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History of Guam

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Title: History of Guam  
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History of Guam

The history of Guam involves phases including the early arrival of people known today as the ancient Chamorros, the development of "pre-contact" society, Spanish colonization, and the present American rule of the island. Guam's history of colonialism is the longest among the Pacific islands.


  • Guam prior to European war 1
    • Migrations 1.1
    • Ancient Chamorro society 1.2
    • Latte 1.3
  • Spanish era 2
    • Magellan's first encounter with Guam 2.1
    • Spanish Colonization 2.2
  • American era 3
    • Capture of Guam 3.1
    • World War II 3.2
    • Self-determination 3.3
    • Contemporary Guam 3.4
  • See also 4
  • Further reading 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Guam prior to European war

Chief Gadao is featured in many legends about Guam before European colonization.


It is believed that Guam was first discovered by seafaring people who migrated from Southeast Asia around 2000 BC.

The original inhabitants of Guam are believed to be descendants of Austronesian people originating from Southeast Asia as early as 2000 BC, having linguistic and cultural similarities to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These people evolved into the Chamorro people. They flourished as an advanced, horticultural and hunting society. They were expert seafarers and skilled craftsmen familiar with intricate weaving and detailed pottery who built unique houses and canoes suited to this region of the world.[1]

Most of what is known about Pre-Contact ("Ancient") Chamorros comes from legends and myths, archaeological evidence, Jesuit missionary accounts, and observations from visiting scientists like Otto von Kotzebue and Louis de Freycinet.

Ancient Chamorro society

When Europeans first arrived on Guam, Chamorro society roughly fell into three classes: matao (upper class), achaot (middle class), and mana'chang (lower class). The matao were located in the coastal villages, which meant they had the best access to fishing grounds while the mana'chang were located in the interior of the island. Matao and mana'chang rarely communicated with each other, and matao often used achaot as a go-between.

There were also "shirhano(male) shirhana(female)" (shamans), skilled in healing and medicine. Belief in spirits of ancient Chamorros called Taotao Mona still persists as remnant of pre-European society. Early European explorers noted the Chamorros' fast sailing vessels used for trading with other islands of Micronesia.


The "latte stones" familiar to Guam residents and visitors alike were in fact a recent development in Pre-Contact Chamorro society. The latte stone consists of a head and a base shaped out of limestone. Like the Easter Island statues, there is plenty of speculation over how this was done by a society without machines or metal, but the generally accepted view is that the head and base were etched out of the ground by sharp adzes and picks (possibly with the use of fire), and carried to the assembly area by an elaborate system of ropes and logs. The latte stone was used as a part of the raised foundation for a magalahi (matao chief) house, although they may have also been used for canoe sheds.

Archaeologists using carbon-dating have broken Pre-Contact Guam (i.e. Chamorro) history into three periods: "Pre-Latte" (BC 2000? to AD 1) "Transitional Pre-Latte" (AD 1 to AD 1000), and "Latte" (AD 1000 to AD 1521). Archaeological evidence also suggests that Chamorro society was on the verge of another transition phase by 1521, as latte stones became bigger.

Assuming the stones were used for chiefly houses, it can be argued that Chamorro society was becoming more stratified, either from population growth or the arrival of new people. The theory remains tenuous, however, due to lack of evidence, but if proven correct, will further support the idea that Pre-Contact Chamorros lived in a vibrant and dynamic environment.

Spanish era

Magellan's first encounter with Guam

The first known contact between Guam and Western Europe occurred when Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer sailing for the Holy Roman Emperor King Charles I of Spain, anchored his small 3-ship fleet in Guam on March 6, 1521. History credits the village of Umatac as his landing place, but drawings from the navigator's diary indicate that Magellan may actually have landed in Tumon Bay in northern Guam. Magellan had started out in Spain with five ships but by the time they reached the Marianas they were down to three ships and lost close to half their crew. One of the five original ships got destroyed, and after seeing the first ship go down another ship had a mutiny and took off.[2] Hungry and weakened from their long voyage, the crew quickly prepared to go ashore and restore provisions. However, the excited native Chamorros, who did not share the Spaniards concept of ownership or subsistence living,[3]:30 canoed out first and began helping themselves to everything that was not nailed down to the ship. "The aboriginals were willing to engage in barter... Their love of gain overcame every other consideration"[4] Magellan mistook the curious Chamorros as thieves, naming Guam the "Island of Thieves". The weakened sailors had trouble fending off the tall and robust natives until a few shots from the Trinidad's big guns frightened them off the ship and they retreated into the surrounding jungle. Magellan was eventually able to obtain rations and offered iron, a commodity highly prized by Neolithic peoples, in exchange for fresh fruits, vegetables, and water. Details of Magellan's visit, and the first known Western documentation of Guam and the Chamorro, come from the journal of Antonio Pigafetta, one of Magellan's 18 original crew members to survive Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe.[2]

