Marianas Portal


Map of the Mariana Islands

Introducing the Mariana Islands

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Pacific Origins and the Arts

Note: from POP Cultures

The Australian National University, College of Asia and the Pacific, CartoGIS

Other Austronesian-speaking peoples moved into Micronesia—to the Marianas and Palau about 4,000 years ago, and about 2,000 years later, the Caroline and the Marshall Islands. As the different cultures evolved in each of these regions, so did distinctive characteristics of their art forms also evolve and change. Utilizing materials that were available to them, they fashioned objects that were significant both aesthetically and symbolically. The early settlers of the Marianas also had a unique pottery style, broadly named Marianas redware, with lime-incised decorations. It is not clear but some scientists believe a second wave of migration into the Marianas about 1,000 years ago may have led to the distinct culture that produced the iconic latte stones of the Chamorro people. Other builders of iconic stone architecture are the ancestors of the Pohnpeians who constructed the impressive series of channels and platforms known as Nan Mahdol.

Archeology of the Marianas

Guampedia, the Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center University of Guam, and Guam Preservation Trust are pleased to collaborate on this collection of essays on archeological knowledge of the Marianas.

There has been a lot of archeological investigation in the Marianas. There are nearly a thousand archeological reports, but most of these were done to satisfy the historical preservation laws that require studies on many development projects. The sheer number of these is impressive, but in themselves they are not accessible or meaningful to the general reader. They are often more about the law or the specific development than they are about the general knowledge of archeology.

Historical Timelines

Guampedia Timeline. 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 more than 3,500 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. 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 CHamoru.

For learning purposes we’ve broken Guam’s history into seven eras – Ancient, Spanish, US Naval, World War II, Post War, Guamanian and Contemporary.

Learn about the 3,500 years of Guam history here or view our timeline here.

Guampedia’s Micronesia and World Milestones. An online timeline featuring key points in history for the island nations that form Micronesia. From the first settlers to current events, including FestPac. View our Micronesian Milestone timeline here.

Marianas History Conference

One Archipelago, Many Stories

In 2011 a group of like minded people from the Mariana Islands decided it was high time to have a Marianas History Conference, one that focused specifically on the history and experiences of the people of all the Mariana Islands. The initial group of organizers, led by Scott Russell of the Northern Marianas and Rosanna Barcinas of Guam, met in August and came up with the theme, “One Archipelago, Many Stories,” which highlighted the deep and rich history of the Mariana Islands as well as bridged the political division of the archipelago–a division that exists today. Learn more here.

MHC pages

Marianas Environment

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Our Oceans

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Our Lands

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Fish and Wildlife Fact Sheets

Guam’s Fish and Wildlife Fact Sheets made 80 fact sheets contain images and provide text describing the island’s species that live on land and in the ocean surrounding the Marianas. Each one names the species or organism in CHamoru and English.

Some sheets indicate if  the species is introduced to the islands, if it is endangered or if it is an extinct species.The sheets also have photos and/or illustrations showing the species in its natural habitat.  They provide information on the origins, habitat, diet and season for harvesting or hunting.

View the fact sheets here.

Voices of Our Elders

Our Manaina

Anyone who has grown up in a Chamorro household on Guam or the Northern Mariana Islands likely can attest to the importance the elders, our manaina, have in our families. Parents, grandparents and the older generations of aunts, uncles and cousins, grow in status because of their age and experience. We respect them for their wisdom and recognize them as keepers of Chamorro traditions, customs, genealogy, history, landholdings, crafts, and family secrets. They are often our first teachers. They taught us the Sign of the Cross (in Catholic households) and how to pray; they showed us how to cook favorite family dishes, and shared special crafts they knew, like weaving, sewing or carving. They told us stories of their lives growing up. They taught us to respect others and reminded us of our responsibilities to the family and to the rest of our community. If we were fortunate enough, they spoke to us in Chamorro. Growing up, we were taught not only to respect our elders, but to care for them when they become too old to take care of themselves. And there is always much sadness when an elder passes away.

Children in the Marianas are taught early on to show respect to their elders. They sniff their saina‘s slightly raised hand (‘nginge) or kiss their cheek, while referring to them as “Ñot” or “Ñora,” and receiving their praise and blessing—or “Dioste ayudi”—in return. Being around the elders, the manaina (or man’amko), and listening to what they have to say, help keep the Chamorro culture alive, ready to pass on to the next generation.

“Hinenggen Chamorro”

The Hinenggen Chamorro: The Faith of the Chamorro People Before the War” Exhibit was an exhibit of religious images and artifacts assembled and curated by Pale’ Eric Forbes, OFM Cap., a Chamorro Catholic priest and an avid researcher of Guam and Marianas history. The exhibit was held at Government House from February to March 2014 in commemoration of Chamorro Month and featured historic images, icons and religious displays of predominantly Catholic (but also General Baptist) objects that reflect the strong Christian faith of Guam’s people from this era. Hinenggen Chamorro was well-received by many who visited the exhibit because of the rarity of its pieces and the unique subject matter. Pale’ Eric allowed Guampedia to record him giving a tour of the exhibit in both English and Chamorro, and to make the videos available online so that others could see the display of Guam’s prewar religious history. To watch the video vignettes click here or to watch the Chamorro version at the end of this page click here.

