The Place of My Birth : Guam ( Guahan -To Have)

Photo Courtesy of Guampedia

Photo Courtesy of Guampedia

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Guam or Guahan, as it is known in my native, Chamorro is the place of my birth.  It is the place of my origins. It is where my life began. No matter where I live and how far I am away from that island home of mine, I feel its constant tug…reminding me of the Chamorro blood that runs through my veins.  I take a special pride in that heritage.  I share that with you in this post and hope you learn more about a place that is as home to me  as Kansas was to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz was home to her.

From the Guam Visitor’s Bureau:

Pre-Contact Period

The question of the origin of the Chamorro race has never been settled to the satisfaction of ethnologists, but archeological evidence indicates that the ancient Chamorros were of Indo-Malayan descent.

Angel L. G. Santos Latte Park  These latte were transported from Mepo, located in Guam's interior, to the museum in Hagåtña, for display after World War II. Later, these large latte were moved to the Angel L. G. Santos Latte Park, also in Hagåtña. ( Photo courtesy of Judy Flores Guampedia)

Angel L. G. Santos Latte Park These latte were transported from Mepo, located in Guam's interior, to the museum in Hagåtña, for display after World War II. Later, these large latte were moved to the Angel L. G. Santos Latte Park, also in Hagåtña. ( Photo courtesy of Judy Flores Guampedia)

Linguistic and cultural similarities tie the Chamorro race to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. While the Chamorros settled throughout the Marianas archipelago, they flourished as an advanced fishing, horticultural, and hunting society.

Chamorros were expert seamen and skilled craftsmen who built unique houses and canoes suited to this region of the world. They were also familiar with intricate weaving and detailed pottery making.

Trading  Many European visitors to Guam noted that Chamorros came out to greet and trade with them in dozens of canoes. Print originates from Gottfried's Newe Welt and Americanischee Historen, 1631. ( Photo Courtesy of ohann Ludwig Gottfried/Guam Public Library/Guampedia)

Trading Many European visitors to Guam noted that Chamorros came out to greet and trade with them in dozens of canoes. Print originates from Gottfried's Newe Welt and Americanischee Historen, 1631. ( Photo Courtesy of ohann Ludwig Gottfried/Guam Public Library/Guampedia)

Guam possessed a strong matriarchal society, and it was through the power and prestige of the women and much of the Chamorro culture, including the language, music, dance, and traditions, was able to survive.

Chamorro boys dressed in traditional Cultural wear for Native Guam dance

Chamorro boys and girls dressed in traditional Cultural wear for Native Guam dance ( photo courtesy of Guampedia)

The Spanish Era

Since the early 16th century, waves of conquerors, merchants, and adventurers swept across Guam like the constant ebb and flow of tides. The island’s first known contact with the western world was on March 6, 1521. The intrepid Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed on behalf of the Spanish Crown in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe, remained on Guam for three days to refurbish his three ship convoy.

Umatac Bay, Guam Where Explorer Ferdinand Magellan Landed

Umatac Bay, Guam Where Explorer Ferdinand Magellan Landed

In addition to receiving needed fresh fruits, vegetables, and water, Magellan offered iron in exchange, a highly-prized commodity among a neolithic people.Magellan’s chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, depicted Chamorro thatched houses atop solid coral foundations known as latte. To this day, remains of the unique latte can be seen at various locations throughout the island. The latte is only found throughout the Marianas archipelago.

Although Magellan was considered the first European explorer to step foot on Guam’s beaches, Guam and the other Mariana Islands were formally claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.More than 100 years later in 1668, Jesuit missionaries by the venerable Padre Diego Luis de San Vitores arrived to establish a measure of European civilization, including Christianity and trade.

The Roman Catholic Basilica of the Archdiocese of Hagatna

The Roman Catholic Basilica of the Archdiocese of Hagatna

The Spanish taught the Chamorros to cultivate maize (corn), raise introduced cattle and tan hides, as well as to adopt western-style clothing. Once Christianity was firmly established, the Catholic Church, became the focal point for village activities.

As the Catholic Church gained prominence, Guam became a regular port-of-call for Spanish galleons that crossed the Pacific Ocean from Acapulco, Mexico to Manila, Philippines. These bulky ships were heavily laden with precious gold and silver mined in the New World for Chinese silks and spices.

Cetti Bay, Guam

Cetti Bay, Guam

The island’s strategic location acquired a new value to the burgeoning Spanish Empire’s economic and political systems For almost 250 years, galleons from Mexico and the Philippines permanently changed the Chamorro culture.

The Galleon Age ended in 1815 following the Mexican Revolution; several shipwrecks can still be found in Guam’s crystal clear coastal waters. Other European influence during this period of European exploration and expansion, visitors from nations other than Spain also played a part in Guam’s history.

During the first quarter of the 18th century English pirates preyed on Spanish ships, and a few of these privateers visited Guam to take on provisions. Woodes Rogers was able to stay on island for one week and to wrest food and supplies from Governor Juan Antonio Pimentel, but John Clipperton was defeated by the Spaniards before he could carry out his threats to destroy homes and burn a Spanish ship.

