Folktale: The Young Maidens That Saved Guam
Did you ever notice the odd shape of Guåhan, the southernmost island of the Mariana Islands in Micronesia? It looks as though large bites were taken from either side. The island is fairly wide at both ends and narrow in the middle. The CHamoru people have a legend about how Guåhan got its unusual shape.
Åntes na tiempo (a long time ago), the ancestors of the modern day CHamorus came to the Marianas, a mighty race of people. They were called taotaomo’na which means “the people of before.” It is said that the taotaomo’na were giants, very clever and wise, and that they possessed magical powers.
During that time a group of fishermen who fished in Hagåtña Bay noticed that the mouth of the bay was quickly growing larger and larger. They could not understand what was causing it to grow. Similarly, a group of fishermen from Pago noticed that Pago Bay was also growing larger and larger. It seemed that the center of the island was being eaten away on both sides.
The people could no longer ignore what was happening. The land between Hagåtña and Pago was becoming narrower each day. They realized that if this trend continued much longer the island would soon become two separate islands.
A meeting was called to bring together all the wise taotaomo’na. After comparing their observations everyone agreed that something had to be done – and quickly! They realized there must be an answer about what was causing the narrowing center of Guåhan, but unfortunately, no one knew what it was. The group disbanded without knowing quite what to do.
A few days later a Pago fisherman was out early in the morning doing his day’s work when he spotted a giant fish! The fisherman, curious to find out more about the large creature, tried to approach it. As he neared, he saw that it was eating big chunks of land! But when he came even closer the giant fish saw him and quickly swam away.
The fisherman ran to tell everyone about the giant fish that he had seen chewing away at the land in Pago Bay. When they heard his account, the people were outraged and vowed to fend off the giant fish.
Early the next morning all the strong men of Guahan gathered with their weapons and started out on their mission. They were going to stop the giant fish from chewing through the island!
Hagåtña and Pago Bays were filled with canoes of fishermen and others who wanted to help. The men paddled into the bay looking for the terrible fish. Some searched along the coral reef while others looked in the deep ocean outside the reef. The men searched for hours, but no giant fish was seen. As nightfall came everyone returned home filled with disappointment.
The search for the giant island-eating fish continued for many days. Enthusiasm to find it lasted a long time. But no matter how hard the men searched, the fish eluded them.
The news of the failure to find and destroy the giant fish spread from village to village. Some of the young maidens heard the news and were fascinated by the efforts to catch the fish.
The young women talked about the giant fish whenever they gathered to wash their hair and rinse it with fresh water scented with lemons. Their favorite spot to gather for this task was at the Hagåtña Springs. When they finished, the pool would be covered with lemon peels.
One day a young maiden in Pago noticed these same peels floating in Pago Bay. She was puzzled by their appearance. After some thought, she realized that the giant fish must have eaten a hole all the way under the island from Pago Bay to Hagåtña Springs! She told the other maidens, that must be where the giant fish was hiding.
The next day the maidens gathered at the Hagåtña Springs. They were amused the brave, strong men were unable to capture the giant fish. The maidens then decided they would catch the fish themselves. Cutting off their dark tresses, they wove a net with their long black hair. Because their hair had magical powers, they knew their net would have magical powers, too.
While they wove they began to sing. They sang for hours, and as they continued to sing, the net grew larger and larger. Even the giant fish could hear their singing from underwater. Enchanted by the sound of their beautiful voices, the fish swam out from its hiding place to listen to the singing maidens. As the fish approached the mouth of the spring, the maidens drew closer to the fish, still singing and carrying their net of hair. Suddenly they spread their magic net over the spring and dived into the pool, surrounding the fish. The giant fish was trapped and could not escape! In triumph, the maidens then summoned some of the men to help dispose of the giant fish. With their wisdom, magic and beautiful singing, the young maidens had saved Guåhan!
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from “Legends of Guam”, a booklet produced by class members of an education class at College of Guam in 1962.