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The History of Guam


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. 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.
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.


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. In addition to receiving needed fresh fruits, vegetables, and water, Magellan offered iron in exchange, a highIy-prized commodity among a neolithic people.

Magellan's chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, depicted Chamorro thatched houses atop solid coral foundations~ions 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 con 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 missionariesóled by the venerable Padre Diego Luis de San Vltores -arrived to establish a measure of European civilization , including Christianity and trade. 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 crisscrossed ~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. 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 Wllliam McKinley issued an executive order placing Guam within the administration of the Department of Navy. 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 lare claimed thousands of Chamorro, American, and Japanese lives before the island was declared safe and once again under American rule.

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.

May 30, 1946, the naval government was reestablished. 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. 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.

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 Dremier 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.

Content courtesy of Guam Visitor's Bureau