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Latte Stones at Taga House, Tinian.

House of Taga: Trinian Island’s Unique Megalithic Construction

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According to legend, Taga will survive as long as at least one of the stone ‘ latte’ of his home remains standing.

The House of Taga is located near San Jose Village, on the island of Tinian, United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It is thought that earthquakes felled most of the stone pillars and today only one of the original twelve latte remains vertical.

‘Latte’ is a Chamorro term that refers to the stone pillars and capstones, used by ancient people of the Mariana Islands, on which they elevated their houses of wood and straw to keep them safe from flooding.  The stone pillars at House of Taga stood around fifteen feet (4.5 meters) tall and each one was topped with a spherical stone to dissuade scavenging rats.

Latte Stones at Taga House, Tinian   Source: (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Latte Stones at Taga House, Tinian   Source: ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

As one story goes, the house and supports were originally built by Chief Taga who had superhuman strength. Some say he was so strong that he picked up the massive stone pillars and placed them in position by himself. It’s possible Taga actually started the quarry where the stones were mined.   

The fact remains that these heavy stones were raised in two parallel rows and while megalithic construction is common in Oceania, no other culture is known to have used this particular form of stone architecture. 

Legends says Taga was a giant, born to the chief of the Ritidian village, Guam. He is said to have become disillusioned by his father’s rule and challenged him to a fight. The arrogant son lost the battle and jumped off a cliff, landing on Rota, an island many miles away. There he challenged another chieftain to a series of contests and when he won, he married a beautiful local woman.

         Tinian Island, United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (Google Maps)

Tinian Island, United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (Google Maps )

The house he started on Rota was not yet completed when he moved to Tinian. But on Tinian he gained more power and completed his house.

Found nowhere else in the world,  latte first appeared in the Mariana Islands about 800 years ago, during a period known as the Latte Era of Chamorro culture and Taga House represents the apex of this architecture.

The story goes that when his son turned five, Taga gave him a giant coconut crab, but the crab escaped and ran under a young coconut tree. The boy ran back home and asked his father to push over the tree. Taga refused, explaining that the coconuts were just beginning to bear fruit. The furious boy ran back to the tree and shook it until it fell over. When Taga saw how powerful his young son was, he realized that the boy’s strength might become greater than his own. That night, Taga smothered his son.

Over the Years, the Latte have Fallen

In 1638 a Spanish Galleon laden with precious goods wrecked off the coast of Tinian. Taga paddled a canoe through rough water to save the survivors and brought the men to Taga House where they recuperated and first recorded the existence of Taga and his unusual house. And when they reached home safely, word of Taga and his kind deeds spread.  

Illustration of House of Taga (Public Domain)

Illustration of House of Taga ( Public Domain )

The first illustration of the complete House of Taga was made in 1742 by a British sailor when he and his fellow crewmates repaired their ship close by. The house was again illustrated by a French explorer in 1819. At the time, seven stones remained standing and remained standing until 1888 when the first photograph of Taga House was taken by a French botanist visiting Tinian. When the first German District Officer of the Marinas visited in 1900, he reported only five standing stones.

The last two upright latte before 1902 (Public Domain)

The last two upright latte before 1902 ( Public Domain )

By the time the Japanese archaeologists visited Tinian in 1924, only two of Taga’s stones remained upright. During the American capture of the island in 1944, the intense pre-invasion bombardment knocked down one shaft and the last surviving  pillar was damaged.

So while some of the legends describe Taga as an arrogant bully who overthrew chiefs and murdered his own son, other stories celebrate him as a hero who saved drowning men and offered respite to weary travelers in need. It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction, but with one latte still standing, Taga might live on.

Top image: Latte Stones at Taga House, Tinian. Source: ( raksyBH / Fotolia )

By Michelle Freson

References

Bagnol, RC. 2013. House of Taga, The Legend . Marianas Variety

Available at: http://www.mvariety.com/special-features/around-the-island/61503-house-of-taga-the-legend

Bo Flood 2001. Marianas Island Legends: Myth and Magic . Bess Press

Farrel, D. Taga. Guampedia

Available at: https://www.guampedia.com/taga/

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