Hasso' = Remember: Fena

Hasso' = Remember: Fena

by Dominica Tolentino

Editor’s note: Few know how special Guam is like the folks behind Guampedia.com. Their latest endeavor is “Hasso’: Chamorro Heritage Sites Project.” In conjunction with the upcoming debut of the project’s film, Stripes Guam is partnering with Guampedia to feature one of these special sites each week to offer a glimpse into our host territory’s rich cultural heritage.  


Fena, sometimes spelled Fenna, (and in some older European accounts as Feña or Fiña) is an area located in the interior valleys of south central Guam, next to the villages of Santa Rita and Agat to the west, and Talofofo to the east. It is part of what is referred to today as the Ordnance Annex, US Naval Activities, Guam, or simply, Naval Magazine.

The name Fena refers to the river valley, the inland reservoir (man made lake), as well as to the ancient village of Fena.  The ancient village site, uninhabited since the early Spanish Era, was destroyed in the 1950s during the post World War II construction of the Fena dam and reservoir which, today, provides water to much of the southern part of the island.

The history of habitation of Fena valley pre-dates Spanish colonization of the Marianas, but the exact length of time is unclear.  Early archeological studies of the area prior to the flooding of the valley to create the reservoir include work conducted by Bernice P. Bishop Museum employee Hans Hornbostel in the 1920s and Navy archeologist Douglas Osborne in the mid-1940s. Using Hornbostel’s findings, American anthropologist Laura Thompson wrote about Fena in a 1930s report for the Bishop Museum.  Osborne and Thompson both mentioned the presence of latte sites in Fena, with some of the largest and most impressive latte stones found in Guam.  It is likely people settled or had used the area since the late Pre-Latte Era (maybe, 800-900AD).

The Fena valley was not only the site of several ancient Chamorro villages, but was one of the places the Spanish relocated many Chamorros during the early years of the Spanish reducción in the late 17th century.  (The reducción was a Spanish administrative policy led by Jose de Quiroga y Losada of displacement and relocation of native populations in order to place them under firm colonial control.)  However, by the next century, as the island became depopulated and the partido or district system was implemented, most of the residents shifted to the surrounding villages in the districts of Pago and Agat.  During this Spanish Era, the Fena area then was used largely as lancho or ranch lands for Chamorro families to grow food. The use of Fena as ranch lands continued well into the early 20th century, during the first US Naval Era of Guam.

Toward the end of the Japanese Occupation of the island during World War II, Fena became the site of one of the most horrific massacres in Guam history where more than 30 young men and women were tortured and killed in nearby caves.  The Fena Massacre is now one of the most solemnly commemorated events of the different activities of the Liberation Day holiday, but little is known about the history of the ancient village or the area prior to the US Navy’s takeover of the land after World War II.  Since the construction of the Naval Ordnance, it has been closed off to the general public.

Area and ecology

The Fena Valley and reservoir are located entirely within the boundaries of the US Naval Magazine, in the southern municipalities of Santa Rita, Agat and Talofofo.  About 81 hectares in area, the site is about 33 meters above sea level.  The reservoir, built in 1951, is the largest open body of freshwater on Guam and was constructed as a source of drinking water.  The reservoir is a man made lake, about three kilometers long and 600 meters wide, and was formed by damming up the Mahlac river.  The Maulep, Almagosa, Sadog Gaso and Imong Rivers also drain into the reservoir.  The reservoir holds about 9.7 million cubic meters (or about 2.3 billion gallons) of water, and can reach depths of about 20 meters (60 feet) during rainy season.  The sloped sides of the reservoir are surrounded by steep vegetated ravine forests, savannah grasslands and limestone outcroppings.

The wetlands are home to a variety of plants and animals.  In fact, Fena has the largest population of common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus guami), on island, and once provided an essential habitat for the Marianas Fruit bat (fanihi or Pteropus mariannus) though there are none there presently.  There are also feral water buffalo (carabao, Wubalus bubalis) that have trampled and overgrazed some of the land and caused some erosion. Pigs, deer, brown tree snakes and other creatures inhabit some of the more forested regions of the valley.  Because of restricted access and the danger safety zone for the Ordnance, there is very little non-military use of the area.  Aquatic organisms include eels, tilapia catfish, gobies, flagtails and shrimp.

Although the occupation of the Fena area by the US military has helped preserve much of the natural habitat, the construction of the dam and reservoir and other military facilities was done at the cost of many cultural and historic resources, namely, latte sites and other features dating to ancient times.

Fena Reservoir

The Fena Reservoir was built around the Fena River, a relatively small waterway.   Construction of the reservoir began in the late 1940s and was completed in 1951.  The project included the building of the reservoir dam, spillway and treatment plant, and cost about $11 million.  The dam is 85 feet in height and 1,050 feet in length.  Built by the US Navy, the Fena Reservoir provides a dependable water supply for the US Navy and the local population.

The Fena valley was practically inaccessible prior to 1937 and the construction of the reservoir.  In 1936, an ambitious road project was initiated by Governor Benjamin V. McCandish at the insistence of the parish priest of Mt. Carmel Church in Agat.  The idea was that the rich soil would provide agricultural opportunities for local farmers.  The road was called the Agat-Fena Road and it connected with Senator Gibson Highway in Talofofo (named in honor of Republican senator Ernest Willard Gibson of Vermont who had advanced many causes for Guam within the US Congress). Gibson Highway ran from Hagåtña to Umatac.  The Agat-Fena road was later named Harmon Road in honor of Chief Gunner Lloyd McKinley Harmon, who oversaw its construction.

According to historian Benigno Palomo, the Agat-Fena Road was a major undertaking because of the difficult terrain and limited resources.  Before World War II about two and a half miles of road were completed, measuring about 16 feet wide, with four reinforced concrete bridges. The first half of the road was practically built by hand, using wheelbarrows to move dirt, and mattocks, picks and shovels as the main tools.

The road began about a mile east of Agat and opened up the Fena valley to allow farming on its rich soil, yielding produce that could be transported and sold in Hagåtña, Sumay, Agat, Asan and Piti.  In addition to farm products, the valley’s abundance of fruit bats, birds, shrimp and deer made it commercially desirable.  However, the US Navy’s need for a water source and munitions storage ended the agricultural use of Fena.

– Read Dominica Tolentino’s complete article at: www.guampedia.com/heritage-site-fena/

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