Tools for Processing Food

Chamorro Tools for Processing Food in the Northern Marianas

The ancient Chamorros used different kinds of tools for fishing and for cultivating and processing different kinds of fruits and tubers that made up much of their diets. Archeologists have found red-slipped pottery and marine shell tools and ornaments recovered from small beach and lagoon-side Pre-Latte Era encampments (1500 BC- 1000 AD). Fishing gear used by the natives, including numerous shell hooks and gorges, points and shanks of hooks, stone and shell weights, and bone needles for making and repairing nets have also been found in archeological sites. The rims of the Tridacna gigas (giant clam) shell were used as scrapers or knives.

Late in the Latte Era (1000 to 1521), rice was added to tree and root crops. Larger pottery vessels dating from this period that have been recovered from various archeological sites were most likely signs that the Chamorros were beginning to store food. The ancient Chamorros must have engaged in extensive pottery manufacture because fragments of pottery containers can be found in the jungle, beaches, mountains, and the savannas.

Early historical accounts, such as those by Louis Freycinet in the early 19th century, describe three simple gardening tools that are likely similar to the gardening tools used by ancient Chamorros. The dagau and tanum are pointed wooden digging sticks. Dagau was made of the mangrove or gågo and served as a mattock, pick and planting stick, a pole for carrying heavy objects, and as a defensive weapon. Tanum was used for planting taro and for breaking coconuts. The akoa, described to be like a fusiños or hoe, was a 5-foot long pole with a flat, sharp stone three inches wide and 1.5 inches thick, fastened to the wood.

One of the most visible ancient objects found at many archeological sites in the Mariana Islands is the stone mortar (lusong), which was used with a pestle (lomok). The stone mortar was used to prepare Chamorro medicine and food. This tool was used even up through 20th century, prewar Guam for husking rice, grinding Federico nuts and crushing herbs.

Although not found in ancient archeological sites, it was noted in historical records that ancient Chamorros had exceptional skills in plaiting and weaving with various plant materials. Mats and baskets, following ancient models, are still made and used, and, to a certain extent, have been retained. Mats (guafak) were woven primarily by women and could be used for drying rice and serving food. Rectangular baskets (kottot) woven from panadanus leaves were used to present ceremonial offerings or gifts of rice. There were also portable baskets woven to carry betel nut, and larger baskets for carrying weapons and food during warfare activities.

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