Guam, the southernmost island of the Mariana Islands, looks as though large bites were taken from either side. It is wide at both ends and narrow in the middle. The CHamoru people who come from these islands have a legend about how it got this shape.
When the ancestors of the modern day CHamorus came to the Marianas they were a mighty race of people. They were called “taotaomo’na” which means “the people of before.” They are described in stories as giants who were clever and wise with magical powers. They respected their elders, and lived in a matriarchal society, together in peace.
As the story goes, one day a group of fishermen who fished in Hagåtña (Agana) Bay noticed that the mouth of the bay was growing ever larger and larger. Day by day the shoreline was receding.
They were puzzled and had no idea what was causing the bay to grow.
At the same time, a group of fishermen from Pago, on the opposite side of the island noticed that Pago Bay was also growing larger and larger. When both groups of fishermen told their stories, the people realized that the center of the island was being eaten away on both sides. The people could no longer ignore what was happening. The land between Hagåtña and Pago Bay was becoming narrower each day. They worried that if this continued much longer the island would soon become two separate islands.
The elders called a meeting to bring together all the wise taotaomo’na. They all agreed that something had to be done quickly! But what was to be done? They did not know why it was happening, so they had no idea how to stop it. The meeting ended with the people not knowing quite what to do.
A few days later, a Pago fisherman was beginning his morning on the water when he saw something strange. Near the edge of the bay, there was a great disturbance in the water. He looked down in the water and saw a giant fish. He tried to get closer to the fish, and as he did, he saw that it was eating big chunks of land from the bay. Astonished, he tried to get even closer, but the giant fish suddenly saw him and swam quickly away into the deep ocean.
The fisherman rushed to tell the people about the giant fish that he had seen chewing away at the land in Pago Bay. When they heard this, the people were outraged that the fish was eating the island. They now realized that they would have to do something about this giant fish.
Early the next morning all the strong men of Guam gathered with their weapons and started out on their mission to stop the giant fish from chewing through the island. Hagåtña and Pago Bays were filled with canoes of fishermen and others who wanted to help. The men paddled into the bay looking for the terrible fish. Some searched along the coral reef while others looked in the deep ocean outside the reef. The men searched for hours, but no giant fish was seen. As nightfall came everyone returned home filled with disappointment.
The search for the giant island-eating fish continued for many days, but no matter how hard the men searched, the fish was nowhere to be found.
The news of the men’s failure to find and destroy the giant fish spread from village to village. Some of the young maidens heard the news and were fascinated by the efforts to catch the fish.
The young women talked about the giant fish whenever they gathered to wash their hair and rinse it with fresh water scented with lemons. The best spot for the maidens to gather for this was at Hagåtña Springs. When they finished, the pool would be covered with lemon peels.
One day a young maiden in Pago noticed these same peels floating in Pago Bay. She was surprised, because the maidens never rinsed their hair in the salty water of the bay.
“Aha!” she thought, “this must mean that the giant fish has eaten a hole all the way under the island from Pago Bay to Hagåtña Springs!”
She told the other maidens, and they agreed that must be where the giant fish was hiding.
The next day the maidens gathered at the Hagåtña Springs, giggling about the brave, strong men who were unable to capture the giant fish. They decided they would catch the fish themselves. Cutting off their dark tresses, they wove a net with their long black hair. Because their hair had magical powers, they knew their net would have magical powers, too.
While they wove, they began to sing. They sang, and sang, and sang for hours. As they continued to sing, the net grew larger and larger.
Even the giant fish could hear their singing under the water. It became enchanted by the sound of their beautiful voices and swam out from its hiding place to listen to the singing maidens.
As the fish approached the mouth of the spring, the maidens drew closer to the fish, still singing and carrying their net of hair. Suddenly they spread their magic net over the spring and dove into the pool, surrounding the fish. The giant fish was trapped and could not escape.
The maidens then summoned some of the big strong men and asked them if they could help with something. When the men asked what they needed help with, they showed them the giant fish, trapped in their magic net. The men were surprised, but they were very happy that the fish had been caught. Now the people would eat the fish, as the fish had tried to eat their island.
And that is the story of how with their wisdom, magic and beautiful singing, the young maidens saved the island of Guam.