Guam essay

Cultural Awareness Paper: Guam

Territory of Guam is an island in the western Pacific Ocean, which is part of the United States with a status of an unincorporated organized territory without the right to participate in national elections. The island of Guam is located on Mariana Islands archipelago, 1,600 miles from Japan and 3,900 miles from Hawaii, being the largest and southernmost island of the archipelago. The island stretches from north to south for 30 miles; the width at the narrowest middle part is 12 miles. To the south-west of it is the deepest point of the world’s ocean – 11 022 m. The north of Guam is a limestone plateau composed of corals; the south has a volcanic origin and hilly terrain. The climate of the island is of tropical monsoon type. There are two distinguished seasons: the rainy season (June – September) and the windy season (October – May). Throughout the year the temperature on Guam varies in the comfortable range of 27-33 °C, and virtually does not change during the day. Typhoons on the island occur occasionally every few years (CIA, 2012).


Historical Background

Guam was inhabited by one of the Austronesian peoples, Chamorro, about 3500 years ago. Archaeologists believe that the culture of the indigenous people has a history of more than four thousand years and it is the most ancient civilization in Micronesia. The first settlers arrived to Mariana Islands from Southeast Asia in a canoe through the stormy waters of the Pacific Ocean. They lived in caves, ate fish and fruit. By the beginning of the 16th century, when the expedition of Magellan discovered Guam on March 6, 1521, the Chamorro had already started forming the early class society. The whole people of Chamorro were divided into three major social strata: chiefs, freemen and slaves (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 56).

In 1565, Guam was declared a colony of Spain. Since 1600 the island was used by the Spanish galleons that were routing from Mexico to the Philippines as a place to let to provide rest to the crew and recharge provisions. As a result, this led to demographic blending of the Aboriginal Chamorro with the Spaniards, Mexicans and Filipino who were part of the crews on Spanish galleons. Actual Spanish colonization accompanied by Christianization of the Chamorro began in 1668 with the arrival of Catholic missionaries to the island. At the time, Spanish Catholicism was hardly inoculated over the ancient culture of the local people who till today have preserved their beliefs in the forest spirits taotaomona and strong matriarchy (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 129).

As a result, the period from 1670 to 1695 was marked by a series of Chamorro riots, which were brutally suppressed by the Spanish soldiers. During the Spanish-Chamorro war, the population of natives was exterminated: the Chamorro population, especially men, was strongly reduced from 100 to 3 thousand. This led to further assimilation of the Chamorro with the Spanish, Filipinos and Mexicans. By the end of the 18th century there were no full-blooded Chamorro left, however, the Chamorro managed to preserve their language and some customs. Starting with 1700’s, the island of Guam was visited by numerous scholars and scientists of different countries (including Spain, France, Russia) and of various fields, such as ethnology, archeology, botany, medicine, who came to Guam in order to explore and study the island (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 141). At the same time, Spanish governors were studying the local people and wrote numerous works on their culture and life. The Guam Museum now exhibits many of those collections.

The U.S. conquered the island during the Spanish-American War in 1898, and got it according to the Paris Peace Accords signed the same year. After that Guam has served as a transshipment base for American vessels departing from the Philippines or travelling to the Philippines. During World War II, Guam was attacked by the armed forces of the Imperial Japan in the Battle of Guam (1941), three hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Guam surrendered to the Japanese forces on December 10. In the midst of the war, approximately 19,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors were stationed on the island. Eventually, Guam was liberated from occupation by the U.S. Marine Corps on July 21, 1944 in the Battle of Guam, 13 days after the beginning of the battle for the liberation of the island from the Japanese invaders (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 253).

Today, Guam has the official status of “an organized unincorporated territory of the United States” with the capital in Hagatna, and is governed on the basis of the Organic Act of Guam passed by the U.S. Congress in 1950 (CIA, 2012). This law gave the island the right to local self-government and declared its people the nationals of the United States, however, without the right to participate in national elections. In addition, in accordance with the 2009 Law on State federalization of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and other islands of the archipelago became part of the U.S. as a separate administrative area, the Mariana Islands.

