Ghosts of Guam

Although superstition and beliefs are a part of all cultures, the Chamorro’s of Guam ancient beliefs are deeply and gravely rooted in superstition. Guam is a spiritual place where Chamorros believe in a vigorous spiritual presence melded with Catholic dogma taught by the earliest Spanish missionaries. I came across a ghostly excerpt that highlights Guam’s spiritual belief that I thought would be appropriate on this Halloween Day.

human-remains-in-lagoon

An intricate part of the ancient Chamorro society was the role of the “kakana.” Connected to the spiritual world and using ancient rites, the kakana was far different than the herbal healer who we know as the “suruhana” (healer or herbalist).

Following are excerpts from “A History and Ethnography of the Marianas” by George Fritz, District Captain in Saipan (published in 1904) as translated from German by Elfireide Craddock:

Religion, Mythology, Ghosts: The present-day Chamorro believe firmly in the existence of the “anite.” Exactly what kind of creature they imagine it to be is unclear to themselves. Their dead appear during both day and night and they are always very much afraid of them. They identify a skull as “anaite” and never dare to touch it. But this ancient concept of ghosts contradicts their Christian beliefs. They, therefore, refer to pagan, ghostly forest-men, often of incredible size with eyes as big as coconuts as anite. These are called dankolo (dankolo ulo — large head) and on Rota they still live in the ancient dwelling (latte) and caves and use the mortars and signal horns. Woe to the “kilisiano” who disturbs them; he has to die. No Chamorro goes into the forest at nighttime. In the shadow of the trees, in the electrical discharge of the savanna grass (which during the sultry nights and storms are frequent), in the moonlight over the forest clearing, they see ghosts. If they have to stay overnight in a lonely rancho or in a cave, they place a cross before the entrance or they scratch one into the rock wall. In this manner, the anite loses power over them.

“These bad ghosts, even when unprovoked, love to make fools of humans. This is what happened to two sisters, one of whom was married and pregnant and the other single. One evening they walked through the forest. The pregnant one had to give birth to the child. The other satisfied her bodily functions near an ancient house and found the product, to her surprise, in her breadbasket.

“Despite their usually unfriendly feeling toward the Christians, the anite are not unapproachable. They cultivate friendship and relations with certain families whose members they counsel during hunting and fill the fishnets for them. Mostly women are the friends of the anite and are called kakana. Through the intercession of such persons, much can be obtained for other people from the forest spirits. (For example) two children were lost in the woods. The parents searched for them in vain and finally turned to the kakana for assistance. The kakana named the place where the children were but warned the parents not to stop along the way. They did, in spite of the warning, and the children were found dead.

“In Garapan lives a woman who communicates with anite. Her father was also acquainted with one. The woman’s husband has observed how she walked into the forest at night and talked with ghosts. She is not afraid but he does not like to see her do this.

“The anite are no longer thought of as personified natural powers such as trees or … nymphs but rather as goblins whose vocation is to annoy humankind. They are not the spirits of the deceased, as was the belief of the ancient Chamorros, but heathen devils who still inhabit the ruined houses of the former enemies of the Christians. This concept clearly shows the influence of the priests, who warned their students against communicating with pagan tribe members. They blamed each disaster on those pagan devils. Individual Chamorros undoubtedly escaped death for the Spanish resettlement efforts and lived hidden in the forests of all islands, perhaps until not too long ago. On this basis built up the belief in the ghost of ancestors. This was supported by the miracles and devil exorcisms performed by the Christian priests.”

While Fritz’s views and stories may be expressive to a fault, they nevertheless document a part of Guam’s society that is rarely spoken about openly.

Happy Halloween!

 

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Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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