should be noted that Latte are often associated with the legendary Chief Taga, who, after being exiled by his father, moved his family to Rota and later to Tinian. Myths and legends about the House of Taga and the Boy who Leaped to Rota are thought to reflect the life of Chief Taga.  Today, Latte remain an important cultural symbol of Chamorro strength of character.

The remains of at least 9 latte structures, several rock shelters and one cave are found at the Valley of the Latte.  Also, at this site is found a replica of a guma’uritao, which means men’s house or warrior house.  Maternal uncles instructed young men at the guma’uritao in the various skills needed to provide for and protect their families as well as social mores required to maintain peace and stability within the family unit and within the clan.

The Valley of the Latte Overview

The first painting I will present to you is this signature piece for the Valley of the Latte, representing all the offerings that the Valley of the Latte provides to our visitors- from the cliff line to the talofofo bay and the river. Visitors can experience the Valley on our river boats or on kayaks or on foot. The painting also depicts the Latte, makes reference to the Guma Uritao, and all the flora and fauna one might experience on a typical tour.

The Legend of the Mosquito

The Legend of the Mosquito is peculiar to the Talo’fo’fo area. The version I know is this:  Once upon a time, a long time ago, but only just yesterday, the son of a Talo’fo’fo Chief married the daughter of a chief from Tamuneng.  They were happy together and lived in Talo’fo’fo.  One day, for no apparent reason, the young bride died.  The husband was so disconsolate that he did not bury his wife as tradition dictated. Instead, he put her body on a boat and went out to sea with her. After many days, a Taotaomo’na told the young husband that he could bring his wife back and requested a pin made of bamboo.  When the Taotaomo’na received the bamboo pin, he pricked the young man’s finger, allowing the blood to drip onto the dead woman’s body, and she came back to life.

After a time, the young husband went on land to gather food.  When he returned, he found his reincarnated wife with another man. In his anger he struck her with the same pin the Taotaomo’na had used to revive her.  When her blood flowed into the river, it turned into mosquito larvae, and she disappeared. When the mosquitos hatched, they swarmed the husband.  And now it is known that the mosquito is the transformed soul of the young woman, and when a mosquito bites people it is said to be the revenge of the Taotaomo’na for the destruction of the woman’s life.

The Chamorro Landing

This is an abstracted piece representing the arrival of the Chamorro people to Talofofo. As you look at this piece, you will discern the shape of a sea-faring vessel called the Sakman. The triangular sails that are peculiar to Chamorro vessels and people preparing to drop sail prior to rowing upriver. It is interesting to note that there was a special ceremony performed to ask permission of the spirits to leave the ocean and enter the river.

Our Beliefs

Our Beliefs is a painting about two main Chamorro cultural beliefs which are ancestral veneration and the concept of Inafa’maolek”. Ancient Chamorro people practiced ancestral veneration. This is the practice of respectful treatment of relatives who have died in hopes that they may protect you and your family or bring you good fortune. Ancestral skulls were kept in each Chamorro family’s home and guarded as sacred objects, not to be touched by outsiders. The skulls were spoken to in soft and reverent tones. They were offered food and drink before every meal and regularly thanked for bringing good fortune and prosperity to the clan and home.   Inafa’maolek or the maintaining of harmonious relationships with relatives and neighboring clans, teaches that good fortune is built through cooperation.  This belief extends to the world of spirits as well. Ancient Chamorro people believed that their lives would be best lived through cooperation and respectful relationships with their deceased ancestors.

