Guam University Students Practice Chamorro Art Of Latte Stone Carving

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Professor: First time in 200+ years traditional methods undertaken

By University of Guam, Special to PDN

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 22, 2015) – Sitting above the village of Tumon overlooking the Philippine Sea, students from the University of Guam gather every Saturday to continue something that started thousands of years ago.

Cliffside near one of the small, one-room houses that serves as a museum and classroom within the Sagan Kotturan Chamoru Cultural Center, more than a handful of students, their professor, Kelly Marsh-Taitano, and cultural practitioner Joe Viloria carefully and thoughtfully practice the ancient Chamorro art of carving latte stones.

"It’s really groundbreaking because it’s the first formal time in more than 200 years perhaps that anybody has quarried and carved latte in a traditional sense," Marsh-Taitano said.

The Acho Latte Carving and Quarrying course combines the study of latte usage, the archaeological documentation of survived latte, and the practice of recreating the iconic symbol of the Mariana Islands.

"Every time we represent Guam, every time we represent Chamorros, it’s the latte stone," said Tamara Manglona, a senior majoring in psychology and minoring in biology. Manglona was drawn to the class because it wasn’t the typical weaving or Chamorro language course. She hoped the class "would bring me more in-depth knowledge of the symbol of the latte stone."

Within the course of the class, students take field trips to latte sites like the Talofofo Golf Course or the Senator Angel Leon Guerrero Santos Latte Memorial Park to document the size, shape and distance between existing latte formations.

"You can’t really carve something without knowing the principal shapes and the different types there are," Marsh-Taitano said. "Once you start studying them, you see that great variety."

Then the students gather rocks suitable for carving — most likely limestone, Marsh-Taitano said — and begin using modern-day chisels and tools to get a feel for the practice. Once they’ve learned the basics, they graduate to more traditional carving tools crafted by Viloria and made from basalt and other natural materials.

It’s important to revive the practice of carving latte, Manglona said, because perpetuating traditions makes it easier for future generations to keep the culture alive.

"I think of it as footsteps," Manglona said. "When we’re walking, we don’t always look back. The ones behind us are future generations, and if we leave things for them to carry on, when they get to where we are now, they’ll be able to easily pick it up. And then, they can leave their mark for the next generation."

Marsh-Taitano said the University of Guam, being in such a dynamic time in University history, has been so supportive of not only the class but the entire Chamorro Studies program and without that support, the class wouldn’t be as successful as it is.

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