Schools provided for change

The introduction of Spanish culture to the Chamorro people began with early Spanish visitors to the Marianas in 1500s. Spanish influence on the culture and language continued throughout the duration of the Spanish Era, which lasted from 1668 to 1898. When the Spanish first arrived, they discovered naked islanders who lived in small villages. The Spanish saw them as superstitious non-Christians who recognized chiefs as their leaders and, who in their opinion, were uncivilized and lacking proper religious and political practices. However, the Spanish also believed that the Chamorros possessed the potential to become more productive citizens within the constructs of a Westernized culture.

Style of dress

During the late 17th century when Jesuit priest Diego Luis de San Vitores established a mission in the village of Hagåtña, the main objectives of the Spanish were the Christianization and colonization of the region. Determined to introduce a more “civilized” appearance to the islanders, San Vitores taught the Chamorros how to make Western-style garments by piecing together the woven mats that Chamorros already produced. San Vitores himself wore these garments as a means of convincing the islanders that the woven pieces of clothing were suitable forms of attire.

Educational facilities

San Vitores established Colegio de San Juan de Letrán, a boy’s school or seminary, in 1669 in the village of Hagåtña. Initially, students were drawn to the school with the promise of receiving small gifts. These boys, ages four through eleven, who attended the Colegio received lessons in Christian doctrine, reading, writing, arithmetic, penmanship, Spanish grammar, geography, history, and good manners.

By the mid-19th century, the curriculum included music, ethics, carpentry, iron-working, and agriculture. Instruction was provided by two male teachers who were educated at the Normal School in Manila. In 1844, the enrollment at the school was approximately 300 to 400 students and by 1886, 500 boys were enrolled at the school.

The Escuela de Niñas, or School for Girls, was also located in the capital city of Hagåtña. The school building included two classrooms which could accommodate up to 150 students. One teacher and an assistant (ayudante) taught the young girls, also ages four to eleven years of age. The curriculum consisted of classes in Christian doctrine, reading, writing, arithmetic, sewing, and embroidery. In 1886 the Escuela de Niñas had an enrollment of 356.

Both the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the Escuela de Niñas were overcrowded facilities during the nineteenth century, prompting an official request for the construction of additional schools on the island. The funding for the institutions came from an endowment called obra pia from Queen Mariana of Austria.

The other institutions established were referred to as Schools of Primary Letters, and were built in the other villages and also provided educational instruction to children, ages four to eleven. These schools were located in the villages of Agat (with the outlying barrio of Sumay), Merizo (with the outlying barrio of Umatac) and Inarajan. Additionally, there was a school constructed in the barrio of Santa Cruz, adjacent to the capital city of Hagåtña, due to the large student population in the area. The capital city of Hagåtña included the outlying barrios of Anigua, Asan, Tepungan, Sinajana and Maria Cristina (present day Tamuning).

New politics, new religion

As can be seen in the school curriculum, Chamorros were introduced to an array of Western subjects and fields of study. A society with strong oral traditions, Chamorros were taught to read and write using pen and paper. Fields of study such as geography, arithmetic, history, and Christian doctrine were taught to provide the students with what was viewed as the basics of an education. Trades such as carpentry, iron-working, agriculture, sewing and embroidery were included in the curriculum and promoted as skills which could provide income.

By 1887, approximately 35 percent of the population had received primary instruction in one of the schools on the island. Eleven percent of the total population had learned how to read and write.

The Spanish administration of the Mariana Islands introduced many changes to the islanders lifestyle. A new political structure was placed upon them as was a new way of worship. San Vitores and his Jesuit brothers as well as the Augustinian Recollects helped to Christianize the Chamorros with the promise of salvation.

The Spanish colonization of the Mariana Islands introduced the Western world to the Chamorros and forever changed the direction of their lives.

By Velma Yamashita

For further reading

De Santa Maria, Gregorio, Pablo Perez, Nicholas Saavedra, Juan Ruiz Roda, and Vicente Acosta. Reports Concerning the Mariana Islands: The Memorias of 1844-1852. MARC Educational Series 21. Edited by Marjorie G. Driver and Omara Brunal-Perry. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 1996.

Driver, Marjorie G. The Spanish Governors of the Mariana Islands and the Saga of the Palacio. MARC Educational Series 2. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 2005.

Ibanez y García, Luis. The History of the Marianas, with Navigational Data, and of the Caroline, and Palau Islands from the time of their Discovery by Magellan to the Present (1887). Translated by Marjorie G. Driver. MARC Educational Series 12. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 1992.

Olive y Garcia, Francisco. The Mariana Islands, 1884-1887: Random Notes of Governor Francisco Olive y Garcia. Translated by Marjorie G. Driver. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 1984.

Vara de Rey, Joaquin, Luis Santos Fontordera, and Luis Cadarso y Rey. Reports Concerning the Mariana Islands: the Memorias of 1890-1894. Educational Series 25. Translated by Marjorie G. Driver. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 2000.