GUAM is located in the Mariana Islands, a territory of the United States of America bordered by the territorial waters of the Northern Mariana Islands, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. It is the westernmost settlement in the commonwealth of the United States, and thus a vital point in the American defense grid. Like the rest of Oceania, Guam has a rather surreal history of multiculturalism. So who is Guam? What is Guam? Those are definitely hard questions to answer.

Chamorro Guam: Before 1565

The native people of Guam are called the Chamorro, and anthropologists believe that they are descended from the peoples of India and Malaya. History indicates that the Chamorro's ancestors began their migration from the Asian continent about four thousand years ago, dropping off genes in Indonesia and the Philippines before reaching Micronesia.

Early Chamorro culture was communal and matriarchal, and stressed the hunt, fishing, and horticulture: they are known for developing unique canoes for navigating the waters of the Marianas. Their religion is based on spirit worship: the spirits are called Taotaomoa, and are said to protect the graves of the dead, among other things.

Which brings us to the Latte Stones, which are as much a symbol of Guam as the giant stone heads are of Easter Island. A Latte Stone is essentially a column and capstone of coral limestone roughly the size and shape of a birdbath. They first began to appear around the year 1000 as pillars for Chamorro houses: when a Chamorro died, their possessions would be buried underneath their Latte Stones, and protected by the Taotaomoa.

So the Chamorro lived on Guam for thousands of years, during which time their way of life changed very little. Then, in 1521, a certain fellow named Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Guam. The excited natives began helping themselves to supplies and equipment off of his ships, not having any idea of what ownership was: once a few of them were shot by Magellan's men, they decided to back off. Magellan ended up negotiating with the Chamorro to trade iron, a material the islanders had in extremely short supply, for food and water. Antonio Pigafetta, who survived Magellan's expedition, returned to Spain to tell of what lay on this bizarre island in the Pacific Ocean, and the monarchy was more than somewhat interested. They wanted in.

The Spanish: 1565 - 1898

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi officially claimed the Mariana Islands for the king of Spain in 1565. For the next hundred years, however, nothing really happened to affect the natives' lives. Then came Christianity, when the first Jesuits arrived in 1668. Kepuha, the chief of the Chamorro around Agana, was baptized, became Juan Kepuha, and allowed the Jesuits to build Guam's first Catholic cathedral in Agana.

Why the sudden interest in Guam? Simple—Spain needed a stopping-off point for its ships travelling from Mexico to Manila, and Guam was in a perfect location to fill that role.

After Kepuha died in 1669, the Spanish occupation began to get nasty. In 1672, after two Jesuits baptized the baby daughter of Chamorro chief Mata'pang without permission, Mata'pang had them murdered. The incident sparked a bloody conflict between the Spanish and Chamorro that lasted for years, in which the Chamorro were ultimately no match for the Imperial military's power. Through the late 1600's and early 1700's, the Spanish slowly whittled away at the Chamorro people: corraling them in certain villages, force-feeding them Spanish and Catholicism, forbidding the teaching of navigation, and ultimately re-stocking their bloodline with imported Filipinos and Spanish. By 1740, there were only 5,000 Chamorro left on Guam, compared to some 150,000 before the Spanish had arrived.

Spanish galleons continued to stop at Guam until 1815, when Mexico became independent and the transpacific galleon trade was forced to draw to a close. Through the 1800's, Guam began to feel an increasing Anglosphere influence, as ships from America and Britain started stopping there. Spain's Pacific empire was, in a word, doomed: the Spanish-American War proved that, and in 1898 Spain was forced to cede Guam to the United States.

Those Bloody Yanks: 1898 - now

William McKinley officially purchased Guam from Spain in 1899: its sale price was $20 million, for an island with a population of ten thousand. It was placed under the direct control of the United States Navy, which proceeded to use Guam almost exactly as the Spanish had been using it two centuries before: as a stop for ships traveling to and from the Philippines. The new American occupants tossed out many of the old Spanish laws and instituted a healthy dosage of Protestant-style common law.

Guam was a relatively quiet place until December 10, 1941, when the forces of the Japanese Empire slashed through the few marines guarding the island, and proclaimed it "Omiya Island." They occupied the island until 1944 in typical evil overlord fashion, punctuated by rape and odd genocide. Some 600 Chamorros were executed by the Kwantung Army, many for attempting to keep an American radioman, George Tweed, alive in hiding. The liberation of Guam (if you can call it that), on July 21, 1944, destroyed most of Agana and killed several thousand people on both sides of the fight, but turned out to be the last vital stepping stone between America and the Japanese homeland: after Guam and Saipan, the next island up was Iwo Jima. In 1945, Guam became the headquarters of the U.S. command for the Western Pacific, and kept that role until the end of the war, after which it went back to naval control.

Curiously enough, one Japanese soldier, Yokoi Shoichi, was in hiding on Guam until 1972, and when he came out was very surprised to learn that Japan had lost the war.

Anyway, Harry S Truman signed a law to make Guam a nominally independent territory of the United States in 1949, and in 1962, the island was opened to commerce and tourism. Its 154,000 citizens, predominantly Micronesian and Filipino with some Caucasians and Orientals tossed in, now hold American citizenship, and any American can fly there without a passport.

Guam is especially popular among Japanese tourists: it's a lot like Hawaii, but a much shorter flight, and the Spanish architecture and "quaint tribal displays" make for an interesting experience.

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