Spanish Colonization

Despite Magellan's visit, Guam was not officially claimed by Spain until 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Philip II ordered Legazpi to take possession of all lands and islands discovered. However, the island was not actually colonized until the 17th century.[5] On June 15, 1668, the galleon San Diego arrived at the shore of the island of Guam.[6] Jesuit missionaries led by Padre Diego Luis de San Vitores arrived on Guam to introduce Christianity and develop trade. The Spanish taught the Chamorros to cultivate maize (corn), raise cattle, and tan hides, as well as to adopt western-style clothing. They also introduced the Spanish language and culture. Once Christianity was established, the Catholic Church became the focal point for village activities and Guam became a regular port-of-call for the Spanish galleons that crossed the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to the Philippines.[7]

Chief Kåpua was the maga'lahi, or high ranking male, in the area of Hagåtña when the Spanish landed off its shores in 1668. Kåpua welcomed the missionaries and allowed himself to be baptized by San Vitores as Juan Kåpua. Kåpua granted the lands on which the first Catholic Church in Guam, the Dulce Nombre de Maria {Sweet Name of Mary} Cathedral Basilica, was constructed in 1669. The original cathedral was destroyed during World War II and the present Cathedral, was constructed on the original site in 1955. Chief Kåpua died in 1669 but his legacy had a great impact by allowing the Spanish to successfully establish a base on Guam for the Manila Galleon trade.

Jesuit priest Diego Luis de San Vitores and his assistant, Pedro Calungsod were killed by Chief Mata'pang of Tomhom (Tumon) for baptizing the Chief's baby girl without the Chief's consent in April 1672. Many Chamorros at the time believed baptisms killed babies - because priests would baptize infants already near death (in the belief that this was the only way to save such children's souls), baptism seemed to many Chamorros to be the cause of death.[3]:49 Whereas San Vitores tried to carry out his mission in a peaceful manner, the Spanish military governed the local populace in a strict manner to protect their Galleon routes. Regardless of Mata'pang's motive, the death of San Vitores lead to war that resulted in the deaths of a large portion of the Chamorro people. During the course of the Spanish administration of Guam, sources have estimated Chamorro casualties to the fighting and disease reduced the population from 12,000[3]:47 to roughly 5,000 by 1741, mostly women and children. After 1695, Chamorros were forced to settle in five villages: Hagåtña, Agat, Umatac, Pago, and Fena. They were monitored by the military forces, encouraged to attend church daily, and to learn Spanish language and customs. Spanish and Filipinos, mostly men, increasingly intermarried with the Chamorros, particularly the new "high people" (manak'kilo) or gentry of the towns. In 1740, Chamorros of the Northern Mariana Islands, except Rota, were removed from their home islands and exiled to Guam. Mata'pang himself was killed in a final battle on the Island of Rota in 1680.[7]

The Galleon Era ended in 1815 following the Mexican Independence. Guam was host to a number of scientists, voyagers, and whalers from Russia, France, and England who provided detailed accounts of the daily life on Guam under Spanish rule. Through the Spanish colonial period, Guam inherited food, language, and surnames.[8]

American era

Capture of Guam

The village of Piti shortly after Guam's capture by the Americans.

