Fena, sometimes spelled Fenna, (and in some older European accounts as Feña or Fiña) is an area located in the interior valleys of south central Guam, next to the villages of Sånta Rita-Sumai and Hågat to the west, and Talo’fo’fo to the east. It is part of what is referred to today as the Ordnance Annex, US Naval Activities, Guam, or simply, Naval Magazine.
The name Fena refers to the river valley, the inland reservoir (man made lake), as well as to the ancient village of Fena. The ancient village site, uninhabited since the early Spanish Era, was destroyed in the 1950s during the post World War II construction of the Fena dam and reservoir which, today, provides water to much of the southern part of the island.
The history of habitation of Fena valley pre-dates Spanish colonization of the Marianas, but the exact length of time is unclear. Early archeological studies of the area prior to the flooding of the valley to create the reservoir include work conducted by Bernice P. Bishop Museum employee Hans Hornbostel in the 1920s and Navy archeologist Douglas Osborne in the mid-1940s. Using Hornbostel’s findings, American anthropologist Laura Thompson wrote about Fena in a 1930s report for the Bishop Museum. Osborne and Thompson both mentioned the presence of latte sites in Fena, with some of the largest and most impressive latte stones found in Guam. It is likely people settled or had used the area since the late Pre-Latte Era (maybe, 800-900AD).
The Fena valley was not only the site of several ancient Chamorro villages, but was one of the places the Spanish relocated many Chamorros during the early years of the Spanish reducción in the late 17th century. (The reducción was a Spanish administrative policy led by Jose de Quiroga y Losada of displacement and relocation of native populations in order to place them under firm colonial control.) However, by the next century, as the island became depopulated and the partido or district system was implemented, most of the residents shifted to the surrounding villages in the districts of Pago and Hågat. During this Spanish Era, the Fena area then was used largely as lancho or ranch lands for Chamorro families to grow food. The use of Fena as ranch lands continued well into the early 20th century, during the first US Naval Era of Guam.
Toward the end of the Japanese Occupation of the island during World War II, Fena became the site of one of the most horrific massacres in Guam history where more than 30 young men and women were tortured and killed in nearby caves. The Fena Massacre is now one of the most solemnly commemorated events of the different activities of the Liberation Day holiday, but little is known about the history of the ancient village or the area prior to the US Navy’s takeover of the land after World War II. Since the construction of the Naval Ordnance, it has been closed off to the general public.
Area and ecology
The Fena Valley and reservoir are located entirely within the boundaries of the US Naval Magazine, in the southern municipalities of Sånta Rita-Sumai, Hågat and Talo’fo’fo. About 81 hectares in area, the site is about 33 meters above sea level. The reservoir, built in 1951, is the largest open body of freshwater on Guam and was constructed as a source of drinking water. The reservoir is a man made lake, about three kilometers long and 600 meters wide, and was formed by damming up the Mahlac river. The Maulep, Almagosa, Sadog Gaso and Imong Rivers also drain into the reservoir. The reservoir holds about 9.7 million cubic meters (or about 2.3 billion gallons) of water, and can reach depths of about 20 meters (60 feet) during rainy season. The sloped sides of the reservoir are surrounded by steep vegetated ravine forests, savannah grasslands and limestone outcroppings.
The wetlands are home to a variety of plants and animals. In fact, Fena has the largest population of common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus guami), on island, and once provided an essential habitat for the Marianas Fruit bat (fanihi or Pteropus mariannus) though there are none there presently. There are also feral water buffalo (carabao, Wubalus bubalis) that have trampled and overgrazed some of the land and caused some erosion. Pigs, deer, brown tree snakes and other creatures inhabit some of the more forested regions of the valley. Because of restricted access and the danger safety zone for the Ordnance, there is very little non-military use of the area. Aquatic organisms include eels, tilapia catfish, gobies, flagtails and shrimp.
Although the occupation of the Fena area by the US military has helped preserve much of the natural habitat, the construction of the dam and reservoir and other military facilities was done at the cost of many cultural and historic resources, namely, latte sites and other features dating to ancient times.
The Fena Reservoir was built around the Fena River, a relatively small waterway. Construction of the reservoir began in the late 1940s and was completed in 1951. The project included the building of the reservoir dam, spillway and treatment plant, and cost about $11 million. The dam is 85 feet in height and 1,050 feet in length. Built by the US Navy, the Fena Reservoir provides a dependable water supply for the US Navy and the local population.
