Guam: History & People

Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

Just under six thousand miles west of San Francisco lies the island nation of Guam. Located in the Pacific Ocean and a protected territory of the United States, this nation holds a rich history and culture.


Before it became a US territory, the population of Guam endured several blows. During the late 1600s sporadic warfare between the natives and the Spanish resulted in many deaths as these occasional conflicts and uprisings took place over the course of twenty-five years. In addition to this, weather and disease greatly affected Guam. Like in the New World, European explorers brought diseases, such as smallpox, that caused a great decline in Guam's population in the 1600s. This coupled with typhoons, which are much like the hurricanes that occur in the Atlantic Ocean, resulted in a huge loss of life among the Guam natives.

You may not think that an island in the Pacific would be contested territory, but you would be wrong. First conquered and possessed by the Spanish, along with the other islands of the Marianas, Guam was eventually ceded to the United States in 1898. From that year to 1950, the US president has formally appointed the governor of the island nation.

As an unincorporated, or independent, territory of the United States, the US military controls approximately one third of the land in Guam. A movement to determine its own statehood and form its own government has been going on for the past twenty years in Guam.

Guam national flag
Guam flag

People and Culture

Approximately 161,000 people reside in Guam. Natives of this land are referred to as Chamorros. These natives have a rich mixture of ancestries, including Indonesian, Filipino, Mexican, European and Asian. Although a significant minority of the population is made up of Europeans, much of Guam's citizenry is composed of Asians. A huge majority of the population is Roman Catholic. Much of the rest are practicing Protestants.

The official languages of Guam are English and Charmorro. While Charmorro is commonly spoken in homes, English is Guam's business and academic language. Due to Japan's growing business ventures in Guam, Japanese is becoming a popular language in this country as well.

When it comes to having fun and cutting loose, many people in Guam tend to stick close to home. The extended family is the main social circle for most. Folk art, crafts and music are as richly diverse as the cultures of Guam. These artistic expressions become a colorful outlet for the culturally diverse population.

Food is a huge part of Guam's culture. Besides nourishment, food gives the people a way to gather together around the table, celebrate one another and show off their artistic culinary talents. Fiestas, or parties, include quite a bit of food. As a matter of fact, as a part of the festivities a cow or pig is slaughtered then cooked and prepared for the feast.

When it comes to celebrating Guam gets double the fun. The country recognizes and celebrates national holidays of the United States, as well as important local dates, such March 6, which is Guam's Discovery Day. On this day in 1521, Spanish explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, landed on the island.

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