The mysterious Kalabera

An interview with Genevieve S. Cabrera, cultural historian at UIU Micronesia, Inc.

Q: What does the soil in Kalabera Cave consist of?

A: Most of the soil in and around the Kalabera, which encompasses a larger area beyond the cave itself, is primarily comprised of clay with high silica and iron content.  The amount of iron infused with the silica determines the soil’s degree of redness.

Q: Have you tried to explore other caves near Kalabera to see if they contain signs of Chamorro life?

A: I began my field survey of the Kalabera area in 2003. My research is ongoing.

Q: You have said that the cave slopes down. Should tourists proceed down? 

A: The inclination of the cave floor at the entrance is fairly steep and there is close to a 60-foot drop down to the cave’s middle chamber. There is an additional 100-foot drop within the middle chamber’s northern sector. Visitors to the cave are not allowed past the walkway because of these drops in elevation and the danger they present. The plaques near the Latte House serve to provide visitors information about the cave’s rock art.

Q: What objects were found in Kalabera?

A: The artifacts and natural cave features tell a little bit more about the ancient Chamorro and their way of living at the time they inhabited the Kalabera area. The cave and its immediate surroundings have seen human use for the past 3,400 years. The Marianas Archipelago was the first island chain in Micronesia to have been inhabited 4,000 years ago. Since its development, there is evidence of increasing vandalism to the artifacts and the site’s natural features, which is most unfortunate.  We must learn to cherish our cultural and historic sites so the future generations of islanders and visitors can appreciate, enjoy, and take pride in the part the site plays in Saipan’s story.

Q: Why do you think the Chamorros selected this cave? Why didn’t they try to pick other caves? 

A: This is a really fun question because we can spend an entire day trying to answer it.  It is not known definitively why the ancient Chamorro selected Kalabera as a habitation site, and more specifically, to have chosen the cave to “house” human skulls. The ancient Chamorro did utilize other caves in and around their villages and hamlets throughout the archipelago.

Q: How much space exactly did the ancient Chamorros take up? How deep did they dig their rooms?

A: We do not have evidence to date that indicates that the ancient Chamorro modified naturally existing caves and cave systems to suit their needs per se.  It appears that they utilized what nature provided.

Q: How many people on average come to this tourist attraction? 

A: Kalabera Cave is one of the most consistently visited sites on Saipan before and after the recent development. It is visited everyday of the week from sunrise to sunset, and very likely during the wee hours at night when vandals are known to be most active.

Q: Why do you suggest people to come to Kalabera? 

A: I recommend a visit to Kalabera Cave because it is an opportunity to learn more about Saipan’s history, about its indigenous inhabitants, and the many layers of historical cultural events that occurred at the site.  A visit to Kalabera Cave is one of the more fun ways to learn something new outside of a classroom setting.

Q: Could other islanders have lived with the Chamorros?

A: Yes. We have two native groups in the Northern Mariana Islands, namely the Chamorro and Carolinians. The interaction between the two groups goes back further than the early 19th century when larger groups from the central Carolines came to Saipan to settle after a series of devastating typhoons destroyed their island homes. Nowadays we have every Micronesian island group represented in the NMI along with islanders from Polynesia and Melanesia.

Q: What’s the purpose of living in a cave situated near a steep cliff, near Bird Island?

A: We do not know, with any certainty, why the ancient Chamorro chose to settle or utilize the Kalabera site. (Alex Mergino, TANSAM)

Megino is a 7th grade student of TANSAM.

Alex Mergino (TANSAM) Author

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