The Fena valley was practically inaccessible prior to 1937 and the construction of the reservoir. In 1936, an ambitious road project was initiated by Governor Benjamin V. McCandish at the insistence of the parish priest of Mt. Carmel Church in Hågat. The idea was that the rich soil would provide agricultural opportunities for local farmers. The road was called the Hågat-Fena Road and it connected with Senator Gibson Highway in Talo’fo’fo (named in honor of Republican senator Ernest Willard Gibson of Vermont who had advanced many causes for Guam within the US Congress). Gibson Highway ran from Hagåtña to Humåtak. The Hågat-Fena road was later named Harmon Road in honor of Chief Gunner Lloyd McKinley Harmon, who oversaw its construction.
According to historian Benigno Palomo, the Hågat-Fena Road was a major undertaking because of the difficult terrain and limited resources. Before World War II about two and a half miles of road were completed, measuring about 16 feet wide, with four reinforced concrete bridges. The first half of the road was practically built by hand, using wheelbarrows to move dirt, and mattocks, picks and shovels as the main tools.
The road began about a mile east of Hågat and opened up the Fena valley to allow farming on its rich soil, yielding produce that could be transported and sold in Hagåtña, Sumai, Hågat, Asan and Piti. In addition to farm products, the valley’s abundance of fruit bats, birds, shrimp and deer made it commercially desirable. However, the US Navy’s need for a water source and munitions storage ended the agricultural use of Fena.
Early archeological assessments
By the time Douglas Osborne visited the Fena ancient village site in 1947, it was already largely destroyed. He reported:
“The latte have been pushed away from the river and the area leveled for use as a skeet and .22 range. No care was taken with this group. There is now a pump house located nearby. The broken remnants of the peculiarly shaped uprights and caps may be located in a rank growth of grass and weeds towards the cliff from the skeet range. Another set of latte, undisturbed, have been reported about one quarter of a mile down the river (Talo’fo’fo or Maagas). These were not visited. Three sherds were found nearby. All showed a low quantity of the sandy temper. The paste, however, does not appear to contain bits of ocherous clay or hematite. The width varied from .46 to .28”.”
There are other ancient village sites within the vicinity of the Fena valley. Near Fena village was Mepo (or Meppo) from which the latte stones at Hagåtña’s Angel Santos Memorial Park are derived. Laura Thomspon’s 1930s report described Mepo as the only site on the island that had a latte stone structure that was upright with its capstone placed on top. When Osborne did his report some 10 years later, he mentioned that Thompson was incorrect in this regard. The Mepo latte stones, however, had been moved from their original placement to make way for the construction of Naval Ammunition Depot Magazine 173. Most of the latte were not broken and instead were “carefully piled” near the entrance of the magazine before they were eventually transported in 1955 to their current location in Hagåtña. Now, of all the latte stones found throughout Guam’s landscape, the latte located at Angel Santos Latte Memorial Park in Hagåtña, are the most familiar, the most photographed, and the most easily accessible to residents and visitors to Guam.
In this set at the Hagåtña park, there are two parallel rows of four stones each, for a total of eight latte, from what was originally a 12-stone set. Four stones were destroyed during the postwar construction. They are tall, over seven feet in height. The bases (haligi) are more square in cross-section with caps (taza) comparatively large in proportion to the bases. The diameter of each cap where it joins the top of the base is about half the diameter at the cap’s widest points. The latte of Mepo are composed of hard island rock, probably sandstone. Thompson believed the rock was quarried at least a mile from where the uprights were situated.
Thompson also described latte found in an area of Fena about 50 feet away from the Talo’fo’fo river. Here, a series of ten stones placed in typical formation run parallel to the river. The uprights and caps were carefully cut out of limestone. The bases had a truncate, pyramid form, while the caps were similar in shape but smaller in size and inverted to fit the top of the base. This distinctive shape also was reported in the district of Chandija in south central Guam, just a little north of the current Fena reservoir.
Osborne reported on a site southeast of Fena known as Acapulco. He described several groups of latte of varying height and shape. One group had eight stones of “shaley limestone” with symmetrical capstones and traces of smooth surfacing. Another group had latte that resembled those of Mepo in terms of shape, but had smaller bases and large capstones. Because the set was oriented on a slope, the individual stones had different heights, as if to create a level platform upon which a structure could be built. A third set of 10 latte had a more slender shape, and a fourth set of 12 latte had Mepo-shaped stones about three feet high. This set was unusual in that the basalt capstones had a depression in its bottom surface that allowed it to fit more closely upon its support. Osborne suggested this construction may have helped the stones maintain their balance during earthquakes. The other sets in the area were in various states of disrepair. Although there were samples of sherds and artifacts, including several large basalt mortars, there was little if no midden.
