Ask Joyce: What's the legend about Guam's first coconut tree

  • Published
  • By Joyce Martratt
  • 36th Wing
Countries around the world have legends of how certain things or events come about. Here on Guam, the story of the "tree of life" has been passed down from generation to generation 

The legend of the coconut tree began with a prominent Chamorro family within the Achote clan: the father (Tata), the mother (Nana) and their daughter (Iha). Tata was a multi-talented craftsman, but he was especially well known for making tombstones out of huge coral rocks for their pagan gravesites. As for the women of the Achote clan, they believed in protecting their wombs with aprons made of breadfruit and wild hibiscus fibers. Nana was the only one skillful in making these aprons. Iha inherited the talents of both parents and had a winsome demeanor, which endeared her to the entire Achote clan. Everyone in the clan would do anything for this Chamorro family. 

One day, when Iha turned 18 years old, she became very sad. The villagers noticed the change and became concerned. She told the villagers she was very thirsty and none of the drinks available could quench her thirst. Iha stopped drinking after that and explained that she needed the juice from the fruit of a tree. After Iha described the tree, Tata and the village men searched the island for three days looking for it. They couldn't find the tree. 

Iha's condition worsened and she finally died of thirst. 

The Achote clan lamented her death. She was buried on a high ground overlooking the Achote Village. After her burial, it rained heavily for a week. The villagers couldn't pay respect because the climb was too slippery. After the second week, Tata, Nana and the villagers went to the gravesite to place a tombstone that Tata had made. To their surprise a new plant, which the villagers had never seen before, was growing at the head of the grave. Tata asked what it meant; the other men said it was a magic plant. They built shelters around the site to protect it, to guard it, and to watch it grow. 

After five years, a ripe nut felt from the plant. Tata picked it up and shook it. He told the others that it contained liquid. The Achote Village held a village meeting to decide what to do with the fruit. One elder recommended the covering be peeled by removing the husk slowly. They gently pulled the husk off and discovered the nut within had what appeared to be eyes, nose and a mouth. The features frightened the villagers. They decided to build a shelter for the nut for adoration. 

Villagers guarded the nut day in and day out. Four days later, an earthquake shook the village and the nut fell to the ground. It rolled out to the open directly under the bright sun where the nut cracked. Everyone noticed the white meat and the liquid within the nut. Tata was asked to drink the liquid, but he hesitated. Nana stepped forward and volunteered to drink it on the condition that if it poisoned her and she died she was to be buried by Iha. She believed the nut was sent by God. 

As Nana drank the juice, her face lit up with joy at the taste of such a delicious treat. She cracked the nut wider shelled out a piece of the meat and ate it. Again, Nana turned to the villagers with an expression of great satisfaction. The meat was shelled out into small pieces and each person tasted it. 

From then on, coconut trees grew in abundance in the Achote Village. The villagers used every part of the tree for survival. They built shelters; they made ropes, baskets, clothing, medicine, food, and vinegar; and they drank it's liquid to quench their thirst. The tree of life, as the coconut tree is known throughout many parts of the world, is part of the Chamorro livelihood -- both useful and respected.

si Joyce Martratt