Chamorros Rediscover Ancient Culture Through Canoe-building

By Jessica Peterson

There’s no question that seeing history is a lot more fascinating than just reading it. For those interested in Chamorro history, a step on Ypao Beach is like a step back in time. Since 2009, Ypao Beach has been ground zero for the building of ancient Chamorro canoe replicas, as well as a massive Guma Latte, or canoe house. Though the house is still in progress, the finished product will be an impressive 42 feet wide and 80 feet long and feature ten 14-foot tall latte stones.

Ancient latte stones have long fascinated residents of the Northern Mariana Islands. These megaliths served as the foundation stones of ancient structures: homes, outrigger canoe houses, and communal centers. They are also used as grave markers and are still widely believed to have uncanny powers.

As Ron Acfalle explains, the house comes before the canoe. Acfalle is the founder and president of TASA, Traditions Affirming our Seafaring Ancestry, Inc. He is nearly always present at the Ypao Beach site, either working with volunteer students on canoe construction or talking to curious tourists about his labor of love.

TASA is a tax-exempt, non-profit, Chamorro cultural organization that encourages active participation in all matters pertaining to the people of the Sinahi archipelago, the Northern Marianas.

The latte stone itself is symbolic in Chamorro culture, according to TASA:

The latte stone is made of two parts; the tasa (capstone) and haligi (pillar). Tasa the word is defined as “cup.” Figuratively, our tasa will accumulate knowledge. … As our cup of knowledge fills, it also pours to share information with all. … As a living culture, we will be able to adapt to our changing environment but at the same time hold true to those practices that mold the unique character of that of the Chamorro.

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