Head of state is the President of the United States. Executive power is exercised by the Governor, who is elected by the people of Guam for a 4-year term and appoints local government (while before 1970 the governor used to be appointed by the U.S. President with the consent of the U.S. Senate). The governor appoints the government after the approval by the legislature heads of 48 executive departments. Legislative power is represented by the Legislative Assembly consisting of 15 senators who are elected for 2-year terms. Guam also has one delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, who is elected for 2 years but has no voting rights (CIA, 2012). In Guam, there is a movement for complete independence from the United States, but most of the residents of Guam prefer to maintain the current status in a modified form providing wider autonomy.

Guam is the largest strategic U.S. military base in the Pacific, therefore the naval and army authorities have quite a big impact on the political and social life of the island. The U.S. militaries are concentrated mainly at Andersen Air Force Base and Apra Harbor Naval Base located in the Northern region of Guam. In general, historically, the economy of Guam is supported primarily by tourism (especially from Japan), and secondary by the U.S. military base located on the island, which occupies one-third of its territory. The basis of the economy of the local population is slash-and-burn agriculture, growing of yams, rice, banana, coconut palms, cane, as well as gardening and fishing (CIA, 2012).

Thus, the northern region of Guam is the most sparsely populated area of the island and the least visited by tourists. Most part of the region is occupied by the U.S. military bases. At the same time, the Ritidian Beach is located here, which is considered the most beautiful beach in Guam. The central region is the most populous and most visited by tourists (90% of the tourists). It is here that the capital of Guam is situated, as well as the main and in fact the only tourist center of the island – Tumon. Southern region is the most picturesque on the island, but at the same time it is the most underdeveloped. In this area the culture of the original Guam people of Chamorro is preserved best.

In general, the population of Guam is more than 160,000 people. Indigenous inhabitants of the island, the Chamorro, make up about 37% of the population (around 64,000 people; another 16,000 Chamorros live on other Mariana Islands). The population also includes a significant number of immigrants from the Philippines (about 26%), the Polynesian people (about 11.3%), immigrants from China, Japan and Korea, as well as about 25,000 members of the U.S. army and navy and their families (CIA, 2012). Thus, today Guam presents a remarkable cultural diversity. The Chamorro culture is well-pronounced here but at the same time it is impossible not to notice the Spanish influence of past years. In addition, immigrants from Korea, China, the Philippines and Micronesia who arrived to the island in large numbers in the second half of the 20th century contributed to the formation of the cultural traditions of Guam.


The original culture of Guam

Scientists associate the origin of the Chamorro (from local Chamorri “noble race”, “chief”), as well as Palau, unlike the rest of the Micronesians, with migrations from the Philippines and Indonesia in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Arguments in favor of the Malayo-Polynesian theory are based on the similarity of ancient ceramics (Marian red clay) and rice cultivation, which is unique to Oceania. The famous latte, ancient megalithic monuments of the Chamorro culture (rows of giant stone pillars with tops in the shape of hemispheres) are also interpreted as implementation of the principle of pile buildings in Southeast Asia. The Chamorro language also belongs to the Austronesian family of languages of the western branch, but as a result of colonization, in addition to native vocabulary it also contains a large number of Spanish words.

The cornerstone of this culture is the tradition that derived from the Catholic faith which had been brought here by the Spanish in the 17th century, and the principle of respect for the family rooted in centuries-old culture of the Chamorro people, the most ancient civilization of Micronesia. These values are deeply rooted in to the concept of inafa’maolek which is often translated as interdependence and basically means doing good for each other, i.e. show respect for other people’s family, community as a whole, and particularly respect for the elderly or manamko, which perfectly fit into traditional beliefs (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 115).

Throughout the history of the Chamorro people, they were considered to be superstitious. They had a tradition of keeping the skulls of their ancestors in homes in special baskets thus idolizing them and using in rituals, pronouncing invocations in front of them in order to gain the desired things. The spirits of the dead ancestors were called anite. The Chamorro believed that the spirit inhabited the surrounding forests, and visited the villages form time to time, which was causing scary dreams in their dwellers and influenced the success of the fisheries. Those who died a violent death were believed to enter an afterlife place called Zazarraguan, and those dying their natural death were supposed to live in an underground paradise with banana plantations, coconut groves, sugar cane and other tropical fruits (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 84-87). Today, Chamorro believers are mainly Roman Catholics (up to 8586%) (CIA, 2012). At the same time, the religious institutions operating in modern-day Guam also include Guam Buddhism Society, Muslim Association of Guam, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Dominican Sisters, and the Redemptoris Mater Seminary. Worship of ancestors still may be found among village citizens as well, and some still honor their old relatives’ skulls. After the Spanish conquest the cult of the dead developed as well, which especially referred to the spirits of the chiefs.