Throughout the last century of Spanish occupation, Guam was host to a number of scientists, voyagers, and whalers from Russia, France, and England. Between 1817 and 1828, the island was visit by three Russian and French scientific expeditions, which provided detailed accounts of the daily life on Guam under Spanish rule.

Dawn of the American Era

Although the Spanish maintained control on Guam and in the Mariana islands for 333 years, the island was ceded to the United States following the Spanish American War of 1898. A year later, in 1899, the U.S. formally purchased Guam and other Spanish-held territories for $20 million.U.S. President William McKinley issued an executive order placing Guam within the administration of the Department of Navy.

Tarague Beach, Guam

Tarague Beach, Guam

Under the U.S. naval government, many changes and improve occurred, including agriculture, public health and sanitation, education, land management, taxes, and public works.The U.S. Navy continued to use Guam as a coaling and communication station until 1941, when the island fell to invading Japanese forces shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Japanese Occupation

On December 10, 1941, Guam surrendered to the Japanese South Seas detachment forces after a valiant defensive struggle by the island’s Insular Force Guard. For 31 months, the people of Guam were forcibly subjected to the Japanese lifestyle.

Guam was renamed ‘Omiya Jima’ or Great Shrine Island and was brought under Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.Control of the island was eventually transferred to the Japanese Navy in 1942. Some measure of religious practice and business activities were permitted during this brief time period.

Return of American Era

On July 21, 1944, known locally as Liberation Day, American forces landed on Guam; three weeks of bitter war claimed thousands of Chamorro, American, and Japanese lives before the island was declared safe and once again under American rule.

A Beautiful Sunset on Guam ( Photo Courtesy of Guampedia)

A Beautiful Sunset on Guam ( Photo Courtesy of Guampedia)

The island’s strategic position was quickly recognized by the American military and was used as a command post for U.S. Western Pacific operations until the conclusion of the Second World War in the Pacific Theater on September 2, 1945. On May 30, 1946, the naval government was reestablished.

Talafofo Falls, Guam

Talafofo Falls, Guam

Three years later in 1949, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed the Organic Act, making Guam an unincorporated territory with limited self-governing authority.The Act declared that America’s newly won territory would be called Guam; a civilian government with three branches-executive, legislative, and judicial-was established; and, United States citizenship was granted to the people of Guam.

Hagatna, Guam

Hagatna, Guam

By 1962, the U.S. Navy lifted the World War II security clearance requirement for travel to and from Guam, allowing Guam’s economy to flourish.Since the advent of Guam’s tourism in 1967, when Pan American Airways inaugurated service from Japan, the islanders economy has continued to diversify and expand.

In addition to increased military expenditures, tourism, and related businesses construction, retailing, banking and financial services-a revamped economy my played a significant role in providing jobs for local residents, while offering business options our cosmopolitan society has come to expect.

Tumon Bay, Guam

Tumon Bay, Guam

Guam’s rich historical legacy serves as the framework for which the future development of the island depends upon.Magnificent luxury hotels, a wealth of fine restaurants, and fabulous duty free shopping have established Guam as the Premier destination in the western Pacific, international and commuter airlines make the Antonio Borja Won Pat Guam International Air Terminal a bustling hub of activity.


Presently, regular flights connect Guam with numerous Asia/Pacific countries, including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia, and the Philippines, as well as Nauru, the neighboring Micronesian islands, and the United States.Each year, Guam receives a record number of visitors. Throngs of leisure-seeking visitors come to experience the island’s beautiful seas, tropical lifestyle, and year-round warmth. International travelers make Guam a frequent stop-over for trips to Asia or Pacific points of interest.

According to the 1995 Visitors Golf Course Plant Inventory Report, Guam recorded 6,755 hotel rooms, with an additional 391 under construction; 17,626 rooms are in the planning stage.The major components of the island’s economy are the territorial government, tourism, U.S. military, and construction.Of course, tourism is the fastest growing sector.


In addition to its inviting beaches, elegant hotels, and great bargains, Guam has another vital attraction- its unique culture. The traditions and customs of Guam’s proud island heritage thrive, despite invading conquerors, wars and epidemics, and changing governments. Forged from a neolithic foundation and molded by historical events, Guam’s living culture has expanded into a vibrant, modern way of life.

Since the 17th century, Catholic churches have been the center of village activities. Even today, every village has its patron saint whose feast day is celebrated with an elaborate fiesta, which the entire island is invited to attend. Family groups still hold christening parties, fandanggos (weddings, novenas, funerals, and death- anniversary rosaries). All are flavored by the rich Spanish heritage.Spanish influence may also be seen in the mestiza, a style of women’s clothing, or, in the architecture of Guam’s southern villages.