Osborne visited another site called San Isidro that had two latte sets. One group had latte stones that were different from any others he had observed in the Fena district because they were entirely composed of basalt––both the haligi and the taza. Coral rock, although rare, was available in the area. The second group was made of limestone.
In 1952, US National Park Service regional archeologist Erik Reed was able to visit several of the sites previously documented by Osborne. These sites, along the extensive drainage of the Talo’fo’fo River into the Fena valley, included Acapulco, Fena, Mepo, Chandija, Bona, and San Isidro. The Acapulco site was located on a tributary stream well below the Fena dam, and although Reed did not visit it, he believed it had survived the construction activities of the Navy–unlike Fena, which had been destroyed and entirely submerged by the Fena Reservoir. The Mepo, Chandija, as well as Bona, whose stones were set up near the Ammunition depot entrance, were also destroyed. Reed reported that other sites may have existed down the basin and downstream from Fena toward Talo’fo’fo, along the Ugum River, a major tributary in the south, but were either moved or destroyed.
Recent archeological work
In the mid-1990s, the Navy hired a Hawaii-based archeological group to survey the Naval Magazine and help ensure the preservation of the area’s cultural resources. The team believed there must have been about 95 sites with nearly 205 component features that dated as far back as 1,000 years.
In 2002, an extensive archeological survey was conducted of the Ordnance Annex/Naval Magazine by a team led by co-project directors Dr. Rosalind Hunter-Anderson and Darlene Moore of the Micronesian Archaeological Research Services (MARS). More than 50 archeologically significant sites were recorded, indicating human occupation of the area since at least the Latte period (around 900 AD to mid-1700s) until World War II. The team was able to document various site types, including artifact scatters (such as pottery or stone), isolated lusong (or stone mortars), intact and disturbed latte sets, and rock shelters. Historic artifacts included features and objects from World War II and pre-war ranches.
The MARS archeology team located latte sites on the east side of Fena Lake that had remained intact. In addition to latte sites, the team located nearby rock shelters. Evidence collected at the rock shelters seemed to indicate that the area was occupied or at least utilized maybe as far back as 2,000 years ago. The presence of marine shells in and around the rock shelters probably meant the occupants had access to coastal resources. As Osborne had observed in his initial surveys, archeological deposits were shallow, indicating that Fena may have been occupied only recently or perhaps in infrequent, short term periods during the Pre-Latte era.
The archeology team compared the Ordnance Annex with other interior sites such as Manenggon Hills. They believed it likely the Manenggon area (and presumably other inland sites) were used only infrequently during Pre-Latte times to forage for food or materials. During the Latte era, however, people began to use these areas more intensely, planting food crops and establishing more permanent settlements, but maintaining their reliance on coastal resources. By the time of contact and conquest by the Spanish in the 1700s, a decline in activity is observed. This pattern of increased use in the Latte era to abandonment by the 18th century possibly reflect other important demographic and organizational changes occurring in Chamorro society during this period.
A similar picture can be seen in the Ordnance Annex in Fena. During prehistoric times, the extensive landscape consisted of different kinds of plants growing on open savannah grasslands, limestone outcrops, and ravine forests in narrow valleys. People may have used the area to procure certain kinds of foods and resources, occupying shelters seasonally or temporarily while primarily living in coastal settlements. Then over time, the ancient Chamorros may have altered the landscape by planting trees and other crops for their use, such as coconut palm, betel nut, ifit, da’ok, bamboo and seasonal plants like taro, yams and bananas. These plants would have provided food sources as well as supplied materials for building huts and shelters.
Expanding populations may have led to the increasing use of interior sites (i.e., away from the coast) and the establishment of more permanent settlements, complete with latte structures. With the arrival of the Spanish, people living in interior villages may have begun to move back out to the coast to take advantage of opportunities for trade with passing ships. The Spanish conquest and reducción, though, may have led to the abandonment of the Fena valley by the majority of the population.
For much of the Spanish period, the Fena area may have been only lightly occupied. The 1710 census does mention the village of Fena as being part of Hågat parish. By 1726, however, Fena was no longer listed among the outlying hamlets of Hågat. The land was considered part of Spanish Crown Lands. Roads through the area continued to exist, linking the eastern and western parts of southern Guam. Cattle likely would have been allowed to graze in this area. Only a few families may have actually located their ranches there and worked the land. By the time of French explorer Louis Freycinet’s visit to Guam in 1818, 21 hectares in Fena were used to grow rice.
