The Banyan " Taotaomona " Tree
As a young boy growing up in Guam, we would sit at family gatherings as our elders recounted story after story of the taotaomonas ( ancient spirits). Of course, my imagination would go wild every time I would go into the jungle thinking there was one behind every dark corner. I personally think it was a way the adults would keep us from wandering and getting lost in those jungles in Guam. It worked!
Those stories were rich and vivid. They gave me an identification with my Chamorro culture on Guam. It was a wonderful way for the younger generation to connect with the older generation.
My mother wrote an interesting article about the banyan ( Nunu) tree and its significance in the taotaomona legend. I copied it below for you to read.
Of course the question for us is: Is this simply a legend or are the taotaomonas real? Hmmmm….Where are the Ghostbusters when you need them?
What is Taotaomona Tree?
Ask Joyce: The Pacific Edge , October 17, 2008
The Chamorros call it the NuNu tree and it is also known as a Banyan Tree elsewhere in the world.
Many stories of the taotaomonas, first people of Guam, and the NuNu tree have been handed down from generation to generation among Chamorro families.
During the Spanish-Chamorro War between the years of 1672 and 1695, historians wrote that 150,000 taotaomonas died. This included manmakahnas (ancient medicine healers) known today as suruhanos and suruhanas.
The taotao tanos (Chamorros or people of the land) believe ancestral spirits roamed the island of Guam up to the present time. They still believe the jungles offer havens for the spirits at Latte Stone ruins and NuNu trees.
It is said when one enters the jungle or do anything in the jungle, one must ask permission from the taotaomonas.
An example of the request goes like this: “Gue’la yan gue’lo, kao siña malufan yo”? (“Grandmother and grandfather, can I enter”?), or “Gue’la yan gue’lo, kao siña yu’ manule’ tinamoum-mu ya yanggen matto hao gi tano’-hu fanule’ ha sin mamaisen”? (“Grandmother and grandfather, can I pick from your plants and if you come to my land, you may take without permission”?).
This is especially important if you come upon a NuNu tree. The NuNu tree is a sacred dwelling place of the taotaomonas and the duendes (young dwarfs or children).
Elders handed down stories where those who enter without permission or arrogance can come away with red marks or swellings on their bodies, or become ill. When this happens, the treatment is to revisit the site and ask for forgiveness from the taotaomonas (ancient grandparents). The taotao tanos (Chamorros) of today continue to practice this respect for the taotaomonas.
The NuNu trees of Guam are scientically called Ficus Prolixa. This mighty shade tree displays branches with abundance of shoots. These shoots take root and become new trunks.
The tree covers a huge area and when one comes upon a tree, there is usually a clear area under the huge umbrella of the tree. The taotao tanos believe this to be the home of the taotaomonas. Birds and fruit bats eat the figs of this tree.
Don’t eat the figs
The figs are not good to eat. According to findings, birds drop its seeds into the top branches of other trees and the seeds sprout in the treetops. This begins the life of a new NuNu tree. One thing for sure, Guam shares similar beliefs of the NuNu trees with places across Asia.
So do not forget while on Guam and walking through the jungles, the taotaomonas are the guardians of the jungle. Ask permission and everything will be okay.
si Joyce I. Martratt
PLAQUE Honoring Guam’s Ancestors at TOMHUM
Este na mangaige i tataotao i Guelota
yan Guelata siha ni’ muna’i hit ni’
lana’la’ yan espiritu para i
manatatatte na tataogue. Ta katga i
espiriton-niha gi ya hita pa’go yan i
Manmamailai’ na tiempo. Nihi ta onra
guine na lugat i espiriton-niha ginen
i che’cho’ta pa’gu yan para todu i tiempo.
Here lie the remains of Chamorus from
times past, ancestors who have
bequeath life and spirit to those
who have followed them. We carry that
spirit with us now, and into times
yet to come. At this place let us
remember those who came before, honor
their remains, and resolve to honor
their spirit by our action now and
through the challenges of our future.