Guam’s Seven Historical Eras
People first arrived on Guam and the rest of the Mariana islands probably from Southeast Asia, possibly in many waves over many years. These people evolved into the Chamorro people with their own distinct language and way of life.
Starting with the arrival of Father San Vitores, Guam was colonized by Spain until the Spanish-American War.
The US Navy ruled Guam from the end of the Spanish-American War up until the Japanese invasion of Guam on 8 December 1941. The Chamorros petitioned for US citizenship for the first time in 1901.
Japanese forces occupied Guam from 8 Dec. 1941 to 21 July 1944.
A period of rebuilding after the destruction of World War II. Naval Governors were once again in charge of the island. This the period when the military took land and built several large bases. The people of Guam pushed hard for self rule and US citizenship.
With the signing of the Organic Act on 1 August 1950 Chamorros became US citizens, though they had limited self government. The governor, a civilian, was appointed by the US president. The Organic Act set up the Government of Guam as well, with the Administration, the Legislature and the Courts. The term “Guamanian” was coined, which includes Chamorros, Filipinos and everyone else who makes Guam their home.
Guam’s first elected governor took office and Guam started having a tourism on a regular basis which gave the island a second industry besides military. Chamorros continue to struggle for self-determination.
Overview of Guam’s History
Guam, the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands chain, has a unique and complex cultural history. Located in the Western Pacific in the geographic region known as Micronesia, Guam is well known for its strategic military and economic position between Asia and the North American continent, but is less known for its remarkable history and resilient people.
Inhabited for thousands of years, the Marianas are home to one of the oldest Pacific Island cultures. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Marianas Islands were one of the first places to be settled by seafaring peoples, possibly from Island Southeast Asia, over 4000 years ago. Although it is uncertain whether the islands were settled in waves of migration or all at once, the Mariana Islands appear to have been continuously occupied by people who shared the same culture and language that eventually became known as Chamorro.
Guam not only has a unique ancient history, but a complex colonial history as well. Guam is the site of the first Roman Catholic mission and formal European colony in the Pacific islands. In fact, the last 400 years of Guam’s history are marked by administrations of three different colonial powers: Spain, the United States and Japan.
With each administration, came new challenges and changes for the Chamorro people. As a Spanish colony, the Chamorro people adapted to influences regarding religion, social organization and cultural practices from Spain, Mexico and the Philippines.
The ceding of Guam to the United States as an unincorporated territory after the Spanish-American War in 1898 introduced Chamorros to democratic principles of government and the modern American lifestyle, while keeping them subjects of a sometimes oppressive US naval administration.
Guam also had a unique position in World War II, when Japan invaded the island shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. For the next three years, Guam was the only US territory occupied by Japanese forces, and the Chamorros were thrown into a war not of their making, until the Americans returned in 1944 to reclaim the island.
The political maneuverings after World War II and the post war buildup led to even more expansion of US military interests in Guam and the rest of Micronesia, with Guam becoming a hub for economic and commercial development. The easing of military restrictions for entering Guam and the establishment of a local, civilian government, have made the island an ideal place for people from all over the world to visit, go to school, find jobs or pursue a variety of economic interests.
The different eras of Guam’s history are highlighted with moments of resilience, strength, adaptation and innovation as the Chamorro people have found ways to adapt to the challenges of cultural and historical change. Today, Guam has a diverse population that enjoys a rich, multicultural, modern and urban lifestyle, but in its heart endures the spirit, language and culture of the indigenous Chamorro people, for whom Guam has always been “home.”