No major changes were seen in the area until 1936, when the Hågat-Fena road project began. The only other roads in the area had been foot trails to the coast used by a few permanent settlers during the dry season. The route of the Hågat-Fena road followed the old, largely unused and overgrown trails. During the construction project, many slingstones and stone tools were recovered. In addition, latte stones were noted on “top of the rise to the south of the Maemong River.” Today, the Harmon Road branches east to Morrow Lake and continues southeast toward Fena Reservoir, where it ends as Lower Harmon Road. In addition to the Hågat-Fena project, there were other structures built in the area, including the Maanot Reservoir and a culvert system and pipeline as part of the Hågat/Sumai water system for the Marine Barracks and nearby Sumai village. The Maanot reservoir has a 1.1 million gallon capacity and is still in use today.
During the Japanese occupation of World War II, the Fena valley became a refuge for some Chamorro families from the southern coastal villages, who used the caves and rock shelters to hide, forage for food and to stow their valuables. Just before the arrival of American forces in July 1944, nearly 200 people from Hågat and Sumai were forced into labor for the Japanese, who set up sleeping areas in the open grasslands and rock shelters of Fena. The atrocities by Japanese soldiers included rapes, beatings and massacres of civilian Chamorros which intensified prior to the American bombardment of Guam. Shortly after the takeover of Guam by the US military, the area that would become the Ordnance Annex was acquired by the military from private land holders.
The military used the land for an ammunition depot, designating the area the Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) and from then on, free access by civilians was denied. After the war, people who had had ranches in Fena were allowed to return to their land, but they had to present a pass to enter. However, by 1950, the Federal Government no longer allowed access to the area.
Construction of the dam at Fena reservoir began in 1949. Although few public records exist of the construction, it was noted by University of Guam engineers that because of the size of the Fena basin it would have to have been dredged several times to remove washed-in sediments. By April 1951, the dam was complete; the reservoir was filled by June. Unfortunately, the filling of the reservoir destroyed several prehistoric sites as well as flooded the land once used for agriculture. It also flooded the lower reaches of the east-flowing Maulap and Almagosa rivers where they once joined the Imong River.
The MARS archeology team found single and multiple latte features at the Ordnance site, all largely made of limestone, basalt, conglomerate sandstone and tuffaceous sandstone (a type of compacted volcanic rock). The tuffaceous sandstone, they observed, was used usually to fashion capstones, if used at all. No sets were found made exclusively of tuffaceous sandstone. Why the builders of latte sets used different kinds of stones is not clear, but it is most likely related to the availability and access to raw materials for a given site.
Like Osborne and Thompson before, the archeologists documented variability in the shapes and sizes of both capstones and bases. Two forms were illustrated previously by Thompson–one form with a relatively thick, rectangular cross-section shaft with hemispherical capstone, and the truncate, pyramidal form in which the narrow, rectangular cross-section shaft tapers to a point flat at the top, paired with a similarly shaped capstone whose narrow end rested upon the narrow top of the shaft. The first type Thompson claimed were found at Mepo, and were composed of hard rock (possibly sandstone) from an area about a mile away. It should be noted that for most latte stones found in the Marianas, the bases tend to be taller and longer than their associated capstones. However, at Mepo, the capstones were nearly as tall as or taller than the base. The MARS team did find stones, composed of both limestone and sandstone, that generally conformed to this shape but they were not as large.
The second type of latte Thompson mentioned were made of sandstone and found at Fena and Chandija. The MARS team, however, found two other latte stone types, showing differences in shaft shape and height: “a basalt river boulder with a flattened top, with its only modification apparent on the surface. It was also fairly short, generally less than 70 cm long. Another type had a roughly shaped base that widened at the bottom. The upper portion of the shaft was cylindrical like a post and had a flat top. These were generally made of limestone.”
The archeologists suggested that people began building latte of different kinds of stone around 1450 AD. The variation in shapes, sizes and materials were likely the result of larger social changes occurring in the population before European contact. The impressive size of the latte found in interior sites might suggest a more recent innovation, but there is no hard evidence to support this claim. Perhaps, the archeologists proposed, the larger sets were used to assert claims to particular resource areas.
The abundance and variety of latte stone sets in the Ordnance gave the archeologists an opportunity to speculate about why the ancient inhabitants would have begun building these structures. They proposed that latte stone architecture and stone mortars may have been first adopted when overt competition for the productive habitats of Guam had become unacceptably disruptive. Hunter-Anderson explains, “When people are continually fighting about land, they cannot also be successful in increasing their food production. Seen in this light, the adoption of latte stones and stone mortars solved a problem–they helped to regulate competition by diverting people’s energy away from fighting over land and unto the procurement and construction of the stones and into the maintenance of the associated behaviors and customs.”
