The Ladrones

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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