Hasso' = Remember: Talofofo

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.  


Steeped in history

The municipality of Talofofo is located in south-central Guam on the eastern coast of the island.  The area extends from the shore and deep into the interior valleys along the Ugum and Talofofo Rivers.  The Talofofo intersection is the crossroads of the main village, near which lie a few small stores, the San Miguel Catholic Church and the mayor’s offices.  The Onward Talofofo Golf Resort lies east of the intersection, and afterwards, the road intersects with Route 17 or Cross Island Road. Heading south on Cross Island Road, one finds the Seventh Day Adventist Church and school, as well as Notre Dame High School, the subcommunity of Ipan and Talofofo Bay.  The southern boundary of Talofofo is the Ugum River which, along with the Talofofo River, flows into Talofofo Bay.

Guam’s southern terrain is largely volcanic, in contrast to the limestone plateau that dominates the northern part of the island.  Grasslands, rolling hills and small limestone outcrops, as well as sandstone, and a red clay are part of the landscape found in the Talofofo vicinity.  Several small rivers drain into the Talofofo River valley.  In addition to the varied soil, the vegetation is also somewhat varied, including high grass, copses of limonchina and occasional large trees.  Some of the wood areas include limonchina, vines, cycads, pandanus and ferns.  The more marshy areas have wetland plants, such as reeds, coconut palm, bamboo and breadfruit, providing rich resources for Guam’s early inhabitants.

The name of the ancient village of Talofofo probably has its origin from the phrase “entalo’ i fe’fo’,” which means “between the cliffs,” or even from the word “fo’fo’,” which means a bubbling stream.  An early historic map of Guam by Alonzo Lopez in 1671 show a village named “Taraiftofo” in the general area where Talofofo is located today. In addition to the waterways that traverse the area, Talofofo’s stunning landscape is comprised of rolling hills of clay, limestone and volcanic rock, grasslands and jungle, as well as caves, some noted for their size and ancient drawings, or pictographs, on the walls.

The interior lands of Talofofo are believed to have been occupied since at least 1,700 years ago–maybe as far back as 364 AD, according to carbon dates from the Talofofo Golf Resort area.  Occupation continued through the Latte era, through the Spanish era to modern times with various levels of utilization of the land over time.

Archeologists believe most of the pre-Spanish era inhabitants lived in settlements along the Ugum and Talofofo Rivers.  Artifacts in the Talofofo Caves indicate these sites were occupied and used as well, if only seasonally or for short periods at a time.  Within the Talofofo vicinity were numerous named settlements, including Pigpug.

In 1678, the Spanish governor Captain Juan Antonio de Salas fought against the native Chamorros in the villages of “Picpuc” and “Tarafofo,” which were seen as the most arrogant of the southern villages to the Spanish soldiers and priests. The distance of these villages from the Spanish presidio in Hagåtña seemed to make the inhabitants more bold and less inclined to obey or comply with Spanish authorities.  The Chamorros, aware of the impending battle, had set up ambushes and traps along the way.  They rained lances and slingstones upon the invading Spanish soldiers but ultimately were defeated.  After the Spanish reducción of the late 1600s which displaced the Chamorro natives from the northern villages and the other Mariana Islands, the residents of Talofofo were presumably shifted to Inarajan and the main village was abandoned.  Talofofo Bay, however, was the site of some recorded events in Guam’s history.

In 1788, the landing of a large group of islanders from Lamotrek in the Caroline Islands (now Yap State) occurred in Talofofo Bay.  The Carolinians were on a trading mission to obtain iron.  This landing, along with a landing in Haputo on the northwest coast, marked the first arrival of canoes from the other islands since the conquest of the Marianas by the Spanish. However, the Carolinian crew failed to return to Lamotrek.  Although a storm probably led to their demise, on their home island they were believed to have been killed by the Spanish on Guam.  In 1804 Luis de Torres, the son of a Spanish officer and a Chamorro woman, went to Lamotrek to invite the Carolinians to re-establish trade with Guam.  Torres had befriended the original Carolinian sailors who had arrived in 1788. The trading voyages resumed the following year.

In 1849, a large earthquake was recorded on Guam and chronicled by Augustinian priest Ancieto Ibañez.  The priest recounted a large wave had rolled into Talofofo and swept away Josefa Lujan of Hagatña, the only known fatality of the tsunami.

Years before the first American administration of Guam in the early 1900s, people had already been moving back into the Talofofo area to farm and hunt.   Small plantations had been set up along the valley of the Talofofo River.  Latte sites, however, still were visible in different parts of the valley, but were largely avoided.  In 1912, a chapel supposedly was built close to the mouth of the Talofofo River.  By 1918, the Naval governor William Gilmer appointed a commissioner for Talofofo, and the residents decided to move their village up to the plateau.

Traveling to and through Talofofo, however, was not easy.  A small trail running along the coast connected Togcha Bay to the north and Dandan to the south.  Bamboo rafts had been used to cross the river along the trail, which was eventually replaced by a ferry.   In 1924, there is mention in the Guam Recorder that people from Talofofo were working without pay to build a road between the Talofofo and Togcha Rivers.

In 1931 the school in Talofofo was renamed in honor of Governor Gilmer.  Although there was no road leading from the coast to the plateau, there was a relatively difficult foot trail.  That same year a 135-foot bridge over Talofofo River was built, replacing the ferry.  The building of the bridge helped to improve the transport of people and farm products from the south to the capital of Hagåtña.

