Halloween and Year-long Spirits
From the writing desk of Christine Mazurk
Tomorrow is Halloween and many spirits will make their annual appearance, but some spirits don't wait for a specific day. Since I'm writing the last pages of my next story, Passion's Spirit, and it is set on Guam, I thought I'd share one of the legends of the Chamorros (the people of Guam).
Ancient spirits on Guam known as the Taotaomona (proper spelling Taotaomo'na) dwell around the island year round. There are several beliefs attached to the Taotaomona.
Taotao (the people) and mo'na (first or before); the people of before, refers to ancestral spirits that inhabit 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 if not respected. Homes were built and crops were planted and harvested through harmonious cooperation between Chamorros and the spirits of their ancestors.
These spirits were treated as members of the family and were referred to through terms of endearment. They were thought to dwell on the land of their descendants or to inhabit ancestral skulls which were kept in baskets in the rafters of their homes. In all things, they were honored and thanked for their role in keeping the family safe, prosperous and strong. Ceremonies were held in the villages to celebrate and show their respect by making offerings of food and artifacts, or to show their honor through mental and physical competitions.
If the harmony within the family was disrupted, the spirits would withdraw their support, so it was important to maintain respect and harmony within the families at all times.
Others believed certain people had special relationships with these spirits and could communicate with them but primarily in the service of healing. These people would ask the Taotaomona to help identify the causes of different illnesses and would use their knowledge of plants to help treat the specific symptoms.
Still others believed some Chamorros had privileged relationships. For these people, the spirit was thought to be a friend or companion who stayed with them at all times, helping them and giving them the appearance of having super-human skills or being extremely strong.
In all aspects, the belief was that these spirits be treated with respect, as great elders, or their wrath would rain down upon the disrespectful.
Over time the connection between Chamorros and the taotaomona changed, mainly due to the Spanish colonization and Christianization. Slowly, these spirits went from the ante of ancestors to the ghosts, devils, and demons that play tricks or caused harm to the people of today.
Many fear the spirits who dwell in the latte sites and banyan trees, believing them to be big and ugly with large fangs and nails, with powers to harm them. Again respect is key, and asking permission to pass through their land will keep the people from harm.
Lastly, in the definition which most closely matches what the Chamorros believe today, the taotaomona are pesky, troublesome, and sometimes evil spirits. This definition is heavily influenced by Spanish Catholicism and does not view taotaomona as the spirits of Chamorro ancestors, except perhaps as pagan, evil spirits of their ancient uncivilized past. In this version, they are not gracious, giving or helpful, but instead notorious for hurting people and playing tricks on the living.
I prefer to believe the taotamona are ancient spirits who protect and help the living, but may also have a sense of humor and like to play tricks on new comers to the island. I think of it as the trick or treat of the past ... Happy Halloween everyone, and if you're out tomorrow after dark, watch carefully for the things that go bump in the night!!
Note: Many thanks to Guampedia: The Encyclopedia of Guam for the knowledge provided to write this piece.