In the Western Pacific, Guam is an island territory of the United States. The area is known for its tropical beaches, Chamorro villages, and ancient stone pillars. A former battlefield, Asan Beach, is part of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, which documents Guam’s WWII significance. In Umatac is the Spanish colonial Fort Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, which dates back to the 16th century. It is home to a significant U.S. Military presence – specifically, the U.S. Navy.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT GUAM
- Capital City: Hagåtña
- Largest City: Dededo
- Nickname: Tånó y CHamoru
- Territory As of April 11, 1899: Organized, an unincorporated territory of the United States
- Population (as of 2021): 168,801
- Abbreviation: GU
- Official bird: Guam Rail
- Official flower: Bougainvillea
- Total Size Of The State: 540 km2 (210 sq mi)
- Official languages: English, Chamorro
Chamorros, Guam’s indigenous people, first settled on the island more than 3,500 years ago, probably arriving by boat from Southeast Asia. Puntan, the Chamorro god of creation, created the Earth from his body, while his twin sister Fu’una created Fouha Rock, where humans first appeared. Guam still has this landmark in the village of Umatac.
By royal decree, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan made the island a Spanish colony in 1521. Then, as a result of Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898, Guam (along with Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines) became part of the United States. However, instead of being under the control of the democratic U.S. government, Guam was placed under the power of the Secretary of the Navy.
Guam was a military base used by U.S. military leaders from 1898 to 1941. The Japanese occupied Guam for three years during World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945 (just a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii).
In the summer of 1944, the United States fought to regain control of Guam for three weeks. Its location in the Pacific Ocean made it an ideal military base. Later, the National Park Service built a monument to the Chamorros who died in the War.
Nature & Name Origin
In the North Pacific Ocean, Guam is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands chain. It has an average temperature of 85°F year-round due to two former volcanoes. Most of the island is surrounded by a coral reef with over 300 types of coral and almost a thousand species of fish, making it an excellent destination for snorkeling and diving.
The water is home to pufferfishes, butterflyfishes, soldierfishes, trumpetfishes, giant clams, sea turtles, and reef sharks. To protect coral, Guam has five marine protected areas (Pati Point, Piti Bomb Holes, Sasa Bay, Achang Reef Flat, and Tumon Bay).
Guam’s endemic bird species include the Guam kingfisher, Rota white-eye, and Guam rail. Guam’s national bird, the ko’ko’, is also called ko’ko’ by Chamorros. A brown tree snake invasive to Guam probably arrived on cargo ships during World War II, making the species extinct in the wild almost 40 years ago.
However, this species was successfully reintroduced to the wild in 2019 and is now considered critically endangered. That is just the second time a species has recovered from extinction.
The Culture and Locals
Chamorros comprise almost 40% of the population, while Filipinos (people who are native to the Philippines) constitute roughly 26%. There are also people from other Asian and South Pacific countries. Approximately 70 percent of Guam’s population lives in the capital, Hagåtña (huh-GAHT-nyuh).
The local diet consists mainly of coconuts, bananas, rice, and taro (a root vegetable). In addition, there are several popular dishes, such as hineksa’ agaga’, red rice; chicken kelaguen, seasoned with lemon, coconut, and hot red peppers; and Chamorro barbecue, which is marinated meat with soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar.
The food culture of Guam also emphasizes grilled seafood, especially tuna. In addition, Guam is known for its finadenne, a dipping sauce made with vinegar, soy sauce, and peppers. Many families have their own recipes for this dipping sauce.
Its predominantly Roman Catholic population makes fiestas – week-long celebrations that honor a particular village’s patron saint – an essential part of its culture. Buffet-style meals are served to the entire community during the fiesta. Dishes are often prepared weeks in advance.
The U.S. Navy administered Guam until 1898; it did not have its own government. However, it changed in 1950 with the Organic Act of Guam, which established a non-military government on the island, granted U.S. citizenship to residents, and made official the island’s status as an unincorporated territory of the United States (meaning that not all of the U.S. Constitution automatically applies to it).
In Guam, the people elect their governor, lieutenant governor, Senate members, and House of Representatives.
Additionally, Guam sends a delegate to the United States House of Representatives who has a voice in debates and a vote in committees but no vote on the House floor. Citizens of Guam are not allowed to vote in the U.S. presidential elections. However… based on a poll in 2016, there is an intense desire among Gum residents for the island to be an official state. However, as with Puerto Rico, this decision can only be determined by the United States Congress in Washington D.C.
Some Fun Facts About Guam
- Mount Lamlam, which is Guam’s tallest mountain, is underwater for most of its height, so it rises only 1,332 ft above sea level.
- Women are the heads of the family in Chamorro culture. (This is known as a matriarchal system.)
- Guam is the birthplace of American journalist Ann Curry.
- Latte structures were large stone pillars built by the ancient Chamorro people. These mushroom-shaped pillars were placed high above the ground in rows so important buildings could be built on top of them.