When I was a kid, my dad often took us out to the jungles of Guam on the weekend. We would pick pugua, or betel nut, for personal consumption of Pop and his relatives, and also to sell to others. We'd also trudge along and through the small rivers, catching shrimp and eel for the dinner table, often taking our lunch break at a waterfall pool -- usually Sigua Falls -- "sigua" means "sweet" and the water there, thanks to natural filtration, is very sweet.
If you've ever been to a tropical rain forest -- which is what Guam's jungles are -- knows that they are very different from temperate forests with the big, tall trees, like most U.S. forests are. The ground in a tropical rain forest are covered by fallen leaves of different kinds, old tree limbs and the like. In short, it is far from neat or clean.
But one day, while still early on in our boonie stomping, we came through some dense underbrush to this spot in the jungle. In the center of this semi-open space under the canopy was this huge banyan tree, which are said to be the dwelling places of taotaomo-na -- think of capricious, sometimes malignant spirits inhabiting giant, towering bodies. They are beings to be feared and respected.
This turned out to be just one of those trees.
How did we know?
There was a perfect circle around the tree clear of any and all debris, with a diameter of about 30 feet. Just dirt. Like it had been swept.
My dad said something called "gågao," which means to ask permission. If you respectfully ask permission of the taotaomo'na, they will allow you to pass unmolested (get your minds out of the gutter, dirty girls!). He said it, we passed -- quietly and respectfully -- and waited till we got way beyond the tree before we picked anymore betel nut.
*cue spooky music*
Taotaomo'na translates into "people of the past." Chamorros believe the taotaomo'na are spirits of our ancient ancestors that live in the forests of Guam. They can be capricious, and either help you out or hurt you. There are many people who have reported being touched by a taotaomo'na, leaving them with large bruises shaped like fingerprints.