Although Talofofo was previously considered part of Inarajan by January 1931, Inarajan was divided into two districts.  Talofofo was designated north of the Talofofo, Ugum, As Mulato and Atate Rivers, while the district of Inarajan was to the south.  The Americans had set up a lookout post in Talofofo around this time.  However, the area remained largely unoccupied, with few houses, and used mostly as ranch land.

During World War II, Talofofo Bay was one of the landing points for the invading Japanese forces on 10 December 1941, although the original landing site was supposed to be Ylig Bay, further north.  After the invasion, the Japanese established a school in the village operated by the Japanese navy.  By 1944, the Japanese had begun to fortify the island in anticipation of the arrival of American forces, and built gun placements and pillboxes in the cliffs near the bay.  The Adjouilan Point pillbox, for example, is a Japanese pillbox on the north side of the entrance to Talafofo Bay. Ipan Point Pillbox lies north of Adjoulan Point.  The As Quiroga fortification included two Japanese dummy gun emplacements, made of plywood and painted green.  Another probable gun port is located in the Talofofo Rock Wall, formed out from a natural opening to a low cave in the raised limestone outcrop.

The wreck of the Aratama Maru, a Japanese freighter, is also located in Talofofo Bay.  It had been used to transport supplies between Palau and the Marshall islands but had been attacked by US Naval submarines and drifted to Guam.  (The vessel was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.)  Shortly before the liberation of Guam, the Japanese destroyed the Talofofo bridge to deter the invading American forces.

After the war, the American military government built the new community of Talofofo in the hills where it now stands, establishing Talofofo as its own municipality.  Although most of Talofofo today is still largely undeveloped, construction of concrete homes increased in the area, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. The Talofofo Golf Resort was built in the 1990s.  In the early 1970s, Japanese straggler Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi was captured after 28 years hiding in the jungles of Talofofo, near Talofofo falls.  Tourists can visit the area for a fee.  Archeological surveys of the Talofofo Golf Resort area revealed another possible World War II stragglers’ cave, in addition to prehistoric scatters.   Other tourist attractions in Talofofo include the jungle riverboat cruise which transports visitors inland from Talofofo Bay to a cultural village display and latte site.  The inland hills are also popular for hiking and off-roading activities.

Archeological findings

In the late 1940s, Navy archeologist Douglas Osborne was able to locate and examine several of the latte sites first visited by Hornbostel.  He also studied latte sites in other parts of the island, including Umatac and Tumon Bay/Gongna.  Osborne declared that the most impressive latte sites on Guam were those of the southern interior areas, especially Acapulco, Mepo, Pulantat and San Isidro, and Mogfog in the north.

By the 1990s, archeologists from the Micronesian Archaeological Research Services (MARS) found culturally significant sites in Talofofo, including habitation sites in the ridge overlooking Talofofo Bay south of where the Ugum and Talofofo Rivers join.  The sites date from 1480 to 1665 AD.  A rock shelter/cave complex was also recorded on the inland side of Route 4 north of Talofofo Bay.  Latte Phase pottery and both flaked and ground stone tools were collected.  A limestone shelter was recorded with Latte Phase pottery and human bone.

One of the most extensively studied areas in Talofofo was the land upon which the Talofofo Golf Resort was built.  In the 1990s a team of archeologists from Paul H. Rosendahl, Inc., surveyed the land and made some general conclusions about sites in the vicinity of the project area.   Some 24 habitation sites were identified or relocated within the project area, and revealed a variety of features including a cave shelter, latte site, hearth, and scatters of pottery and tool fragments.

The archeologists suggested that most of the interior upland sites of southern Guam were occupied since 1000 AD but were probably also occasionally used during the pre-Latte period as well, based on pottery evidence. 

The Talofofo area in particular probably was initially occupied during the late Transitional Pre-Latte to early Latte Phase (AD 384-891) because of evidence of human activity in soils that predate the construction of latte sets. 

The Talofofo area exhibits settlement patterns similar to other interior, upland sites.  Shallow deposits of artifacts, food remains and human burials indicate recurrent short term, seasonal, or only recent occupation.

Historic Activities

Within the Talofofo Golf Resort area, several historic artifacts were recovered.  These historic artifacts were mostly the remains from World War II activity.  Cave sites in Talofofo were occupied during the war and have evidence of clothing, food containers and other military objects of both Japanese and American origin.  A variety of metal fragments, including nails, iron spikes, hammer fragments and wire were also found.    Domestic items, such as bottles and jars, ceramics, spoons, pots and cans, mostly associated with World War II, have also been recovered.

In the early 2000s, MARS archeologists worked on an area of Talofofo along Route 4 for the construction of a shore protection barrier.  Although not much was gleaned in terms of significant cultural resources, the team did collect interesting oral histories regarding the area and the presence of a prewar cemetery that was used by Talofofo residents until the construction of the Catholic cemetery at Togcha.

According to accounts by residents, a burial ground was located between the bridge and the Talofofo Beach Park before the war and shortly after the war.  The area, however, was prone to being washed over by large waves and indeed, several caskets were washed out in 1962 during Typhoon Karen.  By the late 1960s, the remains were unsystematically moved to Togcha cemetery, though people used to lay wreaths and other memorabilia in the old site.  However there is some uncertainty if all the bones had been moved and it is possible some burials remain.

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

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