On June 21, 1898, the United States captured Guam in a bloodless landing during the Spanish–American War. By the Treaty of Paris, Spain officially ceded the island to the United States.[3]:110–112 Guam became part of an American telegraph line to the Philippines, also ceded by the treaty;[9] a way station for American ships traveling to and from there; and an important part of the United States' War Plan Orange against Japan. Although Alfred Thayer Mahan, Robert Coontz, and others envisioned the island as "a kind of Gibraltar" in the Pacific, Congress repeatedly failed to fulfill the military's requests to fortify Guam; when a German warship was interned in 1914 before America's entry into World War I, its crew of 543 outnumbered their American custodians.[3]:131,133,135–136

The 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia said of Guam, "of its total population of 11,490 (11,159 natives), Hagåtña, the capital, contains about 8,000. Possessing a good harbor, the island serves as a United States naval station, the naval commandant acting also as governor. The products of the island are maize, copra, rice, sugar, and valuable timber." Military officers governed the island as "USS Guam", and the United States Navy opposed proposals for civilian government until 1950.[3]:125–126

World War II

Marines cross a bridge in Agat during the liberation of Guam in 1944.

During World War II, Guam was invaded by the Imperial Japanese Army on December 8, 1941 shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese immediately renamed the island "Omiya Jima" (Great Shrine Island).[10]

The Japanese military occupation of Guam lasted from 1941 to 1944.[11] It was a coercive experience for the Chamorro people, whose loyalty to the United States became a point of contention with the Japanese. Several American servicemen remained on the island, however, and were hidden by the Chamorro people. All of these servicemen were found and executed by Japanese forces in 1942; only one escaped.

The second Battle of Guam began on July 21, 1944 with American troops landing on western side of the island after several weeks of pre-invasion bombardment by the U.S. Navy. After several weeks of heavy fighting, Japanese forces officially surrendered on August 10, 1944.

Guam was subsequently converted into a forward operations base for the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Airfields were constructed in the northern part of the island (including Andersen Air Force Base), the island's pre-WWII Naval Station was expanded, and numerous facilities and supply depots were constructed throughout the island.

Guam's two largest pre-war communities (Sumay and Hagåtña) were virtually destroyed during the 1944 battle. Many Chamorro families lived in temporary re-settlement camps near the beaches before moving to permanent homes constructed in the island's outer villages. Guam's southern villages largely escaped damage, however.


The immediate years after World War II saw the U.S. Navy attempting to resume its predominance in Guam affairs. This eventually led to resentment, and thus increased political pressure from Chamorro leaders for greater autonomy.

The result was the organized territory of the United States and, for the first time in Guam history, provided for a civilian government.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, section 307, granted U.S. citizenship to "all persons born in the island of Guam on or after April 11, 1899. In the 1960s, the island's required security clearance for visitors was lifted.

On September 11, 1968, eighteen years after passage of the Organic Act, Congress passed the "Elective Governor Act" (Public Law 90-497), which allowed the people of Guam to elect their own governor and lieutenant governor. Nearly four years later, Congress passed the "Guam-Virgin Islands Delegate" Act that allowed for one Guam delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives. The delegate has a voice in debates and a vote in committees, but no vote on the floor of the House.

Although Public Law 94-584 established the formation of a "locally drafted" constitution (later known as the "Guam Constitution"), the proposed document was rejected by Guam residents in an August 4, 1979 referendum.

In the meantime, Guam's local government had formed several political status commissions to address possible options for self-determination. The following year after passage of the Guam Delegate Act saw the creation of the "Status Commission" by the Twelfth Guam Legislature.

This was followed by the establishment of the "Second Political Status Commission" in 1975 and the Guam "Commission on Self-Determination" (CSD) in 1980. The Twenty-Fourth Guam Legislature established the "Commission on Decolonization" in 1996 to enhance CSD's ongoing studies of various political status options and public education campaigns.

These efforts enabled the CSD, barely two years after its creation, to organize a status referendum on January 12, 1982. 49% of voters chose a closer relationship with the United States via Commonwealth.

Twenty-six percent voted for Statehood, while ten percent voted for the Status Quo (as an Unincorporated territory). A subsequent run-off referendum held between Commonwealth and Statehood saw 73% of Guam voters choosing Commonwealth over Statehood (27%). Today, Guam remains an unincorporated territory despite referendums and a United Nations mandate to establish a permanent status for the island.

Contemporary Guam

Guam contains several military bases including the United States Naval Station on the Orote Peninsula shown here.

