Latte in focus
Updated: Mar 26
'Latte in the Marianas' highlights the iconic structure through photographs, oral histories and art
By Johanna Salinas
The latte stone has been a symbol of CHamoru strength and resilience, surviving centuries of typhoons and wars. The newly launched book “Latte in the Marianas” highlights the iconic structure through photographs, oral histories, latte-inspired art, poetry, chants and songs.
The book project was co-directed by Dr. Kelly Marsh-Taitano and Dr. Jolie Liston. Research and photography for the book began before the pandemic.
“We were close to finishing and then Covid-19 happened. It was a little harder to finalize the last part,” said Marsh-Taitano, a former senator.
Despite the setback, the project was completed. “I think the part that I enjoy the most is the chance to work with everybody, to work with the artists, to see their amazing work, to work with the authors— to learn information from each one of them,” Marsh-Taitano said. “It's the largest project that I've ever been part of, having that many contributors to work with. Just all of that–getting to work with them, getting to know them or getting to know them better.”
The book features latte sets across the Marianas.
“One of the things that surprised everyone was the range in sizes of latte, which is anywhere from a foot and a half tall to 16 feet tall,” said Marsh-Taitano, an anthropologist.
One particular latte set that fascinated Marsh-Taitano was the one in the island Sarigan. It is made of volcanic rock in the form of tabular basalt. “Meaning that they came out in slabs. Somehow ancient CHamorus constructed those latte even though they were just thin slabs in Sarigan,” she said. “This shows that latte depended upon what kind of rock they had available, whether it was a boulder or brain coral or limestone or volcanic rock, even if it was a tabular basalt or it was just a slab.”
Joseph Quinata, chief program officer of the Guam Preservation Trust, said the best part of the project was “delivering the product to our public-school librarians so that teachers and students have access to it.”
He said the project highlighted the importance of protecting the latte stones, which he said represent three major aspects of CHamoru culture: respect for elders, relationships and environment.
“The latte is a tangible symbol of our ancestors. We need to give reverence and learn from that,” Quinata said. “Next thing that we believe is our relationship to each other in present time. How can we, as architects, writers, songwriters, artists and teachers make the latte relevant to people today? Lastly, just the surrounding of the latte—we need to take care of it… so that we can provide the spiritual space for our people, our future generations. The latte is part of our environment and how we take care of our environment today is important."
Marsh-Taitano said there are so many more perspectives to be seen from latte stones, hence another volume of “Latte in the Marianas” might be in order. “We worked with over 80 people but we can also easily do a volume 2 or volume 3 because there are that many more artists, cultural practitioners, and others that have valuable information and talents to share,” she said.