Countless Americans, Europeans, Asians, Micronesians, and other visitors have left their imprints on the island’s pastimes and tastes, but nowhere is the island’s multi-cultural influence more evident than in its food.At a fiesta or other island party, families prepare heavily laden tables of local delicacies, such as red rice, shrimp patties, a Filipino style noodle dish called pancit, barbecued ribs and chicken, and taro leaves cooked in coconut milk. Another mouth-watering treat is kelaguen, usually prepared from chopped broiled chicken, lemon juice, grated coconut, and hot peppers. Fiery finadene sauce, made with soy sauce, lemon juice or vinegar, hot peppers, and onions, is sprinkled over the food for a truly memorable dish.

After a hearty meal, Chamorros often enjoy chewing pugua (betel nut), mixed with powdered lime and wrapped in pepper leaf.Music is an integral aspect of an island lifestyle, and performances using traditional instruments, such as the belembaotuyan, are highlights of cultural presentations. The belembaotuyan, made from a hollow gourd and strung with a taut wire, creates a melodic sound enjoyed by all.

The nose flute, once a long forgotten instrument, is now making a hearty return.The Kantan Chamorro style of singing has been a favorite form of entertainment for generations. Additionally, it has been used to lighten long hours of group work activity, such as weaving, corn husking, and net fishing. One singer would begin the familiar four-line chant, referring romantically or teasingly in the verse to another person in the group. The challenged person would then take up the tune and the song might continue in this fashion with different singers for hours.

Contemporary music is an important element of social gatherings, ranging from fiestas and fandangos to casual backyard parties. Musicians usually sing Chamorro, American, Filipino, or a variety of Asian songs.

Legends and folklore about village taotaomo’na (ancient spirits), doomed lovers leaping to their death off Two Lovers’ Point (Puntan Dos Amantes), and Sirena, a beautiful young girl who became a mermaid, are portrayed in many of Guam’s enriching cultural dances. Guam’s traditional arts are very much alive.

During cultural fairs and exhibitions, visitors often have the opportunity to watch master weavers, carvers and even a blacksmith at work.Weavers, using the traditional pandanus or coconut fibers, fashion baskets of various sizes, purses, hats, floor mats, and wall hangings. Carvers hew tables, plaques, figurines of people or animals, and household implements using ifil mangrove, or pago woods.

The traditional ways are being passed along to the younger generations through apprenticeship programs in order to preserve the island’s art heritage. A master blacksmith, for example, recently graduated three pupils,who have learned how to make useful steel farming and fishing implements, such as coconut graters, hoes, machetes, and fishing spearheads.

Other hand-forged items include betel nut scissors, tools for weaving, and knives.

The People

A trip to Guam is like visiting the four exotic corners of the globe. Guam is considered the hub of the western Pacific and undeniably Micronesia’s most cosmopolitan destination – a true example of the great American melting pot.

In addition to the indigenous Chamorros and ‘stateside’ Americans, Guam boasts large populations of Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Micronesian Islanders, as well as a few Vietnamese, Indians, and Europeans.

As the 1990 census figures indicate, the ethnic composition of the island is 43 percent Chamorro, 23 percent Fllipino, 15 percent other ethnic groups, 14 percent Caucasian, and 5 percent other Pacific Islanders. Approximately half of all Guam residents were born on Guam, and 70 percent of these are under the age of 34.PopulationOur island has been enjoying a steady population growth.

Photo Courtesy of Guampedia

Photo Courtesy of Guampedia

The 1990 census reports a population of 133,152, a 20.4 percent increase since 1980. Population estimates for 2000 indicate Guam has grown to 153,000 people.LanguageAlthough English is spoken throughout the island, the local people continue to speak their own Chamorro language.

Some, particularly older residents who lived on Guam during the World War 11 period of Japanese occupation, speak Japanese, as well.As in other destinations, the fastest way to make friends on Guam is to learn a bit of the local language.

Here are a few of the popular expressions you’ll hear every day.


Håfa Adai!      Hello!

Håfa lai!      Hello friend

Håfa tatatmanu hao?      How are you?

Håfa?       What’s up?

Hayi na’ån-mu?      What’s your name?

Buenas dihas        Good Morning

Buenas noches      Good evening

Gof maolek       Very good

Esta agupa’       Until tomorrow

Adios           Good bye

Si Yu’os Ma’åse’           Thank you !

9 thoughts on “The Place of My Birth : Guam ( Guahan -To Have)

  1. Thank you so much for this…I have a friend moving to guam soon and I was researching as much as I could about your island. So far, your info has heled me the most. I still can’t find a site to help me learn some of the Chamorro language. I need to know how to say “I found You” Anyway…Thank you so much, It is def a beautiful place…now I want to go! SDB

  2. Susie,

    I am glad the post was helpful. You may want ot check out to see if there are more resources for the Chamorro language or the University of Guam website.


  3. Thank you for sharing and educating about our special little island. I also wanted to thank you for a post from years ago where you wrote about my mother, Judy Flores. A couple of years ago I got your permission and just today used an excerpt of your post on her website. Thank you again for your kind words, and please visit to see where I referenced you.
    Saina Maase,
    Si Sandy

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