As it was mentioned above, the cult of the family is the cornerstone of the culture of the Chamorro people. Initially, basic social units were matrilineal groups of related families composing the population of the village. Several villages were united under the leadership of the chief. The society was divided into three hierarchical classes: the class of senior chiefs and the highest-ranked nobles (matua), junior chiefs or middle class (atchaot), and commoners (mangatchang). The economic specialization was thus defined in accordance with class belonging, as well as the social inter-class relations and inter-class marriages, which were strictly regulated by the rules of etiquette. Traditionally, marriages were monogamous, with matrilocal rule. At the same time, there were houses of bachelors, and women enjoyed premarital sexual freedom (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 78).

Chamorro women had a high social status: they participated in village councils, held the court, had their own meetings, and inherited their husbands’ possessions. Husband’s adultery was punished more severely than wife’s infidelity. Prior to marriage, young Chamorro men were allowed to live in concubinage with young women, who were chosen as future wives and then purchased from their parents by means of presents. As a result, it was accustomed that several young couples would live together in one large house, similarly to the traditions widely spread among the Igorot peoples of Luzon. After marriage though, a husband coupled with one wife, and a wife chose one husband at a time. Still, wife’s treason was condemned much less than that of husband’s, and divorces among the Chamorro were noted to be frequent, with household property and children staying with the wife. Foreign influence could not break the tradition of creating family communities, relatives are the most important people to each local, and family affairs will always be of the highest priority. Today the representatives of the older generation are considered to be the heads in the families, and they are trying to help the young with their wise advice, therefore, their word is always decisive in the family decisions (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 269).

The Chamorro people are proud of their traditional cuisine, dance, fashion, games, language, music, and songs. All the traditions from seafaring and fishing to crafts, from weaving and braiding to songs and dances are being passed orally in stories and legends for thousands of years.

Cuisine. Historically, the Guam inhabitants tend to eat fish, fowls, taro, yams, rice, bananas, breadfruit, and coconuts, combined in several traditional dishes. The food was usually cooked in a heated pit by means of heated stones, which pretty much resembles the technique applied by the contemporary Polynesians. The major plants brought on the island by the various missionaries were pineapples, tobacco, maize, lemons, limes and oranges, cashew nuts and peanuts, tomatoes and egg plants, several species of Annona, as well as a wide range of garden herbs and leguminous vegetables. Later, cacao and coffee were also introduced. Thus, the contemporary cuisine of Guam is now the fusion cuisine, eclectically combining the tastes of the indigenous Chamorro tribes, the Philippines, the Pacific Islanders, the Asians, and the Spanish. Indeed, Spanish colonialism that lasted for three centuries also has a strong influence on the Guam traditional cuisine being simultaneously blended with the current American impact. Some of the popular Guam dishes include the Jamaican Grill, the Chorizo Breakfast Bowl, a side dish cooked of red rice with red achiote tree seeds, the Banana Lumpia desert, etc. A feature of traditional Chamorro cuisine is the Mariana fruit bat. Other Guam’s cuisine local ingredients typically include fresh fish, mainly tuna, coconut, breadfruit, yams, taro, and papaya. The Chamorro traditional dishes are Guyuria, Chicharrón, Kalamai, and Roskette. On a whole, Guam cuisine is rich in Spanish, Filipino and Pacific dishes. At a village table one can find such delicacies as suckling pig roasted on fire, tropical fruits, coconut crabs, red rice painted by ashiot seeds, and many other things that can be cooked outdoors over an open fire (Kaplan and Pease 1994, 327-330).

