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Primer on Chamorro History & Culture Pt. 1

The Chamorro, the indigenous people of Guam, have a history that isn’t widely known. And despite resurgence in interest, their culture is still not widely understood.  So before you visit Guam, brush up with part 1 of this primer.

  1. History

The Chamorro are the indigenous people of Guam. Archaeological evidence shows that the Chamorro people, linked by language and culture, have lived in the Marianas Islands, including Guam, for more than 4000 years.

The Spanish began colonization of Guam in the mid-16th century. During this period, Spanish customs and the language were imported to Guam. The Spanish also converted the native Chamorro population to Catholicism.

In 1898 the United States took Guam during the Spanish-American War. The island briefly came under Japanese occupation during WWII but was recaptured by U.S. forces.

After WWII, Chamorro leaders lobbied for greater autonomy for Guam from the US and were successful in getting the island a civilian government for the first time in 1950.

  1. Religion

Today, thanks to the Spanish occupation of Guam, most inhabitants of Guam are Catholic.  However, before they were converted, the Chamorro people worshipped the Taotaomo’na, the spirits of their ancestors.

Contact with the Spanish changed how these spirits were viewed, over time these spirits have become viewed as demons and ghosts.  However, ancestor worship was not completely erased by conversion to Catholicism, as many people still venerate their ancestors side-by-side with Catholic saints.

  1. Food

Guam’s modern food scene is the definition of international.  A visitor can find restaurants serving Japanese, Chinese, Korean, American, and many other types of food. But this is a more recent development.

Ancient Chamorro people lived off what they could grow on land and fish from the sea. They ate a diet heavy in seafood, edible seaweeds and coconut before the Spanish came.

  1. Architecture

As with other parts of Chamorro culture, their architecture was influenced by the Spanish occupation of the island. The remains of traditional Chamorro architecture can be seen in the latte stones that can be found throughout the island.

Latte stones are support pillars carved from basalt or limestone topped with a circular stone.