With the planned live-fire military training range site nearby, which will loom over the Ritidian coast, one group is showing Guam residents that in the Chamorro culture Ritidian is sacred ground, and once was an ancient village.
It's also considered a place for traditional healers to gather medicinal plants, or åmot.
Local group Prutehi Litekyan, or Save Ritidian, recently launched a series of public awareness events, as well as a letter-writing campaign and petition urging local and Department of Defense officials not to sign the Integrated National Resource Management plan, which would initiate the implementation of a live-fire training complex. The range will be used by Marine Corps troops relocating from Okinawa to a planned base in Guam.
The "Åmot Walk with Yo Åmte" drew a group of Guam residents – including native suruhanas or yo'åmte, or herbal healers; aspiring students who want to learn traditional healing practices; and intrigued hikers and friends – to Saturday's trek along the Litekyan, or Ritidian, cliff line last Saturday. The group marched through the boonies as part of an educational protest against the proposed firing range, which will be developed on Andersen Air Force Base, adjacent to Ritidian.
During the walk, suruhanas pointed out a medley of native medicinal plants, and at times were mesmerized by the sight of some plant species that are still intact or growing naturally, including hale nunu, gaogao uchan, pupulan aniti, aga telang, tupun ayuyu and putpotpu.
Prutehi Litekyan spokeswoman Sabina Flores Perez emphasized the sensitivity of the åmot extraction process. She said that it's not as simple as transplanting the åmot, but that the how, where and when are very important, and that respects must be paid to Chamorro ancestors.
'We need to do anything that we can'
"For us, it's all connected with our ancestors and you can feel their energy here," Perez said. "Once you dislocate us from that, it actually affects how effective the medicine is. We need to do anything that we can to preserve our island and our culture that has lasted here for such a long time."
According to yo'åmte apprentice Moñeka De Oro, while some of the plants may be growing elsewhere in isolated parts of the island, putting a firing range near accessible sites like Ritidian threatens the usability of the åmot.
"This place is a sacred, pristine part of the island," De Oro said. "This is still a place frequented by healers to pick medicines, especially rare medicines that we can't grow elsewhere and would only survive in this area."
De Oro said she hopes to preserve the beauty and sanctity of the Ritidian coastline, which has been a peaceful Chamorro ancestral dwelling for centuries. There's a lot at stake, she said.
"The access to this place is at stake," De Oro said. "Right now it's peaceful, but if they build a firing range, you're just going to be hearing bullets flying. That sort of sound pollution is not going to leave this place as peaceful as it is."
'Why would you want to destroy this?'
During times the firing range would be in use, part of Ritidian will be restricted from public access because a safety buffer zone must be established. The military has said there will be no actual firing of weapons at Ritidian.
Suruhana Bernice Tudela Nelson, a resident of Dededo, avidly takes trips to Ritidian and land in the nearby Andersen Air Force Base to retrieve her åmot. Concerned for the future of the sacred site, Nelson was left with more questions than answers.
"Why would you want to choose some place that is very sacred? Why would you want to destroy this?"