Guam's U.S. military installations remain among the most strategically vital in the Pacific Ocean. When the United States closed its Naval and Air Force bases in the Philippines after the expiration of their leases in the early 1990s, many of the forces stationed there were relocated to Guam.

The removal of Guam's security clearance by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 allowed for the development of a tourism industry. The island's rapid economic development was fueled both by rapid growth in this industry as well as increased U.S. Federal Government spending during the 1980s and 1990s.

The Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s, which hit Japan particularly hard, severely affected Guam's tourism industry. Military cutbacks in the 1990s also disrupted the island's economy. Economic recovery was further hampered by devastation from Supertyphoons Paka in 1997 and Pongsona in 2002, as well as the effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks on tourism.

There are signs that Guam is recovering from these setbacks. The increased arrivals of Japanese tourists reflect that country's economic recovery, as well as Guam's enduring appeal as a weekend tropical retreat. U.S. military spending has dramatically increased as part of the War on Terrorism.

Recent proposals to strengthen U.S. military facilities, including negotiations to transfer 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa, also indicate renewed interest in Guam by the U.S. military. American forces were originally scheduled to relocate from Okinawa to Guam beginning in 2012 or 2013. However, that has been set back due to budget constrains and local resistance to the additional military presence.

"Cosmopolitan" Guam poses particular challenges for Chamorros struggling to preserve their culture and identity in the face of acculturation. The increasing numbers of Chamorros, especially Chamorro youth, relocating to the U.S. Mainland has further complicated both definition and preservation of Chamorro identity.

See also

Further reading

  • Robert F. Rogers, Destiny's Landfall: A History of Guam (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995)
  • Paul Carano and Pedro C. Sanchez, A Complete History of Guam (Rutland, VT: C. E. Tuttle, 1964)
  • Howard P Willens and Dirk Ballendorf, The Secret Guam Study: How President Ford's 1975 Approval of Commonwealth Was Blocked by Federal Officials (Mangilao, Guam: Micronesian Area Research Center; Saipan: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Division of Historical Preservation, 2004)
  • Lawrence J. Cunningham, Ancient Chamorro Society (Honolulu: Bess Press, 1992)
  • Anne Perez Hattori, Colonial Dis-Ease: U.S. Navy Health Policies and the Chamorros of Guam, 1898-1941 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004)
  • Pat Hickey, The Chorito Hog-Leg, Book One: A Novel of Guam in Time of War (Indianapolis: AuthorHouse Publishing, 2007)
  • Vicente Diaz, Repositioning the Missionary: Rewriting the Histories of Colonialism, Native Catholicism, and Indigeneity in Guam (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2010)
  • Keith Lujan Camacho, Cultures of Commemoration: The Politics of War, Memory, and History in the Mariana Islands (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011)


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Pacific Worlds, Antonio Pigafett's accounts.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rogers, Robert (1995). Destiny's landfall: a history of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.  
  4. ^ [Guam Past and Present by Charles Beardsley], F.H.H Guillemard's accounts.
  5. ^ [2], Turbulent History of Guam.
  6. ^ [History of Guam], by Lawrence J Cunningham and Janice J. Beaty.
  7. ^ a b Guam Online, The History of Guam
  8. ^ [Christina Gumatatotato Lecture], World History and Geography.
  9. ^ Kennedy, P. M. (October 1971). "Imperial Cable Communications and Strategy, 1870-1914". The English Historical Review 86 (341): 728–752.  
  10. ^,retrieved 29 December 2009
  11. ^ Wakako Higuchi, The Japanese Administration of Guam, 1941-1944: A Study of Occupation and Integration Policies, with Japanese Oral Histories (Jefferson McFarland, 2013); online review

External links

  • allthingsguam A Guam History resource—virtual textbook, virtual workbook and more
  • Guam Humanities Council
  • Guampedia, Guam's Online Encyclopedia
  • War in the Pacific National Historic Park
  • The Latte Stones of Guam
  • Bisita Guam
  • Prefecture Apostolic of Mariana Islands
  • Guam Online's History Webpage
  • Brief History of Guam's U.S. Naval Hospital
  • Senate Resolution 254, 105th Congress Includes brief history of Guam's movement towards self-determination
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