Another observation of the latte sets in the Ordnance was that sites with single latte sets were more likely to be built near fresh water sources than sites with multiple sets. This might indicate that single set sites were occupied only seasonally, perhaps only during the dry season, when it would have been difficult to catch and store rainwater. The team also found that among latte sites on east side of Fena lake, single sets predominate. More than 55 stone mortars were recorded, mostly made of basalt.
The sites in Fena also had a number of unusual features, including a boulder about 85 cm long, 55 cm wide and 40 cm thick, with four grooves etched into its surface. The grooves were about 20 cm long, 2 cm wide and 2 cm thick. In addition, basalt stones with worn grooves were recorded at two other sites in the annex. These stone were probably used to make and finish tools.
Also found were two sites in Fena that had a tri-stone feature that was not previously seen on Guam. According to the MARS report, “One site is 70 cm long and 66 m wide and open central area with 25 cm diameter that contains a small basalt rock. The other feature is located about 6 m northwest of the west end of Fena, measuring 1.2 by 1 meter and has an open central area with a diameter of 30 cm that contains a smaller basalt rock.” The archeologists suggested they may be boundary markers or indicate some specialized activity area.
Even slingstones from the area were somewhat heavier and made of a variety of materials, including basalt, and other volcanic rock, limestone and clay than slingstones found in other interior sites, like Manenggon. The slingstones weighed between 17.4g to 133.4 g and varied in length from 38.4 mm to 57 mm. The concentration of stones found in one part of the annex may indicate this was a site of manufacture, or storage area, or a practice area.
Future of Fena?
In March 2012 it was announced that Fena/Naval Magazine was being considered as a possible site for a firing range complex as part of the larger military buildup on Guam that will be taking place over the next few years. Because the area is restricted from the general public it is difficult to know what the exact consequences of constructing a firing range and conducting training activities on the cultural resources of Fena will be, except that it is highly likely these resources will be significantly impacted.
The Fena Lake reservoir was a source of contention between Navy officials and the local government, regarding a 2011 proposal for the return of the reservoir to the people of Guam. The National Defense Authorization Act provided for the sale of the reservoir to GovGuam at “fair market value”–around $300 million–and a stipulation for Navy voting rights on the government’s Consolidated Commission on Utilities (CCU) board. While Navy officials may deem it a fair proposition, some residents feel it an insult to have to pay for what they believe “should already be theirs.”
Whatever decision is to be made about Fena/Naval Magazine, it is clear that Fena remains one of the most resource rich areas of Guam. Archeological research of the area has provided a wealth of information about the prehistory of the Chamorro people. Its significance in the memory and the narrative of World War II experiences on Guam is tremendous. Its importance as a natural preserve for numerous plants and animal species and a water resource for thousands of military personnel and island residents is also undeniable. But for many island residents, Fena is a place that few know about and fewer still will ever have a chance to visit. However, when one does get a chance to see Fena they leave with deep personal feelings of the experience. Governor Eddie Calvo in a 2011 visit declared:
“This place is a part of our history. It’s sacred. Our family members suffered atrocities here. This is about more than just water. It’s about getting back what is rightfully ours and treating us with the respect we deserve.”
Guam scholar and activist Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua, expressed upon a rare invitation to see Fena:
“At Fena, with the constant understanding that I was a “guest” in this place, I could never make the same connection [to my ancestors]. I desperately wanted to. I wanted nothing more than to feel that connection, but the fences that surround bases don’t remain at the borders, but are things which you feel even after you enter the base and ever after you leave it behind.”
For further reading
Carson, Mike T., ed. “Archaeological Studies of the Latte Period.” Micronesica 42, no. 1/2 (2012): 1-79.
Osborne, Douglas. “Archaeology on Guam: A Progress Report.” American Anthropologist 49, no. 3 (1947): 518-524.
Reinman, Fred. An Archaeological Survey and Preliminary Test Excavations on the Island of Guam, Mariana Islands, 1965-1966. Mangilao: Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam, 1977.
Thompson, Laura M. Archaeology of the Mariana Islands. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 100. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1932.
–––. Guam and Its People. With a Village Journal by Jesus C. Barcinas. 3rd ed. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1947.
US Department of the Interior National Park Service. General Report on Archeology and History of Guam. By Erik K. Reed. Sante Fe: NPS, 1952.