POP Cultures: Guam
Official Name: Territory of Guam
Indigenous Peoples: Chamorros
Official Languages: Chamorro and English
Political Status: Unincorporated Territory of the United States
Population: 161,785 (2015 est.)
Greeting: Hafa adai
Audio bite from Learn Contemporary Chamorro
History and geography
Guam, the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands chain, has a unique and complex cultural history. Located in the Western Pacific in Micronesia, Guam is well known for its strategic military and economic position between Asia and the North American continent. The Marianas are home to one of the oldest Pacific Island cultures. Archeological evidence indicates that the Marianas Islands were one of the first places to be settled by seafaring peoples, possibly from Island Southeast Asia, more than 4,000 years ago. Marianas prehistory is divided into two broad periods: the Pre-Latte Era (about 4,000 years ago to about 900-1000 AD) and the Latte Era (900-1000 AD to 1668 AD).
Guam is the site of the first Roman Catholic mission and formal European colony in the Pacific islands. 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 two and a half years, Guam was one 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 postwar 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.”
Arts and culture
Though traditional arts and crafts nearly disappeared under the influence of colonization, many have re-emerged in the modern day. Island dance, chant weaving, carving and jewelry making are flourishing in Guam. Contemporary arts such as painting, photography, filmmaking, as well as performance arts such poetry and theater are a part of every day life in Guam.
Helpful P.O.P. Culture section links:
Micronesian Delegations click here>>>
People of Pacific Cultures (POP Cultures), the main page click here>>>
POP Cultures: People of Melanesia click here>>>
POP Cultures: People of Polynesian click here>>>