Southern chief

Maga’låhi Tolahi (also spelled Tetlaje or Torahi) was a chief from Tachuc (immediately south of Malesso), who fearlessly led the southern villages in resistance to Spanish rule. Tolahi believed that Chamorros/CHamorus were entitled to live freely as they had for millennia before the Spanish arrived.

Tolahi, who is possibly the forefather of the present day Terlaje family, fought the Spanish to his death. He is most known for a battle he waged in June of 1675.

Coordinated resistance

Anticipating that the Spanish would soon arrive in the southern villages, Tolahi began plotting a response. On several occasions he urged people from the south to resist the Spanish, and together they devised a plan to falsely welcome them in peace and then attack. When the Spanish arrived in Tolahi’s village in June 1675, he reacted according to plan and greeted them kindly. A Spanish sergeant major was forewarned of Tolahi’s intentions, but pretended to receive their welcome and responded with good manners until he could sneak away. He left for the night to the neighboring village of Hahayadian (also spelled Hahayan), not realizing that the people of that village were also involved in Tolahi’s plan.

After midnight, the sergeant major ran to the jungle to hide from the CHamorus who were waiting at the beach, ready to fight off the Spanish. The sergeant major and his troops made it appear that they were procrastinating until he had the CHamorus in a more open field. They finally charged toward the CHamorus, with the sergeant major wounding Tolahi with his sword.

The sergeant major’s horse got stuck in a swamp and Tolahi and his army fled. The Spanish returned the beach and waited for Tolahi. Because Tolahi was wounded, it was easy for the sergeant major to capture him. Tolahi was publicly shot by musket fire as an example to the rest of the island not to resist the Spanish. After his death, the Spanish set fire to Tolahi’s house to further illustrate the punishment given to those who resisted them and the Catholic Church.

As a result of Tolahi’s death, many villages ceased to fight Spanish soldiers and missionaries. The Spanish wrote with pride about how they had used fear to convert the CHamorus to Christianity. Of Tolahi’s death, they wrote that the whole island was so afraid that villages welcomed Spanish churches with no contest. On 6 June 1675, Alonso Lopez wrote:

Every village wants a church now that they have seen the punishment given to [Tolahi].

By Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, MFA

For futher reading

Benavente, Ed L.G. I Manmañaina-ta: I Manmaga’låhi yan I Manmå’gas; Geran Chamoru yan Españot (1668-1695). Self-published, 2007.

Lévesque, Rodrigue. History of Micronesia: A Collection of Source Documents. Vol. 6, Revolts in the Marianas, 1673-1678. Québec: Lévesque Publications, 1995.