Largest latte house in the Marianas

Found nowhere else in the world, latte first appeared in the Mariana Islands about 800 years ago, during a period known as the Latte Era of CHamoru culture. Each stone is comprised of a vertical pillar (haligi) topped with a hemi-spherical capstone (tasa). Organized in two parallel rows of three to seven stones, the latte stones likely served as foundation posts for wood and thatch houses that were built on top of them. Representing the apex of CHamoru latte architecture, the massive stones of Taga House, located in Tinian, are fifteen feet in overall length.

Born on Guam, moved to Rota then Tinian

According to CHamoru legend, Taga was born to the maga’låhi or chief of Ritidian Village, Guam. In the legend, Taga was a giant. Dissatisfied with his father’s rule, the boy challenged his father to a fight. When Taga lost the fight, he moved to Rota, where he challenged the leading maga’låhi to a series of contests. Winning these contests, he married a local CHamoru woman and had a daughter.

At As Nieves, Rota, he began excavating what would have been the largest latte stones in the Marianas – perhaps he was trying to impress his father. For an unknown reason, however, Taga moved from Rota to Tinian without lifting the stones out of the ground. As he had on Rota, the giant Taga gained power on Tinian and had a son. He then oversaw the construction of his home, the House of Taga, on Sanhalom (Sunharon?) Bay on the southwest coast of the island. The house consisted of 12 latte stones, with a wooden house built on top of the stones.

When the son of Taga turned five years old, Taga gave him a giant ayuyu (coconut crab) as a present. Unfortunately, while the boy was walking the crab, it cut the twine leash and ran under a young coconut tree. The boy ran back to Taga House and asked his father to push over the coconut tree so he could get the crab. Taga refused, explaining that the coconuts were just beginning to bear fruit. The boy became furious. He ran back to the tree and shook it furiously, finally pushing over the tree himself. While the boy was pulling the crab from the hole he had just created, he noticed water. It was fresh water. He gave the well to his half-sister for her to bathe in.

When Taga saw his young son perform this great feat of strength, he recognized that the boy might become bigger and stronger than even himself. He remembered fighting his own father. That night, Taga crept into the boy’s room and smothered him to death.

Taga’s daughter saw this. She became so frightened, she ran away to the deep forest and hid. By the time she was returned to her mother, the girl was so weak that she died. Taga buried the girl in a cavity dug in one of the tasa of Taga House. This grieved the mother so much, she too died. This left Taga, the biggest and strongest of all CHamoru maga’låhi, shamed.

The first historical record of Taga House resulted from the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. This Manila Galleon was bound for Acapulco with a load of precious spices, porcelain, worked gold and silver jewelry and other commodities. Disabled by a typhoon, Concepción foundered at Aguigan Point, Saipan, on 20 September 1638. The stern portion of the ship broke off and drifted away. As it passed Chulu Village on the northwestern shore of Tinian, Taga saw survivors on the wreckage and paddled a canoe through rough water to save them. He brought the men to Taga House, where they recuperated.

First CHamoru Christian

While recovering from his strenuous ordeal, Taga was said to have had a vision of a woman holding a baby. The Spaniards interpreted this to be a vision of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. One of the survivors, Marcos Fernández de Corcuera baptized Taga as Sebastian Hurtado de la Corcuera in honor of his father, the governor-general of the Philippines. Taga, therefore, became the first CHamoru Christian. A small circular stone receptacle near the base of the last standing latte stone marks where the first Spanish cross was erected in the Marianas.

Taga sent the Spaniards to Guam with some of his men, with a message to Kepuha, maga’låhi of Hagåtña, to help them return to the Philippines. The Spaniards arrived safely back in Manila, where they reported the loss of Concepción and their experience with Taga, including his request to send more missionaries to the Marianas.

According to the Spanish records, in 1695 the Spanish conquistador Don Jose Quiroga left Guam to subdue the island of Tinian – the last bastion of the CHamoru resistance. According to legend, Taga took all the CHamorus to the small island of Aguiguan. They piled rocks along the top of the plateau to throw down on the Spaniards. Unfortunately for the Tinian CHamorus, a group of converted upper class Guam chamorri, lead by Antonio Inoc, sided with the Spaniards. Despite having boulders thrown down on them, Inoc’s men scaled the cliffs.

Shortly thereafter, Spanish guns overpowered CHamoru spears and slingstones. All the Tinian and Aguiguan CHamorus were killed or captured except Taga. Some jumped to their death, rather than be subdued. The surviving Tinian and Aguiguan CHamorus were taken to Guam for resettlement – except Taga, who hid in one of Aguiguan’s many caves.

The first recorded illustration of Taga House occurred in 1742 when British Commodore George Anson sought refuge for his ship, the 64-gun frigate Centurion, on Tinian. Having been at sea for two years searching for a galleon to capture, Centurion needed repairs and his men, many near death, needed to recuperate. During the two months Anson spent at Tinian, one of his crewmen, Piercy Bret, drew several sketches of Taga House. All twelve stones remained standing at that time. Anson said the House of Taga:

“consisted of two rows of square, pyramidal pillars, each pillar being about six feet from the next, and the distance between the rows being about twelve feet; the pillars themselves are about five feet square at the base, and about thirteen feet high; and on top of each of them there is a semi-globe, with the flat part upwards…”

The French explorer Louis Claude de Freycinet visited the Marianas in 1819 during his voyage around the world. His draftsman Jacques Arago visited Tinian and did several drawings of Taga House. Freycinet reported that seven stones remained standing.

Governor of the Marianas Luís de Ibáñez y García visited Tinian on 19 August 1872. Interested in the legend of Taga, he “had a ladder brought and climbed on the top of the pillar… and found a cavity full of earth. After it had been cleaned out… Ibáñez y Garcia found a piece of human lower jaw and two small bones, evidently finger phalanges [possibly those of Taga’s daughter?]. That tasa has fallen down and the cavity is now easily seen.

The first photograph of Taga House was taken in 1888 when the French botanist Alfred Antoine Marche visited Tinian. At that time, only seven stones remained standing. Georg Fritz, who became the first German District Officer of the Marinas in 1900 reported five stones standing.

By the time the Japanese archaeologists Ichiro Yawata and Kotondo Hasabe visited Tinian in 1924, only two of Taga’s stones remained standing. There were 17 smaller latte houses east and west of the House of Taga. Because Taga had chosen the best place on the natural harbor for his village, it was destined to become a modern village. All the small lattes were bulldozed by the Japanese as Tinian’s town grew. Only the House of Taga was preserved. During the American capture of the island in 1944, the intense pre-invasion bombardment knocked down one shaft and its cap. The surviving tasa was damaged. By 1950, the House of Taga was once again overgrown by the jungle. Today, it is one of the most visited tourist sites in the Marianas.

According to the legend, as long as one stone stands at Taga House, Taga lives.

By Don Farrell