La Nao de China

The inspiration for this project was the “La Nao de China” (the Road to China/the Manila Galleon Trade) festival which occurs every year in Acapulco, Mexico to commemorate the Manila Galleon Trade Route that traversed the Pacific between Mexico and the Philippines for over two hundred years. The route represents the beginning of global trade in the region but was also the impetus for the movement of goods and people and the spreading of Spanish influence across the Pacific. Guam, as part of the trade route, was deeply impacted by the arrival of foreigners, particularly Spanish, Filipino and Mexican traders, soldiers and missionaries into the Marianas. In addition to several new entries on the trade route, Manila galleons, and the forzado or forced labor system, historian Toni “Malia” Ramirez in video form, shares some insights on the cultural impacts on the Chamorro people, seen especially in food, clothing and traditions which continue today. Ramirez also emphasizes the persistence of Chamorro language and culture despite centuries of colonialism under four different foreign powers. Explore the entries here. Watch the video vignette in this page click here or click here to watch in the Voices of Our Elders Video Vignettes post.

Forzado System and the Mariana Islands

The Spanish Forzado System

Before the Mariana Islands served as an official penal colony for political prisoners and criminals from Spain and her territories in the 19th century, the forzado system, or forced labor, brought many individuals to the islands in the form of conscripted laborers and soldiers. The forzado system imposed sentences of forced labor not only on those convicted of crimes, but others deemed “undesirable” by governing officials and provincial elite.

Partition of the Marianas

The Marianas archipelago was first inhabited some 3,500 years ago by people who originally came from Southeast Asia. Today the indigenous inhabitants are known as CHamorus. In 1521 Ferdinand Magellan stumbled upon these islands in his attempt to discover a western route to the Spice Islands.

History of Efforts to Reunify the Mariana Islands

Barbara Tuchman’s point, made in her book The March of Folly, certainly applies to the United State’s decision to acquire only Guam out of the Marianas Archipelago as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Partitioning the Mariana Islands at the peace table in Versailles was undoubtedly one of America’s greatest foreign policy “Follies.” Despite the best advice from naval officers who had been in the region since Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened Japan in 1853, President William McKinley chose to give a portion of America’s spoils of war to a European nation that did not even participate in the war. The decision allowed Japan to capture the Northern Mariana Islands from Germany in 1914, and ultimately to choose war against the US in 1941. Today, the partition costs American taxpayers, in both the Marianas and the mainland, millions of dollars annually to maintain two separate territorial governments for essentially one people—not to mention the price of aggravations created over inter-island commerce and taxation. Significant efforts have been made to reunify the Marianas since that artificial line was drawn through the Rota Channel 115 years ago. Why have they failed? Is reunification still a viable political status option?


Little is known about the history of art or artistic movements in the Mariana Islands before the turn of the 20th century.  Traditional practices of canoe-building and pottery-making were largely forgotten as Spanish colonialism and influences from Spain, Germany, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan and the United States altered the cultural landscape of the CHamoru people.  However, some traditions, particularly weaving, storytelling and music remained, although somewhat changed with the passage of time.

With new cultural influences came new ways of producing items used in everyday life and for enjoyment.  Blacksmithing and metal work, for example, produced tools that made building structures or processing foods much easier than earlier methods.  Musical instruments and dances from around the world made their way to the Marianas with each new administration.  By the 20th century, the introduction of newspapers, radio and television brought even more ideas for artistic expression and possibilities to explore the latest musical genres, theatrical performances, art movements and dance.

Religion and cultural practices

Transmission of Christianity into CHamoru Culture

An interpretive essay: In the beginning

There is little doubt that CHamorus today live very different lives than CHamorus did 400 years ago, and have different ideas about what is and isn’t CHamoru culture. We would be hard pressed however, to find any culture which didn’t change drastically in some ways, over such a long period of time.

First Catholic schools

In addition to the evangelization of the Mariana Islands, the Jesuits introduced a European system of education to Chamorros. The Colegio de San Juan de Letrán, a school for boys in Hagåtña, was established by Father Diego Luis de San Vitores, a Jesuit priest who arrived on Guam in 1668 and established the first Catholic mission in the capital city of Hagåtña.

Christianization was first priority

The early missionaries in the Mariana Islands baptized thousands of Chamorros. Despite resistance among many Chamorros and the widespread blood shed and death that resulted, a majority of the population of the Marianas throughout the first century of Spanish rule in the islands were eventually converted to Christianity.