Mariana Islands have unique kind of megalithic monuments - latte stones. Most likely the most visited site with true latte stones is Latte Stone Park in the centre of Hagåtña, where are located eight of these megaliths.
Latte Stone Park is not the original location of these stones. Initially the stones were located in the southern part of Guam, near the Fena Reservoir. Here was located the ancient Me'pu village where in two rows were preserved 12 such megaliths. Army of United States planned to build a military base here and the stones were relocated to Hagåtña in 1955 - 1956.
Megaliths of Chamorro people
People are living on Guam and other Mariana Islands for some 4000 years. These people most likely came here in several waves, with occasional settlers joining the local inhabitants coming from time to time and forming the handsome Chamorro people.
It is considered that circa 800 - 900 AD such newcomers introduced the tradition of latte stone to Chamorro culture. Latte stone structures were built until the 16th century, with the last ones built even in 18th century. Since then latte stones have been left decaying.
Halagi and tåsa
Latte stones consist of two parts - halagi and tåsa.
Halagi is an upright stone, which is narrowing upwards. In most cases halagi is hewn from corall limestone in special stone quarries, which might be located miles away from the building site.
The largest halagi were mined in a stone quarry in Rota Island (Northern Mariana Islands), where 7.6 m tall stone columns have been left lying. Here the largest shafts weigh 34 tons. The stones most likely were mined by BURNING the limestone and removing the burnt lime.
Larger halagi could be made also from sandstone and even the hard basalt.
Tåsa is capstone, placed on the top of halagi.
Tåsa has hemispheric form, with a flat side facing upwards. It is made of naturally rounded coral heads, collected in the nearby reefs. Some specialists consider that the rounded tåsa prevented the rats from climbing up the stone pillar.
Largest capstones may weigh up to 22 tons (also in Rota Latte Stones Quarry). It is not an easy task to rise and place such stone block on the top of upright stones.
Such megaliths are unique. Nevertheless similar wooden constructions are known in Ifugao land in Philippines, something similar is depicted also in the carvings found in Borobudur shrine (Indonesia, Java).
Foundations of meeting houses
Latte stones are 0.6 - 5 m tall. These columns usually are arranged in two straight rows parallel to sea coast, with 4 - 10 latte stones in each row. The largest arrangement with 20 latte stones in total was found in southern Guam, east from Fena Reservoir. Now a military base is built here.
There is noticed a general principle - the more latte stones are in a structure, the higher each of them is.
Thus the latte stones form a rectangular area. Although there are some doubts about this, many researchers consider that these megaliths served as a foundation for special wooden houses.
Written accounts from the 16th - 17th century describe such houses standing on the top of upright stones. These were important structures - meeting houses.
In such houses were gathered youngsters and they were taught the art of seafaring. Here were built ocean going boats - proas and they were stored under the meeting houses.
It seems that in every village there was at least one latte structure. Villages most likely fell in construction frenzy and competed - who will have the most impressive latte strone structure.
Spirits of Chamorro ancestors
The deceased villagers were buried next to latte stones, thus strenghtening the bond between the ancestors of village families, the living people and their homes.
The deceased were buried with their heads inland.
According to local legends in latte stone sites one can meet taotaomoa - the spirits of Chamorro ancestors. People try to avoid these sites and have much respect to these sites.
The sites of latte stones near the coast differ from the ones inland. Coastal latte stones were based in cultural layer with signs of habitation and human burials near the stones.
Inland latte stone sites lack this cultural layer and might have been abandoned soon after their construction or used only for some ritual practices.
Nowadays latte stones serve as a symbol of Chamorro identity. Unfortunately many latte stones are removed from their original locations - recklessly destroyed or used for landscaping of private gardens.