TINIAN – Cultural and traditional practitioners from Saipan, Guam, Rota and Tinian gathered here to honor Tinian's historic and legendary Chief Taga during the weeklong Gineptin Ha'ånen Taga, or Chief Taga Festival.

"I wrote a chant (for Chief Taga) based on his legend," said Saipan's Frances Sablan, a cultural practitioner and former history teacher.

Sablan and her Man Antigo Cultural Dance Group joined other groups in performing a ritual Sunday night at the Taga House, a short distance from the festival grounds.

"The festival is very important as it celebrates the people's determination to uphold their culture and traditions," Sablan said.

She said she was "sad" that they were celebrating Chief Taga "only now, but I am happy we were given this opportunity to learn about our history."

The Guam cultural groups that joined the celebration were Guma Nina'en Acho Latte Fafanague led by Raymond Lujan and Guma Fuetsan Acho Latte, Tulu Na Napu Magas led by Patrick "Somnak" Camacho.

Camacho said he choreographed the cultural dance "Ta Onra Si Taga" to honor Chief Taga.

Also participating in the celebration were Agat Mayor Kevin Susuico and Saipan Rep. Alice Igitol.

Opening ceremony

At the opening of the ceremony on Sunday at Kammer Beach, Michael Lujan Bevacqua of the University of Guam and Malia Ramirez of Guam Historic Preservation discussed the history of Chief Taga.

According to oral history, Chief Taga was born on Guam, in Songsong Litekyan, but eventually migrated to Tinian, where he is believed to have erected the largest set of latte stones in the Mariana Islands.

Tinian Mayor Joey San Nicolas said a single latte stone at the House of Taga remains standing today – "A testament to Chief Taga's legendary physical strength and enduring legacy as one of the Marianas' most revered beacons of CHamoru culture."

He added, "So memorable is the legend of Chief Taga that his story has stood the test of time, traversing generations of CHamoru people via oral tradition."

The mayor said Tinian not only pays homage to Chief Taga but also to their other CHamoru ancestors who ensured that Chief Taga's story and their culture persisted to the present day.

In an interview, San Nicolas, who is not seeking re-election, said he was assured by the Marianas Visitors Authority and the Tinian Legislative Delegation that the festival would continue every year.

House of Taga

"This is a beautiful celebration – it transcends my administration. It really has to do with the people of Tinian and the House of Taga. This is for everyone regardless of political affiliations."

The mayor also thanked MVA Managing Director Chris Concepcion for lobbying for the designation of the House of Taga as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The House of Taga is already on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

In his remarks, Concepcion said the celebration recognizes not only the legends surrounding Chief Taga, but also a historical figure who was an actual person who lived with other CHamorus and interacted with the Spanish.

"Festivals such as this are an opportunity to promote and highlight the unique features of our culture, of which Taga is an important part," he said, adding that visitors are fascinated by the stories and tales of Taga's superhuman strength.

During the ceremony, Sen. Jude Hofschneider led the Tinian Legislative Delegation in presenting a resolution to Mayor San Nicolas to recognize the first Sunday of October as "Ha'anen Maga'lahi Taga," a special day of observance on Tinian and Aguiguan to honor and commemorate the life and legacy of Taga for his extraordinary significance in the history of the Mariana Islands. The resolution also congratulated the mayor for hosting the first Chief Taga Festival from Oct. 2 to 7.