Tag Archives: Guam

Tree People of the Philippines – Dwende

Text and Context

DA (informant) – We have the dwende in the Philippines (I think a lot of cultures have them, even Guam). They’re kinda like dwarves and they live in anthills, tree stumps, stuff like that, which is why growing up we were taught to ask for permission before entering the woods.
My mom told me my brother got really sick to the point that they had to go to the hospital, but they couldn’t tell what was up. Apparently he peed on a tree stump and it pissed off the dwende living under it and it cursed him. He was fine in the end though. (laughs)
Interviewer – How were you supposed to ask permission to enter? And what might happen if you didn’t? Similar to what your brother experienced?
DA – You would say, “Tabi tabi po” which basically means “excuse me.” And yeah, it’s so you don’t get cursed in case you happen to disturb their home by stepping on them or something.
Interviewer – Is there anything you can do to lift the curses of the dwende?
DA – Yeah! Witch doctors (in the Philippines: albularyo, in Guam: suruhanu). First they see what’s causing whatever you’re feeling. Usually with melted candle wax and a bowl of water: they let it drip and the hardened wax would form into who caused it. And they tell you what to do based on that. But I don’t really know much about this part.
DA – I remember whenever I got sick as a kid, my mom and my grandma would bring me to an albularyo. She would do this ritual with candles over my head, but I don’t remember much.


The informant was telling me about where they had grown up, including the Philippines and Guam, spurred on by an art project that drew upon magical creatures.
The dwende are little tree spirits who, if you disrespect, will cause harm to you, but if you are polite to them, they will leave you alone. I have heard similar stories of the tomten from my own Swedish heritage, who could cause trouble if the inhabitants of the house did not leave them offerings or respect the coexisting tompte.
Belief in the dwende demands respect and politeness for nature, as a dwende could be under any tree one passes. Dwende curses could be lifted by healers who had mastered traditional remedies and were also deeply woven into the traditional Filipino culture. There is a particular saying that can grant you access to these spaces without harm, which lets the dwende you mean no harm to them.

Ancestral Spirits of Guam – Chamorro taotaomo’na


DA – In the Chamorro culture in Guam, there are the spirits of the Chamorro ancestors. You ask for permission so you don’t disturb the spirits, called the taotaomo’na.
Interviewer – For entering the forest?
DA – Yeah. The taotaomo’na live in the forest and also protect it.
(DA shows me a picture of a stone structure. It is made of two massive stone shape: one is a wide column, and on top is a round bulge with a flat side facing upwards. There are two people in the background to show how massive this structure is)
DA – If you see these structures in the forest, you should leave immediately. These are the latte stones and it’s a marker that it’s an ancient Chamorro site. They were just used as pillars or support for ancient Chamorro homes and stuff like that.
Interviewer – What is the significance of Chamorro sites and what would happen?
DA – I guess you can kinda treat them as tombs. There’s probably very likely ancient spirits in there that you shouldn’t disturb out of respect, and if you do, you would be cursed and get some sort of illness or physical pain.
Interviewer – Are ancestors and spirits generally a big part of Chamorro culture?
DA – Yeah! Respecting your elders is one of the important things you have to learn in the culture, so that also plays a part in it.
Interviewer – And is there anything you can do to lift the curses of the Chamorro?
DA – Yeah! Witch doctors (in the Philippines: albularyo, in guam: suruhanu). First they see what’s causing whatever you’re feeling. Usually with melted candle wax and a bowl of water: they let it drip and the hardened wax would form into who caused it. And they tell you what to do based on that. But I don’t really know much about this part.•
DA – I read up on it to refresh my memory, but it makes sense why they wouldn’t be kind to visitors. Spain, Japan, and the US fucked up the culture pretty bad. (By the 18th and 19th centuries, travelers were likely to see latte stones in areas abandoned after foreign diseases wiped out a lot of the Chamorro population)
DA – It’s a good thing a big part still survived, but barely anyone speaks the language. It’s part of the required courses in the education system. My Chamorro teacher and I talked about this before. The problem is not many people are really interested in continuing to learn beyond the requirements. You only need to take one year of Chamorro language in high school, and most students take it freshman year. And like everyone tends to do, they forget most of it by the time they graduate. And there aren’t many speakers in the first place either.