Our Knowledge

The painting Our Knowledge focuses on the navigational skills of the ancient Chamorro people. Ancient Chamorros, like other Micronesian islanders used an impressive array of skills to navigate their magnificent vessels. Most important was the use of the rising and setting stars to plot their course, but also vital were the abilities to discern differences in wave patterns, sea life, the color of the ocean and cloud formations.  In the center of this painting, the proas are represented. Around that are samples of the leaves from the trees that were typically used to build the proa. And then you see the various wave patterns, the skies that would give clues to weather patterns and then the stars and aspects of the moon used for navigation

Spanish Landing

This painting depicts the Spanish Galleon that arrived in the Talofofo bay and was greeted by Chamorros in their “Flying Proas”.  In July of 1525, Emperor Charles V sent out a fleet of seven ships from Spain under Juan García Jofre de Loaysa bound for the Moluccas with two charts of Magellan’s route.  Only one of the seven ships, the Santa María de la Victoria, reached Guam on September 4th, 1526, after a terrible journey during which forty men on the ship died. The Victoria approached the eastern, windward side of the island. It took the Spaniards two days to anchor in the rough surf and exceedingly deep water off of one of Guam’s small windward inlets, now known as Pago, Ylig, and Talo’fo’fo.  While attempting to anchor, the Spaniards noticed a fleet of “strange, triangular-sailed canoes speeding out to meet them, manned by tall, brown, and handsome people, naked and smiling with flowing black hair.  These “aboriginals” are reported to have swarmed the galleon taking whatever they could carry off.  However it is also noted that the natives were very willing to provide desperately needed fresh supplies, which ultimately saved the lives of those sailors suffering from scurvy.  The Victoria departed Guam on the 10th of September for the Spice Islands, the crew of which included eleven kidnapped Chamorro men to work the water pumps on the leaky ship

Japanese Landing

In the early hours of December 10, 1941, the Japanese landed about 400 troops of the 5th Defense Force from Saipan at Dungca’s Beach, north of Hagåtña.  They attacked and quickly defeated the Insular Force Guard in Hagåtña.  They then advanced on Piti, moving toward Sumay and the Marine Barracks. The principal engagement took place Plaza de España.  In the meantime approximately 5,500 Japanese soldiers under the command of Major-General Tomitarō Horii made separate landings at Tomhom Bay in the north, on the southwest coast near Malleso, and on the eastern shore of the island at Talo’fo’fo Bay. After token post invasion resistance, the Marines on Governor McMillin's orders surrendered within hours of the landing. A few skirmishes took place all over the island before news of the surrender spread and the rest of the island forces laid down their arms.

Our Village

This large grouping represents a precontact village and the activities that typically occurred within a Chamorro community.  As you can see, each painting is an artwork that can stand on its own, but for the exhibit were painted as parts of one, representing the interconnectivity of Chamorro communities.  Each of the 16 paintings are presented individually in the following slides.


This is The Suruhana or herbalist, a person much respected in the community as a healer. Here we see the Suruhana performing her venerations to the ancestors and an array of plants that she might use for her medicines.

Story Telling

As with all cultures, story telling was an important activity in village life, not only for entertainment but as a way to express expected behaviors.  The legends referenced in this painting are The Tale of Two Lovers, How the Hilitai and Ko’ko got their markings, The Fragrant Lady, and The Boy Who Leaped to Rota. The lower portion of the painting makes reference to the legendary battle of strength between Chiefs Gadao and Malaguana, Sirena, and the ferocious fish responsible for why Guam is narrow in the middle.

Dance of Tåga-Our Village II

Dancing was an important part of ceremonies and village entertainment. I named this the dance of Taga to make reference to the important role Chief Taga played in the Latte.  He was exiled to Rota where he is credited for the very large Latte there- some as tall as 25 feet. He is also credited for the House of Taga on tinian.

Makahna - Our Village II

A Makahna is a person who has the ability to communicate with the ancestors, and their skills are sought for various reasons, such as unexplained health issues or behaviors. The Makahna would find out what the person did to anger the ancestors and provide instructions on how he or she can make peace or restitution.

Farming - Our Village II

Farming was an important aspect of sustainability in village life.  Here we see to farmers receiving knowledge represented by a magical spade, seeds and water from Nature.  Below the earth are latte shaped fairies helping to plant and nurture the seeds.  This piece shows the important connection between the ancient CHamoru and nature.