Architecture. Many architectural structures in Guam remained since the Spanish period. But their greatness is overshadowed by the megalithic structures of the Chamorro civilization – latte stones. Chronicler of Magellan in 1521 wrote about the Chamorro houses that they were lifted on wooden poles or stone pillars called latte, with roofs made of palm leaves thatched over the basis of solid coral (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 174-179). None of such houses survived till today: most of the villages in Guam, the number of which was over 180, were destroyed mainly between 1670 and 1695 during the Spanish-Chamorro war; the latte stones from 20 buildings are the only remains that are left. These huge columns of limestone with hemispheric stone on top are found all over the island and are accompanied with remains of shell and stone tools and pottery (Kaplan and Pease 1994, 313-317). A large number of latte columns of old houses keep the reminiscence of the ancient inhabitants Chamorro living on the territory of Guam, who left their petroglyphs on them. In modern times, the latte stones are considered to be a symbol of the Chamorro identity, the symbol of Guam. Some of the new buildings are constructed now incorporating new-fashioned concrete lattes, while ancient latte stones are incorporated into residential Guam landscaping.

In 2010, for holding events and attracting tourists, on the top of the Adelup area in the southern part of the capital, where the complex of government buildings with the administration of the governor is located, a tower in the form of a latte stone was erected with a viewing platform – the Latte of Freedom. In addition to the monumental ancient latte stones found only on the Mariana Islands, the main historical sights of the island include the Plaza de España, Guam Statue of Liberty, Statue of Chamorro, Two Lover’s Point, the historical monuments of the Battle of Guam between the Japanese Army and the U.S. Navy, Guam Museum, Talofofo waterfalls, natural swimming pool on the Pacific coast, and the Lam Lam hill – the highest mountain in the world if you take the Mariana Trench as its bottom.

Pottery. According to archeological researches, Chamorro pottery as a form of ceramic craft and art has a long history of over 3,000 years. Ceramic products were all handmade and had shapes of domestic kitchen ware with various geometric designs with imprints of lime. At the time of the so-called Latte Period (800 AD – 1521 AD), red clay combined with volcanic sand were used the raw materials for ceramics production. Items of this period were smaller in size than the ones of the pre-Latte period and had decorations over the surface in the rim area. In order to make cooking easy the kitchen ware bases were designed in round or cone shapes with small openings. However, in the period of Spanish colonial ruling this form of craft was terminated and replaced in domestic use by the imported ceramics. However, this form of craft work was revived and promoted in the mid-1960’s by the University of Guam, and it is recognized now a specific art form of Guam (Kaplan and Pease 1994, 315-321). At the fairs and exhibitions of cultural objects held on the island, plaiting craftsmen, carvers and even blacksmiths traditionally demonstrate their mastery.

Painting. Painting in Guam is a relatively recent art form which started developing here in the 1980’s. One of the greatest collections of works by local authors is displayed at the Guam International Airport at the arrival and departure gates. A number of paintings are also exhibited in the business college of the University of Guam. The local artistic sights include the murals by painter Sal Bidaure, in particular the two-story level mural on the Bank of Hawaii and the mural on the concrete retaining wall located near the Hilton hotel. Numerous well-known buildings all over the island contain contemporary paintings by many local artists (Kaplan and Pease 1994, 331). The names of the well-known contemporary artists include Monica Baza, Vivian Chargulaf, Ric R. Castro, and Mark Dell’Isola.

Music of Guam. The music of Guam involves the artworks by many popular Chamorro musicians, such as Daniel De Leon Guerrero, KACY, Flora Baza Quan known as the Queen of Chamorro Music, as well as songwriter and singer JD Crutch, presented by the local music company Napu Records and owning the best-selling Guam album with Guinaifen Manglo. In addition to the Napu Records, Guam also features another major local record label called StelStar Records. Traditional Chamorro instruments are the nose flute and the belembaotuyan, which is a hollow gourd stringed instrument. Guam’s state song is “Guam Hymn” written by Ramon Sablan and adopted back in 1919. Modern music produced in Guam incorporates various elements of Spanish, Latin, American, Polynesian and Filipino music. In particular, the Spanish and Mexicans contributed significantly to the type of song called serenetas, now widely spread in the culture of Guam and sung at local festivals and carnivals. Music institutions in Guam are supported through the Fine Arts Department at the University of Guams, Guam Choristers, Cantate Guam, the Gregorian Institute of Guam, and Guam Symphony Society. The latter was founded 47 years ago, in 1967, and now hosts such notable events like the Musikan Famagu’on for children and the Symphony Seaside Concert (Carano and Sanchez 1968, 435).