The taotaomo’na spirits were the ancestors of the Chamorro people, native to Guam. It is important to be respectful not only to living ancestors, but also to those who passed on a long time ago. Signs of their presence, like the latte stones, are common in places where many of the Chamorro had been killed of from foreign plague, and also act as tombs. It is common knowledge in Guam not to risk drawing bad things or curses to yourself by disrespecting the dead. The informant recalls that these stones are some of the best preserved remnants of the Chamorro culture, because so much of it died out due to foreign plague, assimilation into western cultures, including the language. Although the informant learned more of the Chamorro language than most in their high school, the informant regrets that they have also forgotten much of what they learned.

The Devil’s Curse in Guam

Original Script: “Okay so this is crazy…but basically my friends dad is in the marines, and he is usually based in Guam or San Diego like at the Marine base. So, she was born in San Diego and lived their the majority of her life, when her dad would be deported she would stay with her grandparents. Anyway, while in Guam, her dad would go to bars with his friends when they had some time off… Well one night they were bored…or something, so they all went to someone’s house and there was a Ouija board and they started playing with it. And they were all drunk too so that made it worse. So, they asked a couple of questions and actually did work, so they got freaked out and wanted to get rid of it and they ended up throwing it away. But the friend had gotten the board from someone that lived there. Like the Island is still an old world nation so they still have a lot of old cultural things and they believe in demons attaching themselves to a living person. A couple days later he found it under his bed and thought, ‘who the hell is playing tricks on me it must of been one of my friends or whatever.’ So he went to throw it in a dumpster far away from where he lived because it still freaked him out a little bit and so nobody could find it and put it under his bead again. However, a couple of days later he found it under his AGAIN, and he was like, “No this is bullshit,” so he burned the Ouija board because he didn’t want to mess with it anymore. A couple days later, he found it under the bed, AGAIN. It literally unburned, like how the hell does that happen? And he got so freaked out he went to priest, the priest had to keep in the church because the Ouija board was possessed and had to close the portal that created the bridge between the spirit world and the living—so spirits and demons couldn’t come into where they were living. The priest had to go to all of the people who participated in the Ouija board and had to bless where they were all living. However, I don’t know if it worked because at her house she was possessed, like I’m not friends with her anymore because she acted that way…like her family is haunted, cursed! I would never mess with a Ouija board, that stuff brings in bad shit.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. Kamilah has always believed that spirits and demons haunt Ouija board and had repeated multiple times that she would never participate in the practice of the Ouija board in fear of letting a devil haunt her and her family.

Context of the Performance: Ouija board usage in Guam

Thoughts about the piece: As a firm believer in never using a Ouija board, I have to say this story chilled me to the core. The legend of the demons in Guam is an interesting one. In this account of a Ouija board, the unexplainable—like the board ending up under the father’s bed and the board being mysteriously unburned—becomes prominent. This legend shows the prominent cultural influence of Guam and their old-world mindset. It also shows their belief in the demons and spirits not only attaching themselves to a Ouija board but also these entities attaching themselves to the living.

However, what fascinated me the most was the extent of the curse of the Ouija board. This curse of the girl’s father, travelled over seas to San Diego, where inevitably the whole family ended up being affected. Even though Kamilah was not a first account of the story happening in Guam, she was the first account of how the curse had affected the entire family, to the extend where it terrified her so badly that she had to cut ties with them. I believe this example of the legend of the Ouija board is relative to not only the Guam culture, but also the American culture. Even though, the people of Guam were terrified of the Ouija board, for example the priest having to lock it up in the church so that he could seal it properly, it also shows how an American, Kamilah, even I, were chilled by the story of the board. Perhaps, it is because of the unknown that scares us, but the aftermath experienced by Kamilah was what led her to believe that the family was cursed. Nevertheless, I do wonder who gave the father’s friend the board, for if the people of Guam were so afraid of them, was it considered an act of revenge to give the board to someone else? Nonetheless, this story demonstrates how legends can transcend upon different cultures, affecting them the same way—instilling a feeling so powerful that it influences people—in this case the feeling was fear.