Family - Our Village II

The family unit is also another very important aspect of CHamoru culture, and one that remains central to relationships today. In this painting I emphasize the importance of family with reference to Puntan and Fo’ona- the legendary brother and sister responsible for creating the people and the island of Guam, hovering above the family in the rainbow.

War Games - Our Village II

Young boys were taught by their uncles all the skills they needed to feed and protect their family and their village.  War Games represents the training in stick fighting and the wielding of sling stones that all CHamoru men were expected to know. Above the two warriors are ancestors that might be present to provide guidance and strength.

Fishing the River - Our Village II

Living along the river not only provided water and excellent soil for sustenance, but also fish and other edible sea creatures. This painting also shows an important connection between the native people and nature.

Weaving - Our Village II

Weaving was a skill that both men and women engaged in. These skills were used for many items from the small baskets in which food was cooked in, to mats, and the thatched roofs for dwellings.

Marriage - Our Village II

Ancient Chamorro family structure is matrilineal, meaning that the eldest woman in a clan held all the power and wealth.  When a young man found a woman he was interested in marrying, he requested that his uncle and mother broker the courtship.  The young woman’s family was provided with wealth from the young man’s family.  Once married, the wife would move to the husband’s village, but the wealth she obtained stayed with her and her family.  If the husband was considered unfaithful or did not keep his wife happy in accordance with the training he had received in the Guma Uritao, the wife could leave him, return to her family, taking all her wealth with her.

Chahan - Our Village II

Chahan is the word for pit cooking and was done for special feasts.  Food items such as fish and bats and taro were prepared and wrapped in banana leaves.  A pit was dug and filled with wood and stones and lit on fire.  When the fire was hot enough, the prepared food on buried among the hot stones, dirt and leaves.  The stones and firewood were managed with partially split trunks of small trees.

Canoe Building - Our Village II

Canoe building was a community activity and were carved with fire and adzes.  Canoes were most often made from the wood from the Dokdok tree, which is a type of breadfruit tree. The wood from the Daok tree was also used. Each of these trees are represented in this painting by their leaves.  Canoes were usually between 3 to 5 feet deep.  Planks were lashed together with coconut rope and putty was made from either boiled down breadfruit sap or a mixture of coconut oil and quicklime.

Building a Guma - Our Village II

Building a Guma or a Latte House was also a village activity.  The largest of these structures would be the Guma Uritao which was where young men received their training from their uncles on everything they needed to know, from keeping their wives happy, to providing for family, to defending the village.  A Guma was a steep rectangular house with a steep pitched roof, supported by stone pillars known as Latte.  The size to the dwelling was determined by the importance of the purpose, such as a Guma Uritao, or the importance of the resident, such as a Chief versus a regular member of the village. It is theorized that these raised structures were built to improve ventilation, protect the house from mud during heavy rains, and provide some protection against attack.

Building Latte - Our Village II

The top part of the Latte is called the Tasa, and the pillar or base is called the Haligi.  Latte were quarried out of limestone by fire and then by a complicated process of chipping and lifting the parts out of the pit.  It is thought that the larger pieces were then moved by using leverage and a bipod.  Some of the smaller pieces could be lifted by a single person or maybe a team of persons working together.   It is theorized that the rounded shape of the Tasa allowed for rocking during an earthquake and the shape made it difficult for animals to crawl up and enter the dwelling.

Hunting & Gathering - Our Village II

And finally, we come to Hunting and Gathering- another important part of daily activities to sustain life.  The indigenous mammals on island prior to any contact were birds, bats, and perhaps monitor lizards or Halitai.  Other food animals such as caribao, deer and pigs were brought to the island by other cultures. Taro was a mainstay in CHamoru diets as well as fruits such as bananas to guavas, star apples, star fruits, santol, sineguelas, mountain apples, gooseberries, mulberries, mansanita, mango, avocado, atis, breadfruit, soursop, and jackfruit.  As the native Chamoru people had an intimate and respectful relationship with nature, I chose to show the abundance of Guahan’s offerings as being willing to give themselves up for the good hunt.

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