Poetry. Chamorro poetry is another important element of the local original culture and it is mainly presented by such forms as Chamorrita singing (Kantan Chamorrita) and Chamorro chants. Kantan Chamorrita, according to chronicles, date back to the beginning of 1600’s; it is a particular type of improvised poetry composed in the format of a call and response, and till today remains an essential part of Chamorro culture. The principle of Kantan Chamorrita consists in separate persons exchanging quick-witted remarks with each other as part of a dispute so that the song is continued by a whole group of people singing in turns. The researchers characterize this poetic form as ancient folk songs that consist of quatrains made up of two octosyllabic couplets; the couplets are mostly sung on a single melody, however there may be a great number of variations depending on the performer’s personal style and preferences. The main characteristic features of Kantan Chamorrita are unprepared improvisation and the form of a dialogue between two individuals or groups of people, depending on the occasion and purpose. Special attention should also be paid to the myths of the Chamorro people which continue to thrive due to oral transmission from older generations to younger. Stories and folk dances pass the legends about ancient village spirits taotaomona, doomed lovers who jumped from the Cape Two Lovers (Dos Amantes Puntal), Serena – a beautiful young girl who became a mermaid (Kaplan and Pease 1994, 324-326).

During festivals, men and women get grouped separately to form semi-circles and chant Guam legends. These songs are sometimes sung in a three-part harmony by falsetto, contralto, and treble singers. The ceremony is typically accompanied by the demonstration of certain gestures and body movements. Guam women may also use shell-made castanets and rattles to create music.

In general, festivals and rural holidays is the Chamorro tradition that emerged in the late 17th century in symbiosis with Christian culture. The celebration in honor of the Catholic patron saint is held every year in all 19 villages of the island. Each village has its patron saint and its weekend to celebrate. The dates of celebrations do not overlap, so one can witness festivals on Guam at least two times a month. Traditionally relatives from other villages on the holiday Sunday gather at the dinner in the celebrating village. Such gatherings may count up to several hundred people eating, drinking beer and coke, chatting, listening to songs of local bands, having fun and dancing all day long. Tables are groaning with dishes which the whole village was cooking a few days; and the village youth demonstrates the specially prepared dances in the national spirit dressed in aboriginal costumes of straw and coconuts.

Another bright distinctive feature of the people of Guam is a unique sign language aybro. Using a variety of gestures and facial expressions the native population can communicate as freely as using the oral speech. Aybro is a completely unique communication system that has evolved for thousands of years. It is simply impossible for a foreigner to master this language of gestures because the same gesture accompanied by various facial expressions can have completely opposite meanings (Kaplan and Pease 1994, 312).

The Chamorros are proud of their language, faith, traditions, arts and crafts, but always welcomes new elements of other cultures. Therefore, despite the fact that customs such as kissing hands of seniors (fanginge) or fishing with beach seine (talaya) emerged in the early culture of the Chamorro people and firmly rooted in the local society, the influence of Spanish and Asian cultures is also evident and reflected throughout the island. On a whole, from the traditional culture of the Chamorro only the individual elements have firmly survived: chamorrita songs are performed at celebrations; some crafts are still alive (weaving, manufacture of shell jewelry, wood carving), betel chewing is common. But the houses of local residents are built from modern materials, and clothing is European. Most Chamorros are employed, mostly serving the U.S. military bases on the island. At the same time, ethnic identity of the Chamorro steadfastly maintains.

Thus, despite the fact that the culture and traditions of the locals was greatly influenced by both Europe and America, the indigenous population remains true to its beliefs, many of which were formed in ancient times, and great attention is paid to the revival of the culture in the country. For example, over the years the national language of Chamorro has been almost completely lost, and today in order to attract youth people to studying the national culture lots of events, festivals and village celebrations are held in Guam, which are based on ancient customs.

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