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The Ladrones


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

The taking of Guam during the war with Spain was one of the comedies
of that disagreement. When its rickety fort was fired upon by one of
our ships, the Spanish governor hastened down to the shore to greet
the American officers, and apologized because he was out of powder
and could not reply to what he supposed was a salute. Off in that
corner of the world he had not heard of any war.

With the cession of this largest of the Ladrone islands we fall heir to
some race problems as baffling as those presented by our Indians. The
natives of this group belong to the Tarapons, and the traditions
of these people say that they came in part from the east and partly
from the west. It has been thought that they have a slight mixture of
Mongolian blood, and this is not unlikely, for Chinese and Japanese
junks have at various times been blown over sea to farther shores than
these. History for this group begins with Magellan, who named it for
the ladrones or thieves, who annexed his belongings when he arrived
on the first voyage that had ever been made around the world. That
they had crafts and arts is proved by their weapons, canoes, cloth,
and armor, and they have left here some remarkable stone columns,
more than twice the height of a man, with hemispheres of rock on their
tops, flat sides uppermost, and six feet wide. In Tinian, Kusaie,
and also in Ponape, in the Carolines, there are ruins, including,
in the latter island, a court three hundred feet long with walls ten
yards high, some of the monoliths being twenty-five feet long and
eight feet thick. On Tongataboo are larger rocks, forty feet high,
which were quarried elsewhere and shipped to that coral island. On
Easter Island are platforms a hundred yards long, ten wide and ten
high, with great statues all cut from stone. None of these remains,
nor the picture-writing found near the statues, throw light on the
history, purpose, or personality of their builders. Every family has
its little circle of shells and stones which is a shrine where the
gods are worshipped, and most of the gods are spirits of the great
and wise who died long ago. Offerings to these took the form of food
and of anointing for their altars, but human sacrifices were no doubt
demanded at times, when the priests had been specially venturesome
in asking favors. When a man died his soul sprang out, went below
the earth, and found felicity in the west. This belief resembles
the Indian faith in the happy hunting-ground, and incidentally it
points the course of empire. The spirit could return once in a while,
and ghostly visitations were sorely dreaded. The institution of the
taboo was and is connected with the native religions of the Pacific
islands. We have adopted the word and use it in its true meaning
of forbidden. If an article were dedicated to a god, or used in his
worship, or had been touched by him, or claimed by a chief or a priest,
no commoner dared lay finger on it, for it was as sacred as the ark of
the covenant. Some canny planters kept boys out of their orchards and
palm groves by offering the fruit to certain gods until it was ripe,
for a sign of taboo kept out all marauders till the crop was ready for
gathering, when the owner changed his mind and claimed it himself. To
break a taboo was not only to incur the wrath of the priests, but of
the gods to whom the gift was offered, and who would surely reward
the blasphemer for his sin by illness, accident, loss, or death.

As soon as the Spaniards had occupied the Ladrones--afterward named the
Marianas, in honor of Maria Anna, queen of Philip IV. of Spain--they
proceeded to slaughter the natives. In seventy years they had slain
with sword, rack, toil, grief, and new diseases about fifty thousand
people, reducing the populace to eighteen hundred. Of this aboriginal
race, the Chamorros, nearly all have perished. In their original
estate these were the most advanced of the Pacific islanders; they
had more arts, more refinement, more kindliness, and more morality
than the others. Under an age of oppression and abuse they naturally
deteriorated, and have cared little to advantage themselves by the
few schools and chapels that the Spaniards established in Guam and
thereabout. It may be that the Chamorros shared with the people
of the Carolines in the suffering caused by the great irruption of
savages from the south under Icho-Kalakal. These warriors, in their
wooden navies, destroyed the great tombs and temples because they
had been raised to other gods than their own, slew the defenders of
the temples, and broke up the old civilization, passing from island
to island, and continuing their waste and murder. It was a raid of
Goths and Vandals, and the effect of it was lasting. In Ponape it is
said that the great structures they overthrew are haunted, and people
thereabout will not eat a certain fresh-water fish of a blue color,
because the king, Chauteleur, flying before Icho-Kalakal, fell into
Chapalap River and was changed by the gods into one of these fish.

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