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Taotaomona: The zombies of Guam

Posted by mandyf on January 13, 2012

The Island of Guam is noted for its zombies, except to the Chamorro, they are not called zombies, they are the taotaomonas. Taotaomona is a word loosely translating as “people before time.” Taotaomona are described as ghostly creatures that have inhabited the island doomed to wander until they can resolve whatever issue was left unfinished in life. It is in these spirits that the legend of the zombies of Guam, the taotaomonas, differ a bit from the variety of zombies many people think of.

The Chamorro people believe in the Aniti who are their most powerful and sacred ancestral spirits. The Aniti are both feared and respected, but had always been noted as spirits that could be great help to their human bodied friends when they chose to. When angered, their wrath could be immense and intense. It wasn’t until the Spanish reached the island that the Aniti had ever been considered as anything but kind natured so long as properly respected. Despite great efforts to conceal rituals regarding the Aniti, the Spaniards eventually learned of them, and as was the norm for them at that time, considered them blasphemous and threatening – even if they may not have really believed in them – at first at least.

As the sun sets on modern day Guam, the spirits of Guam begin to rise – the taotaomona included. Depending on whose account you refer to, the taotaomona can look drastically different. The Spaniards described them as hideous ghostly forest creatures that had a male form. The Chamorro on the other hand see them as a robust male most times, although they have been known to manifest as a pale female apparition. Sometimes the taotaomona  are said to be deformed, even decapitated, and be accompanied by the scent of lemon or indigenous flowers. A third form is that of a child known as a duende that hides under mushrooms.

As anyone that has spent time on Guam knows, before you boonie stomp, you ask permission, “gue’la yan gue’lo, kao sina you’ manule’ titanium-mu ya yanggen matto hao gi tano-hu’ fanule’ ha sin mamaisen.” This is said in a loud and confident voice to announce that you are present, and to show respect. Doing this will make the taotaomona proud of the guest in the jungle, and they show that pride by leaving their guest alone.  Unless of course Anufat is present, and then all bets are off.

Anufat is also known as Legion. Anufat has razor sharp teeth that are said to be six inches long, some say longer. Hanging out of his head are all nature of herbs that were used to form concoction to stuff his cranial wounds suffered in battle while in human form. Others say the holes in his head refer more to a metaphorical battle. Either way, it’s a scary vision.

Another thing that is unique about the taotaomona, is the phenomena of ga’chong. Ga’chong is the taotaomoan partner of a human. This is basically what most people would think of as a guardian spirit. The ga’chong is never present to anyone but their partner, they offer aide that can be anything from boosting physical strength to mental strength. A ga’chong partners with someone for the entirety of their life. When their partner dies, the ga’chong will try to attach them self to another member of the family and make them their new partner.

When visiting Guam, if you are up to it, there are places to look if you really want to try to see a taotaomona. The best place to start is in and around caves. Some of the caves on Nimitz Hill are said to have taotaomona that can be seen shortly before sunrise. Banyan trees are said to be another gathering place that offers opportunities for sightings as the spirits rest there under the roots during sunlight hours. Lower Siguea Falls is an area that can be spooky – and not the best place to hang around at during the night if you are not familiar with the area – but a good spotting site. In general, almost anywhere can be a site taotaomona are present, but the jungle and caves are the most likely spots.

If you do go on an expedition looking for taotoamona, be safe. You are visiting, and as this is a nocturnal activity. Get a local to help you. Be sure to ask for permission before entering the jungle – you need not speak Chamorro to do so – it is about respect more than language. If you do not, you may find yourself being pinched or even getting quite ill. If you do get sick, see a doctor. Traditionally, one would go to a suruhana whom is a traditional healer, and you can do that as well, but see a doctor first. If you do see a suruhana, they will usually massage you and give you an herbal preparation to help the healing process. They will then instruct you to go back to the site where you were pinched or became ill and ask the guelota and guelatas for forgiveness.

Keep in mind that to the Chamorro, the taotaomona are not the Hollywood style horror zombies seen in film. These are the ancient souls of their ancestors before there was time. They are not to be feared so long as respected. Respect is paramount. As a guest, respect the people, their home, and their beliefs in the taotaomona. This is a part of their culture and in some cases religion. To some, the taotaomona are as much a part of their family as their brother or sister that is alive and sitting next to them.

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